Is there any difference between "Realm" and "Kingdom"?. Effectively I've always seen them with no difference.

In some forums people point to a more metaphorical usage of "Realm" but also "Kingdom of heaven" is quite metaphorical too. I'm looking for any nuance, if exists, more than a description of each word.

Does exist any difference or is just a context difference?


Definitions (although again I'm not looking for definition diferences): http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/kingdom

  • a country ruled by a king or queen.
  • an area that is controlled by a particular person or where a particular quality is important.
  • an area of activity.
  • one of the groups that natural things can be divided into, depending on their type.


  • an area of interest or activity.
  • a country ruled by a king or queen.

As I mentioned, there is not a big difference. Most probably is a difference of "Kingdom" is widely used in this context where "Realm" just sounds strange or the other way around.

  • Please include the research you've done, namely which reputable dictionary(ies) you've consulted and why those definitions are not adequate. – AmE speaker Oct 11 '17 at 11:59
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    @AndyT this two words are virtually the same, the difference between so close synonyms is most of the times nothing to do with definitions but with contexts where they are used. – Scipion Oct 11 '17 at 12:29
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    The difference is mainly one of etymology: Kingdom is from Anglo-Saxon roots and Realm is closer to Latin , through Anglo-French. – P. O. Oct 11 '17 at 12:31
  • Of interest: wikipedia notes several ways realm is used, including "the Commonwealth realms, which all are kingdoms in their own right and share a common monarch, though they are fully independent of each other". – Lawrence Oct 11 '17 at 12:47
  • Wow. Why are all the attempted answers currently downvoted below 0? I mean there's at least something non-trivially helpful in all of them. – Mitch Oct 12 '17 at 15:55

Which came first, the word and its uses or the definition? Dictionaries and their definitions are conscious artifacts created out of words that attempt to capture the meaning of others words. But also there is an attempt to do so in as compact a manner as possible. Sometimes efficiency wins out over exactness (with most words I'd say usually efficiency is favored).

The dictionary definitions of 'realm; and 'kingdom' are surely very similar, but they're usually not interchangeable. You can say 'the kingdom of heaven' but not the other (or rather you could but people would be confused or it would just sound wrong). You can say 'the forest behind my house is my realm' (if you go visit it a lot and you hardly see anyone there ever) but it would be weird for you to say it the other way unless you were five years old and play acting.

In addition to the dictionary definitions, both have metaphorical tendencies, but 'kingdom' is more likely to be used in the literal sense of 'political entity ruled by a person labeled as king'. Metaphorically though 'kingdom' means you are the specific person in charge of an area, like a king or autocratic ruler, and 'realm' leans more towards area of general control.

Also, 'kingdom' is used for the highest, most general classification of living things.

  • Whether in print or online, dictionaries are more for reminding readers of a meaning, that is for recognition, rather than for creating a vocabulary usage out of thin air. They don't attempt to distinguish synonyms. – Mitch Oct 11 '17 at 12:49
  • Also, there are no exact synonyms – Mitch Oct 11 '17 at 12:49
  • @Clare Interesting. I am taking the title request literally - one primary difference is that you just don't say 'realm of heaven' in Christian/English contexts. As to whether that is an accurate/as close to on-to-one translation as possible, it's a bit late in the game. Whoever first started using 'kingdom' (Tynsdale? KJV?) made a choice and that's that. – Mitch Oct 11 '17 at 13:11
  • @Clare I don't think an answer hear will shed more light on the situation than I expect must have already been done by English speaking biblical scholars. Distinguishing synonyms used in the Bible has a long history. – Mitch Oct 11 '17 at 13:17

Kingdom and realm; an interesting question which demonstrates that language does not just operate under mechanical rules - although such are absolutely necessary - but that language is a living thing which grows, develops, adapts and matures. My Oxford Dictionary of English [2nd Ed 2006] gives ‘kingdom’ - a realm associated with, or regarded as being under, the control of a particular person or thing; and ‘realm’ - a kingdom, as in ‘the defence of the realm’.

