I have noticed that Americans ask kids, Which grade are you in?, while Indians ask, Which class are you studying in?

The typical Indian reply would be, say, for example, I am a twelfth class student, while I’m guessing that an American student would reply, I am currently in my twelfth grade.

What is the difference between them? Or what is the origin of the difference between these words? Why is there a difference in the usage of these words?

  • 1
    Why would one be correct and the other not correct?
    – J. Taylor
    Apr 24, 2018 at 18:53
  • 1
    To clarify, in Am.Eng. these questions would be about different things. "What grade are you in?" would be answered with a number or level like 3rd Grade or Sophomore, "What class are you in?" would usually result in a teacher's name, like "Mrs. Smith's class" or "Professor Trelawney's class." Finally, "What are you studying?" would be answered with one's major or focus, like mathematics or devination.
    – cobaltduck
    Apr 24, 2018 at 18:57
  • 1
    To make things even more confusing, a British child would find both uses uncommon, and expect "year" or even the old fashioned "form".
    – origimbo
    Apr 24, 2018 at 19:53
  • 3
    Class (and year) can be used to indicate one's education level in AmE, but are not typically for primary or middle school. What grade are you? 10th. What year are you? Sophomore. What class are you? 2020.
    – choster
    Apr 24, 2018 at 20:31
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    @SvenYargs A "form" can certainly be used for a cohort of students at a school, but it often consisted of two separate year groups, a lower (i.e. younger) and an upper . Precisely which age a particular form corresponded to varied somewhat by school, with the only near constant being lower and upper sixth as 17 year olds and 18 year olds respectively. Within state schools, this all officially vanished around 1990, with a switch to a system labelled form Year 1 to Year 12, corresponding to US grades. However individual names still survive in independent and public (i.e. fee paying) schools.
    – origimbo
    Apr 25, 2018 at 1:16

2 Answers 2


As any dictionary will tell you, terms including class, grade, degree, rate, standard, etc. share at least two separate senses: one of a stage in a sequence, another of a position in a ranking. To those who object that grade is a mark on a scale (grade A, grade B, etc.), the exact same could be argued of class (first class, second class, etc.), level (level one, level two, etc.), and so on and so forth. So let's leave aside what "makes sense." They all "make sense," but we become accustomed to certain nomenclature and so find others, well, foreign, as covered in our various and numerous discussions of other educational terms which vary by locale, from being in college to tutors and seminars to rising juniors to the difference between a diploma and a degree certificate.

According to the OED, the earliest sense of class as it relates to education is of a group of students or pupils who are taught together, attested from about 1560 onwards. In American usage attested from at least the 1670s, this meaning was extended to refer to an entire cohort of university-level students who matriculate and graduate together, a meaning still in use (e.g. a member of the class of 2005).

The term grade referred to the grading of schoolchildren, not in the usual modern sense of scoring for scholastic achievement or other measures of quality, but in the broader sense of sorting and grouping according to a scale, in this case age. You can grade in other ways that are not related to a quality standard. Crushed stone is graded by size, as are coffee beans, and military and civil service ranks are known as grades, whence expressions like above my pay grade arise.

Where the grading (division/sorting) of children was done, instruction could be targeted at a particular age group, the material advancing as the children aged. This was a revolutionary idea in the era of the ungraded one-room schoolhouse, and popularized as part of educational reforms in the mid-19th century along Prussian lines. They could have ranked them into ranks, they could have tiered them into tiers, they could have rated them into ratings, and so on, but as a matter of history they graded them into grades, and here we are.

A school large enough to organize children into classes by age was thus a graded school. You can still find this term in the names of former school buildings or current school districts, or in the occasional old schoolbook, but it became supplanted over time with grade school, which further shifted in meaning to refer primarily to elementary school.

The English education system developed along very different lines from the American one, England having been settled far more densely and for far longer than anywhere in North America. Indian education in turn was heavily influenced by Victorian-era British practices, so it is unsurprising that the terminology differs, as it does in other countries with historical ties to Britain. Consider that in Canada, school years are referred to as grades, but with cardinal numbers— grade five not fifth grade as in the U.S.— and in Australia, they are simply years, e.g. year five.

  • Excellent answer—and having spent grade 11 and grade 12 in Calgary, Alberta, I can confirm your note regarding that difference in terminology between public schools there and most U.S. schools that I'm aware of.
    – Sven Yargs
    Apr 25, 2018 at 6:11

According to my dictionary, in the US

a grade is a group of students of the same age taught together

a class is a group of students taught together, but not necessarily of the same age

  • Indians usually refer to both as "class". In India the term grade is never used to refer to one's educational level but its used only in progress reports
    – M. S. L
    Apr 24, 2018 at 19:17
  • Sure is a valuable answer but i think it would be more useful as to why it is different in India and the US .Sort of like its origin?
    – M. S. L
    Apr 24, 2018 at 22:20

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