Does either imply a lesson, or a fantastical setting?

6 Answers 6


My understanding is that a fable involves (speaking) animals or other mythical creatures, while a parable does not. A moral is typical for both genres.

Wikipedia is more accurate in its wording:

A fable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities), and that illustrates a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.

A parable is a brief, succinct story, in prose or verse, that illustrates a moral or religious lesson. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human characters. It is a type of analogy.

Merriam-Webster basically agrees, but has a few points to add:

parable: example; specifically: a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle

fable: a fictitious narrative or statement: as
a: a legendary story of supernatural happenings
b: a narration intended to enforce a useful truth; especially: one in which animals speak and act like human beings
c: falsehood, lie

  • I think the key distinction is that a parable is religious while a fable is not. I have never heard the term "parable" used outside of a religious setting.
    – alcas
    Sep 5, 2012 at 1:41
  • A lot of Biblical parables are about objects - seeds, lamps, cloths, etc - more than people; most of these are everyday objects, but Jesus also talks about treasures and great pearls, which are definitely getting into the territory of fables. And there are fables in Aesop like The Farmer and his Sons which are about men, not animals. I'm not sure there's a single point of differentiation between parable and fable, but some characteristics common to each.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 20 at 15:40

My observations - not an authority's formal definitions:

The most famous fables (Aesop's) all feature animal protagonists, but I don't believe that has ever been a requirement, Wikipedia notwithstanding. Any fictitious story with an implied or explicit moral, or lesson, and which is obviously contrived for the purpose of communicating that moral or lesson can be referred to as a fable. Example: http://www.userfocus.co.uk/fable/index.html

A parable is not necessarily contrived, but usually contains a relatively specific analogy. A fable is more vague and illustrates a more general principle or concept. The parables in the New Testament (per my poor memory) are all things that "could have actually happened like that".

Edit: Apparently the root of "parable" is from the Greek "to compare", so a specific analogy is definitely implied.

  • You have a point, one of my favorite video games is "Fable", which is all about people, or a story of one man. It does feature quite a few mythical creatures, but they are not really central to the story or to any of the lessons you might or might not end taking from it. However, even this video game is still nicely covered by Merriam-Webster ("a fictitious narrative, as a legendary story of supernatural happenings"), as is that book you linked to ("a narration intended to enforce a useful truth").
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 17, 2010 at 13:53
  • Certainly not all Aesop's fables are about animals: The Old Man and his Sons is the classic tale of how a bundle of sticks can be broken separately but are strong together.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 20 at 15:42

Fables are stories that feature animals, plants, or forces of nature that have been given human qualities.

They teach moral and ethical lessons, like how to behave or how to treat people.

Since the main characters are animals, they are a good way to introduce serious topics to children. Each animal represents a particular human fault or virtue, and what happens in the story is directly related to the animal’s personality.

Parables also teach moral and ethical lessons, but they only have human characters.

They are set in the real world, with realistic problems and results. They often have spiritual aspects.

So what would a story be that features a human interacting with a talking animal? A fable, since parables exclude unrealistic things like chatty foxes.


Both teach moral lessons, however fables usually have animals and plants behaving like humans. Parable are more like giant metaphors were each aspect of the story represents something in real life


both the fable and parable has equal elements such as the setting, symbolism and gives a moral message but the only thing is that a fable uses animals and the parables include humans. but it is to note that fables are mostly read by children and the animal characters could live in them so that the message is easily grasped.


A parable may include animals, or plants. eg. the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15, or the sower planting seed Luke 8. Matthew ch One can't differentiate between parable and fable by this definition.

  • 1
    Please don't use answers to comment on other responses. Answers should only be used to directly answer the question. Feb 20 at 10:19

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