The GloWbE, Global Web-based English, one of the corpora which catalogue English usage, returns 87,093 results for kingdom and 24,163 for realm which is an indication, at the very least, that both words are well used but one has a preponderance.

Whatever value and weight the generality of persons may, or may not, give to the Authorised Version of the Bible, the so-called King James Version, it is nevertheless a truth that this book had a massive influence over the development of the English language, in several major countries of the world, for a period of almost three hundred years, from 1611 until, decreasingly, 1888 and thereafter.

So it was to that reference book that I went, immediately, to research the question, and since the words ‘kingdom of heaven’ had been already mentioned I checked those in Young’s Analytical Concordance. I will not go into all the details, they are readily available, but one text stood out like a pinnacle which, in its twin peaks, revealed, to me, something that was fundamental to the understanding of the words and their historical use in the English language.

Ezra 7:23 Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done diligently, for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king ?

These are the English words, chosen by Englishmen in 1611, to convey the concept ‘realm’ . The word is maleku, which, in this place is actually a Chaldee word but can be considered as Hebrew. It is usually translated ‘kingdom’, very occasionally ‘realm’ - but here, in particular, the translators chose ‘realm’.

The words are uttered, in 455 BC, in the twentieth year of his reign, by Artaxerxes, the King of Persia - then the king of the whole known world (who would, later, be ousted by Alexander the Great) to Ezra the scribe - and these words clearly show that a king of such an empire, accepted that his place was on earth, and that he was subject to whom he chooses to call ‘The God of heaven’.

And in 1611 the translators, appointed by King James the first (in Scotland we recognise him as the sixth), chose to translate the word maleku by ‘realm’ not ‘kingdom’. It’s only a kingdom if God accepts that it is - and that acceptance, at that time, was in doubt. Yes, there is territory; yes, there are people on it; yes, they have property there. But it’s only a real kingdom if God is above it.

Here we see demonstrated the psychology of human beings over a period of two thousand years; a disposition of mind that had not changed for two millenia, for the King James translators accept the deference of Artaxerxes to the God of heaven and they call his kingdom - a realm.

Compared to the God of heaven, who had established another kind of rule on earth than his, Artaxerxes accepts an inferior place. What he had was a ‘realm’ on earth, over men, temporarily. Yes, in other contexts it was a kingdom, and the translators so translate the Chaldee or Hebrew words. But here - in one small text of scripture - is demonstrated what would take me several pages to argue, otherwise.

The ‘defence of the realm’ is a matter of a nation on earth defending territory from another nation. It is about an area of land upon which persons dwell, hopefully peaceably. Humans dwell there. And livestock. But the psychology which predominated upon the planet for two millenia, at least, saw more than that. It saw much, much more. And the difference between ‘realm’ and ‘kingdom’, I believe, ably demonstrates that fact in Ezra 7:23.


Realm is a broader term than kingdom.

One way to see the difference is by considering the expression a peer of the realm. A peer is not an equal of the king, but still has existence outside of being a mere vassal.

Or consider the official name of the U.K. House of Lords: The Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

Or the House of Commons: The Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

At this point in U.K. history, Parliament rules, and the Queen reigns as head of state. It is no longer a kingdom, but a constitutional monarchy. But it still can be referred to as a realm.

In 1653, when Oliver Cromwell styled himself as the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the kingdom disappeared, but the realm did not (and returned to royalist control in 1660 anyway).

Everything that you have ever read in English fiction about realms and kingdoms has ultimately been derived from actual terms of governance in the British Isles, or from translation into English of similar concepts as they appeared in other European states.


Realm is simply a royal domain, which might be a Kingdom, a Principality, or even a Duchy, though the term is not usually used for a royal manor.
Regel, rehel, real [pronounced as in Real Madrid], and rail are all medieval English variants the Latin-rooted regal. Compare Rail or Real-tennis.


