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Difference between “spirit” and “soul”

Is there any difference between the two? Or do both refer to the part of body that is believed to exist after you die?


Soul is a Germanic word; spirit is a Latin word. They are used synonymously in some contexts, but each has its own quirks, like any pair of putative synonyms.

Spirit comes from Latin spiritus, which means 'breath', and is therefore symbolic of life of all sort, including human life, and also of the state of being alive.

If you stop breathing, your spirit leaves you. Very straightforward body metaphor.

The OED says, of spirit,

The earlier English uses of spirit are mainly derived from passages in the Vulgate, in which spiritus is employed to render Gr. pneuma and Heb. ruax (both meaning 'breath'). The translation of these words by spirit (or one of its variant forms) is common to all English versions of the Bible from Wyclif onwards.

Soul is common Germanic, and is generally used in situations where today we would use words like personality, character, mind -- or spirit, to refer to the way people behave and our intuitions about "what they're really like".

So, if one is sufficiently abstract, yes, they can be synonymous. But beware of specific uses, which are highly idiomatic.

  • +1 for both showing where the words came from, and for the last paragraph. – T.E.D. Jul 27 '12 at 16:23

Yes, they are sometimes synonymous. But there are many cases in which they aren't.

For instance, if you're talking about morality, the concept of right and wrong, "soul" is suitable.

As in,

He has no soul.

On the other hand, when one is talking about strong dedication or loyalty, "spirit" is used:

the team spirit

The mood of a period:

the spirit of the sixties

There are also expressions like "I am with you in spirit" where "soul" can't be substituted.

  • Good examples. As an aside, there's also a difference between soul music and spiritual music. – J.R. Jul 27 '12 at 14:13
  • True @J.R. There were a lot of other things I wanted to cite, but I guess these (and yours) would be enough – Cool Elf Jul 27 '12 at 14:18
  • Also, "a soul" can be used as a metonym to mean "a person" (as in "there wasn't a soul around"), whereas "spirit" used like that implies a ghost. – Charles Jul 27 '12 at 14:45
  • Yes, that too. And a "generous spirit" etc. – Cool Elf Jul 27 '12 at 14:47
  • 1
    I think what you're really saying here is that "soul" and "spirit" each have multiple definitions, some of which are synonyous and some of which are not. Life if we say, "Humans have an immortal soul", and "Bob likes soul food", we are using two different definitions of the word. – Jay Jul 27 '12 at 17:56

No. Soul is supposed to be a part of human body. Spirit is a supernatural being external to the human body.

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