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I'm stuck at getting the clear and sharp difference between these two words. WikiDiff says:

As nouns the difference between apparition and ghost is that apparition is an act of becoming visible; appearance; visibility while ghost is (rare) the spirit; the soul of man.

Longman defines apparition as:

something that you imagine you can see, especially the spirit of a dead person.

and ghost as:

the spirit of a dead person that some people think they can feel or see in a place

So, what is the exact difference between these two?

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  • I think this belongs on Biblical Hermaneutics,SE ...It is based on Magical Thinking and religious opinion. Deciding such a topic here is either a fruitless argument of semantics or worse , nothing less than a form a Christian propaganda. In other words Primarily-Opinion-basesd...and what the hell is WikiDiff? Mar 21 at 21:34
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    Wikidiff is very unreliable. Mar 21 at 22:49

2 Answers 2

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Traditionally:

Ghosts are the spirits of animate and sentient creatures now dead, often, humans.

An apparition includes ghosts but also is anything else that appears, usually as ectoplasm, and as if from nowhere - a ghostly knife, a phantom building, a ship, etc.

I am aware that "a ghost ship", e.g. The Flying Dutchman", is a collocation, so there is some overlap.

However, I am reminded of a question in a philosophy exam - If dragons and unicorns do not exist, how do you know they are not the same?

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  • These do not falute equally, which is all that really matters here. Low-falutin’ ghost rhymes with most and host, while high-falutin’ apparition rhymes with exhibition and malnutrition as well as with mission, tuition, and perdition.
    – tchrist
    Mar 21 at 16:38
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    A round of applause for @tchrist 's charming falute solo. I'm surprised there was no rhyme with audition :-)
    – DjinTonic
    Mar 21 at 16:57
  • “ She was a Phantom of delight When first she gleamed upon my sight; A lovely Apparition, sent To be a moment's ornament; ” —Wordswoth
    – Xanne
    Mar 21 at 23:37
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As the word suggests, an "apparition" must appear, but as Longman indicates, it does not need to belong to a person. For example, in Shakespeare's "Macbeth", the titular character imagines seeing a dagger; that is an apparition but not a ghost.

A "ghost" need not appear, but as Longman indicates, it must belong to a dead person (or sometimes a person-like thing, such as an animal). For example, at the end of Act I of "Hamlet", a "ghost" (who is offstage) simply says the word "swear". The ghost can not then be described as an apparition, because it does not appear.

By the way, both words also have other meanings. I'm only addressing the meanings that are most likely to be confused (which I think you're asking about).

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    Ghost was originally another word for spirit or soul, but in modern English it is reserved for spirits of dead people appearing to the living. Mar 21 at 17:58
  • Ghosts can be invisible and rattle chains or howl, but I don't think an apparition would do that.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 21 at 20:14

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