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I teach a history class to secondary students that is for a region of the world that experienced a lot of different take-overs. Each time a new group siezed power, there was usually some kind of violent resistance. Some succeed, some succeeded temporarily, some were squashed.

Since the students don't have great vocabulary, I have to spend time in class teaching vocabulary:

  • rebellion: (1) open, armed, and organized resistance to a constituted government. (2) defiance toward an authority or established convention:
  • revolt: (1) To attempt to overthrow the authority of the state; rebel
  • uprising: (1) A popular revolt against a government or its policies; a rebellion. (2) The act or an instance of rising or rising up.

So far, I've been teaching that the three words mean the same thing -- at least in the context of referring to resistance against a group in power. I want to know thought if there are some nuances that I need to point out?

Can these three words be used entirely interchangeably to refer to groups of people rising up against either oppressors, or new governments bringing in unwanted changes?

Or are there any conditions by which an event is a rebellion, but not a revolt or uprising; or in which the event is a revolt, but not a rebellion or uprising; or still, is an uprising, but not a rebellion or uprising?

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    After you list definitions, we can compare. Let's say there's a mild to wild to successful array: uprising, rebellion, revolt. Commented Mar 8 at 5:20
  • There is traditionally a gradation in severity, but the severe words are often used ironically for mild protests. I guess uprising has more of a connotation of "rising up" than rebellion does, but not sure it affects its use much.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 8 at 9:37
  • BTW, when asking a question it's normally good to be specific and ask about a particular case: don't ask about every possible usage, because people may not mention the specific usage you're interested in. (And the terms are often used metaphorically e.g. for artistic movements or even in advertising.)
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 8 at 9:39
  • You have not included revolution as an alternative to revolt (revolutions tend to be more successful)
    – Henry
    Commented Mar 9 at 2:48
  • For me, uprising suggests a broad, unplanned event, whereas rebellion is more organised. A revolt makes me think of a suddenly triggered event. But I don't know how these kinds of opinions could be expanded to form a useful answer. Commented Mar 9 at 8:55

1 Answer 1

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The SOED (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 edition) provides a clear-cut answer as to the synonymity. (user LPH's bold type in the definitions)

(SOED) rebellion n. 2 (An) organized armed resistance to the established government or ruler; (an) insurrection, (a) revolt; spec. (Eng. Hist.) either of the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745. LME¹

(SOED) revolt n. 1 A mass insurrection, an uprising, a rebellion. L16².

(SOED) uprising n. 4 A rising against authority etc., an insurrection, a revolt. L16.

According to these definitions the three words are entirely synonymous and can be used interchangeably; this can be said as well of the group of four words that results when the word "insurrection" is added. This equivalence must be considered within the context of popular discontent; for instance, as concerns certain extreme cases of internal opposition in a governing body, those involving usually factions and implying activity that remains within the bounds of the political process (no brawls), it is proper to use the term "revolt", not "uprising": "revolt, conngress".

¹LME: Late Middle English (1350-1469) (period of introduction into the language)
²L16: Late sixteenth century (1570-1599)

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  • There is usage relating to institutions, like the army, the government, and the people etc., for example. In that sense, one might use one or the other. And in that sense, they are not interchangeable always. Armies put down uprisings [by the people], they don't "do" them. They might instigate them but the people are the ones who actually are involved in them.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 9 at 15:25
  • @Lambie There is a large number of occurrences of "army uprising": "google.com/…". This term also applies to armies, as do "rebellion" and "revolt". books.google.com/ngrams/…, books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – LPH
    Commented Mar 9 at 18:31
  • As always, this is not a dictionary thing. They are not 100% interchangeable. Onecan look up stuff in ngrams until blue in the face. but this would probably require at least two pages to be explained.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 9 at 21:41

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