I am interested in any differences between the two nouns change and coins in actual usage. These nouns have different but similar meanings. I am only interested in the difference of the meaning of:

  • change (n):

money in the form of coins

  • coins (n):

small, flat, and usually round pieces of metal issued by a government as money

Source: Merriam-Webster’s Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary

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The difference between these two definitions is not always clear for me. Are there slight differences or are these two terms 100% interchangeable?

What is the difference between:

  1. a) I've got a $10 bill and about $3 in change.
    b) I've got a $10 bill and about $3 in coins.

  2. a) a pocketful of loose change
    b) a pocketful of loose coins

  3. a) The beggar asked us if we had any spare change. [=a small amount of money that we did not need]
    b) The beggar asked us if we had spare coins. [=a small amount of money that we did not need]

  4. a) Have you got any change for this note?
    b) Have you got coins for this note?

  5. a) I had no change for the parking meter so I didn't pay.
    b) I had no coins for the parking meter so I didn't pay.

  6. a) gold/silver/copper coins
    b) gold/silver/copper change

  7. a) I have a dollar in coins.
    b) I have a dollar in change.

  8. a) He collects coins from around the world.
    b) He collects change from around the world.

  • 3
    Usage, my good man, usage. The longer you read or hear English, the more likely you will be able to choose the word that a native English speaker would use. Sometimes they are interchangeable, sometimes not.
    – David
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 19:39
  • Please, please, please, use more than one dictionary.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 10:07

1 Answer 1


The definition of change that was provided is incomplete:

2 a : money in small denominations received in exchange for an equivalent sum in larger denominations
2 b : money returned when a payment exceeds the amount due
// a cashier quick at making change
2 c : coins especially of low denominations
// a pocketful of change

Only sense 2 c was included as the definition in the question.

Coins represent money, and they can always be considered change in the one sense of their definition (2 c above), but in the other two senses of the word, coins are not always what's returned.

In other words, change (in the other senses of the word) can be either bills or coins:

She was given small bills and coins in change.

So, in some cases, the words can be used interchangeably—but not in all cases. It depends on the context.

  • 1
    True, change is not always given in coins, but is may be worthwhile to add that coins are not always change (either actual or potential). In 'he owns a collection of valuable gold coins', one couldn't use change instead of coins.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 16:17
  • To all: Please do not discuss @Jason Bassford's 2 a and 2 b here. I only want to discuss "change def. 2 c" with "coin".
    – Wogehu
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 16:27
  • 2
    @Wogehu A problem is that in examples like your example 3a, the sense of 'change' used is indeterminate. Even the M-W definitions are inadequately explained; 'any spare change' '[= a small amount of money that we did not need]' can of course include low-denomination bills. That said, there is an implication when the 'coins' (or indeed any other related) subsense of 'change' is intended/used that the coins mentioned are associated with pockets / gifts to tramps / coin drawers / transactions / minor sums. Numismatists don't 'collect change', and we speak only of gold, silver and copper 'coins'. Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 16:50
  • 3
    @Wogehu The problem is that in your question, only sentences 6 and 8 are (without being contrived) unambiguously meant in the third Merriam-Webster sense. All of the other sentences are open to interpretation. Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 16:58
  • 2
    I disagree that coins can always be considered change (2c). Change is inherently low-denomination, which coins aren’t necessarily. Granted, most currencies nowadays use notes/bills for higher denominations, but that wasn’t always the case. In late Roman times, for example, the denarius coin was worth something like the equivalent of £15–20, which I wouldn’t call change (I’m not posh or rich enough for that). Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 17:40

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