We were to give a tagline for a charitable society for underprivileged children. Someone suggested the human touch and within seconds someone modified it to the humane touch. What is the difference between human and humane or between human touch and humane touch?

  • 1
    Someone voted to close this as a general reference; but the question is not trivial: Is there a difference between "human touch" and "humane touch" is not a single reference lookup. Especially since some dictionaries list "human touch" as idiom, developing its own meaning.
    – Unreason
    Dec 2, 2011 at 9:51
  • @Unreason so what do you suggest to go for? Human or Humane touch? Dec 2, 2011 at 10:53
  • So I conclude that both human and humane are quite interchangeable?
    – user80073
    Jun 13, 2014 at 5:11

4 Answers 4


Here’s what ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ says:

There are loftier principles in humane, and a humane approach . . . connotes compassion and concern in situations where others might react harshly. The reactions implied in human are much more down-to-earth . . .

As for your particular instance, human touch is the more ususal expression. Touch collocates more frequently with human than with humane. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English there are 122 records of human touch against two for humane touch. The British National Corpus figures are 19 and 0.

  • You left the answer inconclusive; according to the usage note I imagine OP would use humane, but the mention of frequencies discourages it (especially 19-0).
    – Unreason
    Dec 2, 2011 at 9:25
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    @Unreason: I try to avoid telling people how to write, partly because only they are aware of all the circumstances. I normally limit myself to providing information. In this case, I have passed on an expert’s view of the difference between the two words, which after all is what the OP asked for, and an indication of usage. Dec 2, 2011 at 9:40
  • Apologies, I did not want to criticize. I am just interested in your opinion, in this particular case, if "humane touch" would be awkward (frequencies imply that). And especially as a stand-alone tag line.
    – Unreason
    Dec 2, 2011 at 9:54
  • @Unreason: Understood. Yes, I would find it awkward, because 'human touch' is the normal expression. You could, I suppose, use 'humane touch' as a kind of pun, but doing so would rely on readers catching the reference. Dec 2, 2011 at 9:57
  • then what you recommend? "human touch" or "humane touch" ?
    – Sayuj
    Dec 2, 2011 at 10:59

The noun human refers to a person. As an adjective, human means showing the distinctive characteristics (good or bad) of people, as distinguished from animals. The adjective humane means characterized by kindness, compassion, or sympathy.

For Example :
* Ram is human. (= You are a person.)
* Ram is humane. (= You are kind and merciful to people and animals.)

  • Agree, although inhumane and inhuman is used for 'bad' characteristics of humans (without it becoming an oxymoron); so when you say something is human, it can imply that it is not bad (as then it would be more appropriate to say it is inhuman; although there are exceptions and a gray zone).
    – Unreason
    Dec 2, 2011 at 9:22
  • I disagree with this answer only because the question is specifically about "human touch" which is an idiom or set phrase and doesn't strictly depend on the meaning of the word "human". Dec 5, 2011 at 19:45

Barrie England's answer has already given a bit of the distinction between human and humane, but I think it's important to expand on this. "Human touch" is an idiom, meaning a friendly, and pleasant way of treating people, or having the quality of being friendly, etc.

So a workplace might lack a human touch, in that it is not an inviting or friendly place to work. A person might not use a human touch when dealing with others, in that they are cold and unfeeling or unempathetic. So when you use the human touch you make others feel welcome.

"Humane touch" is not an idiom, however, it alludes to the "human touch" idiom. When something is humane, it means

characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed

So for a charity, using "Humane touch" as a tag-line is saying that this charity's touch is characterized by tenderness and compassion. As a phrase it sounds off to me because it seems like a mistaken use of the well-known idiom. But as a slogan it makes sense, because it refers to the original idiom while emphasizing caring and compassion over friendliness.

My personal opinion is that this tag-line is a little too cliche sounding, but its meaning is clear and (depending on what this charity DOES) it sounds like a reasonable tag-line.

  • so @mr-shiny-and-new which one is better.... Dec 3, 2011 at 1:49
  • @AkhilKNambiar: Which is better depends on a lot of things. They have different meanings. I don't know what the charity does, or what their goals/visions are, or any of their other marketing. One is an idiom and one is an allusion to that idiom. Only someone with all the context could answer. Dec 5, 2011 at 19:44
  • its a society for the welfare of underprivillaged kids... Dec 6, 2011 at 8:01

In your particular case, especially, it would be more apt to say human touch. A charitable society differs from, say the state "machinery", in that it does not act in a routine, bureaucratic and mechanical way but includes an "I am here for you" kind of emotional ingredient to what it does.

People in distress or need look more for someone than something, however humane that something may be. It's more about psychology or feelings than grammar, I guess.

  • Why would you associate something with humane and someone with human?
    – Unreason
    Dec 2, 2011 at 9:20
  • Could "something" be human when contrasted with "someone"?
    – Kris
    Dec 2, 2011 at 9:23
  • yes something can be human: car, button, shoe and touch for example. These things can also be humane (in some way kind to others: extremely quiet car, button or a shoe whose profits feed the hungry, a touch that is empathic). Your counter question did not really clear anything for me (what does it mean "when contrasted with someone?").
    – Unreason
    Dec 2, 2011 at 9:31
  • Well, well, I expected you to re-read "for someone than something, however humane that something may be." in the meantime, which should clear your doubts.
    – Kris
    Dec 2, 2011 at 9:33
  • No, still hitting a wall. Also, I don't know what is your experience, but mine is certainly that people in distress or need look for anything that can help them. Is that something or someone is purely contextual and depends on the actual needs. (my experience is from post-conflict assistance to refugees and also from helping after natural disasters). But again, that is rather irrelevant, what I want to know is what is the reason why you feel that human touch is more apt (linguistically) and I can not understand it from the arguments presented.
    – Unreason
    Dec 2, 2011 at 9:43

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