What would you call a pilot's license as a concept, and what would you call a license that the pilot is actually holding in his hand?

For instance, a pilot may acquire a Private Pilot License (PPL). There is a series of requirements to obtaining this license. I consider this to be the concept of a PPL. When a pilot passes the test, he is issued the actual license, the one he can hold in his hand.

While the difference might be negligible, for the purpose of identifying concepts that make up the domain model in a software application, it would be highly preferable to have two separate words describing them.

I myself would call the concept a license, and the actual license an issuance, but since I am not a native speaker of English, I am not sure that this is correct.

  • "license document"? Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 13:58
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    I suggest certificate or license to refer to the piece of paper, and License (capitalized) the concept. Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 15:49

5 Answers 5


I would consider the physical artifact a license and the fact of his being licensed as a licensure.

  • Thanks for all the responses! Licensure is exactly the word I was looking for. Since the term will only be used as the name of a database entity, the end-user will not be bothered with it, only I will need to know what it means. Thanks!
    – Laurens
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 17:21

They are pretty much the same thing in English.

Saying "Fred has a license" doesn't tell you whether Fred actually has the documentation proving he was issued a license on him. He might, he might not. However, if some official requested to see it, we would still just say, "Fred handed over his license" (in which case of course we now know he actually had the physical license on him). There really is no separate word.


You could call them LicenseReqs (requirements) and License, or just Reqs and License if you like shorter names.


I would say:

"Fred is a licensed pilot."

to convey that Fred has obtained his pilot's license. Then, I might say:

"Fred left his pilot's license at home."

when referring to the physical license.

Because license can be used in both ways, the reader or listener must rely on context to deduce which meaning is being used – same as with other words that have multiple meanings.


As others have noted, English uses the same word for both concepts. Cornbread and Chaos suggest distinctive words, but they wouldn't be immediately recognized as having the meaning sought. ("Cornbread and Chaos" -- sounds like a band melding country music with heavy metal.) So they're fine if you are writing a long discussion and it's reasonable to introduce your own terms and define them, but you couldn't just use them without explanation and expect people to understand what you meant.

Thus, if you want to distinguish them, you need to add some adjectives or reword the sentence.

In many cases it would be obvious from the context. If you said, "Fred kept his pilot's license in his blue suit", that would clearly indicate you are talking about a card or certificate. If you said, "Fred became a licensed pilot in 2008", the reader would likely understand that to mean that he met the official requirements. But I can imagine statements that would be ambiguous. Like if you said, "Fred lost his pilot's license", does that mean that he misplaced the physcial document, or that his license was revoked by the authorities because he broke the rules or some such?

I think if you said "physical license", "license card", or "license certificate", people would understand you to mean the piece of paper or plastic or whatever. If you wanted to make clear you were referring to the concept, I think you'd need a longer construction. Like in the "lost" example, you could say, "Fred lost his license card" to mean the physical object. To make clear that you are referring to the concept, you'd have to say something like "Fred's license was revoked" or "Fred lost his right to pilot an airplance". I really can't think of any adjective you could slap on to identify the concept.


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