I asked my colleague if the cake he brought is self-made.

He answered "No, my girlfriend made it".

Me: "So it's self-made!"

He: "No, it's home-made!"

If I asked the same question in German (my native language) with selbstgemacht (=self-made), everybody would have answered either just "Yes" or "Yes, my girlfriend did it." What we actually want to know when somebody asks person A if something is selbstgemacht is if A or somebody A knows well (friend, relative, but not the baker where he would have to pay for it) did it himself. Even though there is the word hausgemacht (=home-made) it is used much less often. It is not even in my active vocabulary.

How is the situation in English? Do you really distinguish accurately like that between the two words? I'm asking because my colleague is not a native English speaker, either.

  • 2
    Home-made connotes wholesomeness, fulsomeness, purity, etc. Like Grandma's apple pie. Self-made implies a tinkering, a DIY spirit, and perhaps a jury-rigged result. Like Uncle Pete's half-built hotrod. Moms do home-made, Dads do self-made. Home-made happens in the kitchen. Self-made happens in the garage. In the traditional American narrative, anyway.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 11:36
  • 5
    I am not familiar with the expression "self-made" except in the sense of a person who has been successful through their own efforts.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 11:42
  • 2
    "The Englishman considers himself self-made, thus relieving the Almighty of a terrible responsibility" - an old joke of very uncertain provenance!
    – Charl E
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 11:54
  • 1
    The objection might be that a self-made cake could be taken to mean a cake that made itself.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 3:56

4 Answers 4


The phrase self-made is not entirely interchangeable with home-made.

Home-made means something that was created in the manner of being 'at home' i.e. possibly but not necessarily in the person's own house. This implies that it was created in an amateur fashion or without the use of commercial equipment, often by hand instead of using tools.

For example, baking goods in your home oven, weaving a basket by hand, etc.

Self-made is used to describe a person that has made their fortune, usually starting from nothing, by themselves without external input (e.g. an inheritance, a windfall), usually by building a business or empire and expanding it with hard work.

For example, Sir Richard Branson who began by selling records from a church and steadily moved on to become a famous billionaire entrepreneur.

  • Further, self-made usually implies some degree of self-education, vs having a fancy Harvard doctorate or some such.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 11:55
  • 1
    @HotLicks Unless you studied hard in HS and got good grades and earned a scholarship to Harvard, then worked two jobs to put yourself through it. Then you've got an Ivy-league degree and are still self-made.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 12:02
  • 1
    Ok, thanks, but I still don't know what I could have asked my colleague instead when I want to know if he or somebody close to him made the cake himself/herself. And I don't care who exactly did it, just if this is the case and the cake was not bought. And as far as I understand home-made is not quite suitable, either, because it could have been home-made by anybody and then bought by my colleague. And just asking who made the cake? is unfriendly, because I don't want to assume it was not him who made the cake. What do you ask in such a situation?
    – Rob
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 8:46
  • 1
    I'd probably say wow, did you make this? implying it is much better than any cake you can buy in the shops (so a nice compliment). If you ask if it is home-made, that should be okay too. It is unlikely a person would say 'yes' if they didn't make it themselves. Most people would say 'yes, my mum made it' for example. They would know they are being deceptive by saying just 'yes' when they have not made the cake.
    – NibblyPig
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 13:02

Self-made means having become successful through your own efforts, but it also simply means made by yourself (for example, self-made box). Home-made means made at home instead of in a shop. They are quite different. It would be stretching the meaning a little to treat girlfriend as self so that girlfriend-made becomes self-made.

  • 1
    This is essentially a duplicate of the earlier answer. If you can add something novel to it, so that it is differentiated, it might gather upvotes.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 11:46

Traditionally home-made was/is created in the home - clothes, foods, cleaning or other products - in contrast to factory made. For items made with wood or metal we would tend to say "hand-made". The only way I understand "self-made" is as already stated above, describing a person who by their own efforts has become successful.


The German "selbstgemacht" does not mean "self-made". It means "homemade". That is the correct term in English that means the same thing as "selbstgemacht" in German.

A cake is "homemade" and jam is "homemade" and beer is "homemade", but if you built your own sofa or house you wouldn't say it is "homemade". You would say "I built this sofa myself" or "I built the house myself". The term "self-made" in English has a very specific meaning and it is usually only used in the expression "self-made man".

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