I am trying to find words to describe two distinct entities related to books, but I guess I am struggling because English is not my native language.

What do you call the concrete entity of a book, e.g., a book that I have in my hands vs. the conceptual entity of a book, e.g., the one that a publisher has in their catalog?

For example, in Portuguese we could call the conceptual book a "livro" and the physical entity an "exemplar" of this "livro".

I think I could call them "Book" and "Book copy" but it is not very satisfying, are there better words to describe those two entities?

  • 2
    Handbook? I dont think there is a noun for that. A book is just a book. Your copy.
    – user 66974
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 9:35
  • 1
    So how do you call the collective of all the copies of a book?
    – Cesar
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 9:37
  • Edition, it can be the first, the second. etc. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/edition
    – user 66974
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 9:43

2 Answers 2


The equivalent to your exemplar is copy, as Hachi says. Book is used of the conceptual entity and, in everyday conversation, of the physical item too. Isn't that the same in Portuguese? I know it is in French.

I'm a retired librarian, and we would order so many copies of a particular title from our book suppliers.

  • Thanks! Yes, in Portuguese is the same. The problem is just that I am trying to name entities in a database diagram and I wanted to find good distinct names for those two. But your example is perfect, that's exactly the kind of action I wanted to model.
    – Cesar
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 9:51
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    We often refer to both as a "book" unless we have reason to stress which of them it is that we mean. (Mostly it is clear from the context - There were three books lying on the table versus She has written a number of books on the subject) But as you indicate, we also use the term "a title" to indicate the non-substantial idea of a book. I am wondering if this might be another translation of exemplar. As you know this gets more complicated once digital books enter the conversation.
    – WS2
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 10:24
  • @WS2 I said in my answer that book was used for the physical object in everyday language. I assume that exemplar means copy because I know that the French word exemplaire does. Commented May 20, 2020 at 10:27
  • @KateBunting Yes - good thought about exemplaire. But you were also right when you pointed out that livre in French could also have the same conceptual meaning as book does in English.
    – WS2
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 10:30
  • 1
    Complicating matters further, if I had a soft document and wanted to run of several hard ones from it, I might refer to them as "prints" rather than "copies".
    – WS2
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 8:26

I think "a copy" or "a copy of [title]" is the best you are going to get. If you went to the bookstore and asked to buy The Odyssey, it would be completely proper and expected to hear "let's see if we have a copy in stock".

I don't think you would hear someone say "let's see if we have a book copy".

  • Thanks! Yes, I should have added that I asked the question because am trying to name those entities in a concept diagram, but I am not expecting to hear anyone making this distinction in an everyday conversation.
    – Cesar
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 9:53

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