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I am interested in the difference between spot (n) and mark (n).

These nouns have different meanings. I am only interested in the difference of the meaning of:

mark: a small area on the surface of something that is dirty
spot: a small amount of a substance that is on something

The difference between this two definitions is not always clear for me.


Here are some examples of this meaning:

What is the difference between:

1)
a) You have a dirty mark on your shirt. Have you eaten ice-cream?
b) You have a dirty spot on your shirt. Have you eaten ice-cream?

2)
a) The glass left a water mark on the wooden table.
b) The glass left a water spot on the wooden table.

3)
a) a scratch mark (Edit)
b) a scratch spot (Edit)

4)
a) a burn mark (Edit)
b) a burn spot (Edit)

5)
a) The tablecloth had a couple of spots.
b) The tablecloth had a couple of marks.

6)
a) There were mud spots on the back of his pants.
b) There were mud marks on the back of his pants.

7)
a) rust spots on the metal
b) rust marks on the metal

8)
a) a spot of grease
b) a mark of grease

9)
a) There was a tiny spot of ketchup at the corner of her mouth.
b) There was a tiny mark of ketchup at the corner of her mouth.

10)
a) There wasn't a spot of dust anywhere.
b) There wasn't a mark of dust anywhere.

  • 1
    Spots give the impression of being circular or small, although don't have to be. 3 and 4 you wouldn't use spot. 9, 10 you wouldn't use mark. – schoon Jun 16 at 14:32
  • A spot is most likely from a drop of some substance falling on a surface. A water mark from a glass is likely to be a ring. – Kate Bunting Jun 16 at 15:23
  • I'm curious why looking these words up in a dictionary didn't help clarify the difference in meaning between them. – Jason Bassford Jun 16 at 18:03
  • You are right with example 3 and 4. I should not have done these examples, because they represent not the kind of meaning I would like to explore. – Wogehu Jun 16 at 18:14
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According to Merriam-Webster, a mark is "an impression (such as a scratch, scar, or stain) made on something."

As for a spot, it is "a small area visibly different (as in color, finish, or material) from the surrounding area." Furthermore, Merriam states that a spot is "a circumscribed surface lesion of disease (such as measles) or decay."

So you can say, "The glass left a water spot on the table when I put it down. Left untreated, the spot will leave a mark."

  • So I guess, when we have anything on the tablecloth, we can say: "The tablecloth had a couple of spots.", when it is no problem to clean it. But we would say "The tablecloth had a couple of marks.", when we are not able to remove them? Right? And we prefer to say: "rust marks on the metal" instead of "rust spots on the metal", because we are not able to remove the rust without destroying the metal? – Wogehu Jun 16 at 18:04
  • The definition: // mark: a circumscribed surface lesion of disease (such as measles) or decay." // is not the kind of meaning I would like to explore. But your saying about the "glass" and the "table" is interesting. – Wogehu Jun 17 at 7:19
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Prototypically, spot is a noun describing a visual impression, while mark is a verb meaning to create a visual impression. Thus the noun derived from the verb mark always carries the presumption of some action having taken place to make the mark, whereas spot has no such presumption.

Neither word refers to the substance on the surface.

  • Spot assumes a roughly circular contrasting colored portion of a surface, typically small in comparison to the overall area, and normally colored darker than the rest, but says nothing about the details, nor how it came about.

  • Mark assumes a marker -- some utensil or person that caused the mark to appear. There is no prototypic shape for a mark, and again nothing is presumed about the materials used in the mark, their source, their desirability, or their purpose. Not even whether the mark was made accidentally or on purpose. Nor what the mark might be a "mark of": Zorro, the Devil, genius, whatever.

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