While learning synonyms, I encountered these words. I'm trying to understand the nuances between them.

From my understanding:-

  • Role model is someone whom you admire or try to emulate (generally a living being)

  • Prototype is an original model from which copies are made.

However, I don't fully grasp the difference between archetype and ideal.

From my understanding, archetype refers to a perfect example of a particular person or thing. So does ideal.

For example, to complete the sentence: "Every classical heroine is always chaste and serves as a(n) __ for women, who are expected to emulate her, which of the above-mentioned words fits best?

Please point out where I went wrong.


The term archetype may refer to an ideal, but not necessarily so. The American Heritage Dictionary gives this definition and example as its first:

An original model or type after which other similar things are patterned; a prototype: “ ‘Frankenstein’ . . . ‘Dracula’ . . . ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ . . . the archetypes that have influenced all subsequent horror stories” (New York Times).

An archetype can be a model of excellence, but also a model of evil. Ideal almost always suggests something positive.

Merriam–Webster’s first definition is:

the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies : prototype; also: a perfect example

In this case, perfect indicates most exact, not necessarily good.

Prototype is actually closer to archetype. While they are often interchangeable, prototype is more often used for inanimate objects. Archetype is usually used when referring to living things or characteristics of living things, although the earliest uses may have been for objects. See for example the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Note that this source (and others) also describes a specific use of archetype in Jungian psychology, referring to an inherited idea or mode of thought derived from the experience of the race and present in the unconscious of the individual.

|improve this answer|||||
  • @tchrist - thanks for the edits; I need to develop more formatting skills. – bib Aug 5 '12 at 13:56
  • Some of it was working around rendering bugs. You wouldn’t be expected to follow those parts, or at least, know what to do about them. – tchrist Aug 5 '12 at 14:27
  • @bib So in the above example sentence, the women is chaste (hence denoting something positive), so will archetype fit best or ideal? Thanks for the explanation. – Karan Aug 6 '12 at 10:16
  • I think ideal might best fit, since it suggests something very positive and perhaps difficult, if not impossible, to attain. – bib Aug 6 '12 at 12:49
  • @bib The answer i have with me is archetype for the above sentence. It says so because of the presence of the word 'classical' in the sentence. – Karan Aug 9 '12 at 5:02

An archetype is a universally understood symbol. The symbol of 'hero' for example, appears in every culture. So do personifications of good and evil.

An ideal is a perfect form of something. The ideal table is a perfect table.

There is no reason why an ideal cannot be an archetype, though I can't think of one off hand, and to some extent the ideas overlap. An archetype is an idea, like an ideal. It could also, in some way, be a prototype, insofar as all heroes are versions of an archetypal hero.

The differences are that an archetype is not necessarily perfect like an ideal, just recognisable, and not so much copied by all cultures as created by all cultures - the archetypal hero is the result of all culture having heroes, not the cause of them.

|improve this answer|||||

I watch a lot of old movies made in the 30's. A common statement, referring to a beloved, is 'He was my ideal.' Another example is 'I not only loved her but she was my ideal.' The usage may have changed over the past 8 decades but in that era 'ideal' was used as a noun.

|improve this answer|||||
  • Thank you and welcome, but this doesn't actually answer the question, which asks for differences between “archetype” vs “role model” vs “prototype.” – choster Jan 15 '14 at 4:35

Archtype means superhero, supersymbole. Prototype means the first undeveloped idea of something, protozoans means first evolved of living things. Proto means first but not only first but it blue print of what will be build upon. Arch means above, high , highest etc...so archtype is about superbeing, legendary, religious symboles, it is what people perceive as an ultimate perfection. Prototypes are first idea or model in an evolutionary chain

|improve this answer|||||

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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