There's a technical difference, politically: a realm is a territory with a monarch who is not called a king or queen. For example, Luxembourg (or The Grand Duchy Of Luxembourg) is ruled by a Grand Duke, and so is referred to as a realm rather than a kingdom. So, "realm" can be used to describe countries/territories which are "like a kingdom but don't have a king".

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realm

EDIT: Somewhat confusingly, given the above definition, "realm" can also be used to describe a kingdom, ignoring the above technical distinction. Thus a resident of the United Kingdom could talk about "The defence of the realm", meaning the kingdom.

"Realm" can also be used interchangeably with "area" when talking about knowledge - for example, you might say "This is getting into the realm of mathematics, so I'll leave it to my more technical colleagues". You'd never talk about "The kingdom of mathematics" in this way (because, again, there's no king).

  • Then who is 'the Crown' in this example sentence from Oxford dictionary: ‘The defence of the realm, which is the Crown's first duty, is the paradigm of so grave a matter'? – AmE speaker Oct 11 '17 at 11:54
  • The OED defines realm as a kingdom without any such distinction in usage as you state. It's latest example is from 2007: Consoles are just getting into the whole free demo download thing, but the PC is king of that realm. – AmE speaker Oct 11 '17 at 11:57
  • @Clare "Realm" can also, confusingly, be used as a straight synonym for kingdom, for example to avoid repetition in a sentence. I'll add this to my answer. Can you provide a link to the OED page you mention please? – Max Williams Oct 11 '17 at 12:56
  • Hmmm, I can't because I access the OED through my library. That's one problem with citing the OED. The first edition is in the public realm (which is not the public kingdom, as I notice), and can be found at Internat Archive; but you probably have to search for the OED's original title, which is like twenty words long and I've never bothered to memorize it. – AmE speaker Oct 11 '17 at 13:08
  • Well, that puts your argument on slightly shaky ground, I'd say: "this thing which I can't show you doesn't have it, therefore it's not valid". Even if I could access the OED, then it not having a particular sense definition doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. – Max Williams Oct 11 '17 at 13:19

My Sprachgefuehl suggests: an interior/exterior dichotomy. Actually, my feeling is traced out over a basic tool of analysis exposed by Barfield in his "History of English in Words". In that he posits that the Greek words (in English) have come to represent the inner experience and the Latin the outer, that the Greeks were philosophers and poets while the Romans were engineers and legislators. Theory and practice, sensibility and sense you might (cornily) say.

A realm is the interior concept. A jurisdiction; the inner workings of laws. It is the collective of souls that make up a nation governed by a monarch. I connotes a natural rapport between the monarch and the people.

A kingdom is exterior. It is the state; the organic arrangement of its functions. It is a toponym, e.g. The Kingdom of Spain. If you invade it and put your brother on the throne, e.g. Joseph Bonaparte, he is king, even if he doesn't speak the language, etc. He rules the kingdom, but, arguably, not the realm. Such was the case of liberal Joseph to whom is attributed having said something like "before now you were in chains" to the citizens in revolt against his rule, to which they supposedly replied that they wanted their chains back (the Bourbon king). Joseph I had gained the kingdom, but not the hearts of the realm, I would hazard to say. Czarina Alexandra and Queen Marie Antoinette (and their native spouses for that matter) are the more tragic examples.

Lastly, realm is French in origin, kingdom, Germanic. I think in our collective understanding of these we could make a parallel between Barfield's Greek and Roman poles.

  • A philosophical stance that does not accord with actual linguistic use of the words by English speakers through the centuries. – AmE speaker Oct 17 '17 at 23:49
  • We do use 'the realm of' for things conceptual, spiritual and kingdom for the concrete and observable nowdays as seen in collocations in google search results, kingdom of God the only notable departure. Realm now as a physical kingdom connotes chivalric times, ie knights of the realm, or survives today from Norman rule as a legal term (Black's). Kingdom today is certainly a toponym and a political organization of state that would not be interchangeable with realm in those instances. – James Oct 18 '17 at 1:42

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