'Immortal' means having a beginning but living for ever.

I was under the impression that 'eternal' and 'everlasting' were synonyms and that both had the meaning of being timeless; existing irrespective of time; hence of having no beginning and no ending.

But I am discovering that some think the two words mean slightly different things.

Are they synonyms, in English usage ? And how are they used ?


As encouraged, I have done some more research and the etymology of 'everlasting' appears to be that it is just English words strung together ever+lasting to make a new word.'Eternal' is from the Latin aeternus meaning 'of an age'.

This is reminiscent of the Hebrew 'olam' which is usually translated 'of the age'.

Greek has two words, aionos, again meaning 'of the age aion' and a specialised word aidiois which, approximately, has a meaning of 'perpetual'.

Throughout the English bible, the King James version, the Hebrew olam in the Old Testament is translated 'everlasting' and usually the Greek aionos in the New Testament is translated 'eternal'.

This was the reason that I had thought they were synonyms, one being chosen, for some reason, to translate Hebrew and one being used to render the Greek.

But I was interested to see what people thought, intuitively, about the actual usage in modern English.

  • 2
    Why not tell us what you find in a dictionary, and what you find unsatisfying about that?
    – GEdgar
    Oct 4 '17 at 0:23
  • There are no exact synonyms. For example, there may be some set phrases for one that the other does not share. 'Everlasting' is a bit anglo-saxon and transparent, saying what it means, a bit childish. 'Eternal' is, as you note, latinate and has an educated feel about it. In a Christian context, one being OT and the other NT may give an extra layer of connotation. I'd be surprised if there weren't already copious exegesis of the difference between these two words in the Bible study literature.
    – Mitch
    Oct 11 '17 at 20:30
  • As to current usage, 'everlasting' sounds like it came from a kids' book ('Tuck Everlasting') and 'eternal' sounds like a professor of physics is using it ('A Brief History of Time'?)
    – Mitch
    Oct 11 '17 at 20:31
  • "eternal" is I believe etymologically related to "aionos": the "ae" in Latin corresponds to the "ai" in Greek. I wonder if this might be part of the reason
    – herisson
    Oct 12 '17 at 1:18
  • @sumelic So we get ever+lasting from Old English and 'eternal' from Greek via Latin. That makes sense. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 12 '17 at 1:21

Merriam-Webster definitions:


1: lasting or enduring through all time, eternal
2a(1): continuing for a long time or indefinitely


1a: having infinite duration, everlasting
2a: continued without intermission, perpetual
2b: seemingly endless
4: valid or existing at all times

You can see that both actually reference each other in their first definition. In many ways, these two words are very similar and often interchangeable.

But by looking at the word itself, everlasting seems to hold more of the literal means it will last forever (meaning it had to have some concrete starting point, from which it will then go on forever). So it does not exist outside of time. Eternal, on the other hand, is more likely to mean it has always existed and will always exist (definition 4).

Realistically, though, people often use them interchangeably. My everlasting love or my eternal love have the same meaning to me as an American English speaker. As Merriam-Webster points out, eternal is slightly more popular than everlasting. And there are certain phrases that are generally associated with only one of the words and not the other, such as eternal damnation. But otherwise there is little difference.

Check out this post on TheDifferenceBetweet.net where they discuss the difference between the two words and also come to the same conclusions as me.

  • This is useful and it agrees with the translation of 'everlasting' for the Hebrew 'olam' which would be a matter of enduring age. Whereas the New Testament Greek word 'aion' would be, more, logically, an eternal matter. Thank you. Very helpful.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 4 '17 at 1:25

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