Does the word ambulance refer to the large van-like vehicle or does it refer to the purpose of the vehicle.

By that I mean is this:

referred to as an ambulance or an "ambulance car"?

If it is an "ambulance car" should the large van-like vehicle be called a "ambulance van" ?

  • 1
    I’m guessing this question was prompted by the perhaps unexpected use of the word ambulance in the title of the Wikipedia article featuring that photo: Ambulance emergency response vehicle. But what do you want to know that isn’t adequately explained there, or by the linked ambulance article? FWIW, akutläkarbil means emergency medical car, and Swedish uses ambulans for ambulance. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 21:00
  • The question was prompted by me driving behind a similar car. I hadn't actually read the wiki page but simply searched Google images for a suitable image for reference. Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 9:00

4 Answers 4


[Context: British English]

An ambulance is a vehicle used to transport the injured to hospital. It's unlikely that the car in the picture is used for that, so we wouldn't call it an ambulance; we would use the word "car".

In fact I don't think I've ever heard the phrase "ambulance car". We would probably say "paramedic car" because generally these are used as fast-response vehicles to get initial treatment quickly, followed up if necessary by an ambulance for a trip to hospital.

Such a vehicle might say "Ambulance" on the front, because it's run by the ambulance service. But it's not an ambulance.

  • I personally know of at least a few instances where cars exactly identical to the one in the picture, fully fitted in for the purpose, being used as 'ambulances'. If the shape or type of vehicle is to matter, then many of the real-world ambulances do not qualify to be called so at all. People in the developing world use anything from bullock-carts to re-fitted jeeps to discarded mini-buses, even LCVs as ambulances on a regular basis. The one shown here seems decent in comparison.
    – Kris
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 8:39
  • 2
    @Kris: If the vehicle can take someone on a stretcher, then "ambulance" is indeed a viable word. But we still wouldn't call it an "ambulance car" -- in that case it would be an ambulance.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 8:58
  • I feel this is likely correct for UK. What was throwing me off was the wording "Ambulance" on the car but as you said it would be because it is run by the ambulance service so I guess can be seen more of a brand logo than a name for the vehicle. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 9:13

In its entry for ambulance, Macmillan says, quite simply:

a vehicle for taking people to (the) hospital

(Note that there are no requirements for beds, gurneys, defibrillators, IV lines, oxygen, or EKGs, in order to qualify as an ambulance.)

Not every ambulance needs to be a mobile hospital room, like this one:

enter image description here

Some of the really old ones are very desireable, from a car collector's point of view, although I wouldn't want to ride in one in the middle of cardiac arrest. I wonder if this one had a bucket for leeches?

enter image description here

So, to answer your question, presuming it takes people to the hospital, yes, that vehicle in your picture is indeed an ambulance. (It may be a rather sporty ambulance, but it's an ambulance nonetheless).

  • 1
    I'm wonder wheter that Volvo can take people to the hospital in orizontal or vertical position. I think that we could define that as "ambulance" only in the first case.
    – user19148
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 20:56
  • If it's an emergency vehicle that carts people to the hospital, I think it's an ambulance, whether those patients are sitting upright, or lying down. Perhaps we could make a distinction between a fully-equipped ambulance, and one that's scaled down. With government budgets getting ever tighter, I can see why a municipality might opt for a more econonmical ambulance when adding a 2nd or 3rd ambulance to its ambulance fleet; not every medical emergency requires the patient to be prone on a gurney in the back. Even so, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that 39-9080 can accomodate a stretcher.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 9:44

In the U.S. at least, the vehicle is always called "an ambulance".

  • Thanks for that. I have a feeling the use here in the UK might be different. At least for me, calling the car an ambulance seems unnatural. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 7:57

I checked no dictionaries, but any vehicle used in the above sense can generally be called an 'ambulance', if you consider colloquial use.

Also, to avoid ambiguity, technically at least, a patient's transfer using a (motor) vehicle is referred to as ambulance as opposed to other modes such as shifting by stretcher. 'Air ambulance' and 'ambulance car' in a train (rail-road) are almost established phrases.

So, I suppose the physical vehicle is what comes to be called an 'ambulance', for all practical purposes of us mortals. And the sense of 'the activity of moving a patient' may be confined to medical jargon alone: A doctor may direct 'no ambulance' to mean 'do not move the patient.'

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.