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Please explain the difference between these words. When to use which?

to kill/killing
to murder/murder
to slaughter/slaughter
to slay/slaying
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closed as too broad by ʇolɐǝz ǝɥʇ qoq, Em1, jimsug, Kinzle B, Kaz Jul 26 '14 at 4:35

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

All of them are usable, depending on the context. Please give some context. – ʇolɐǝz ǝɥʇ qoq Jul 25 '14 at 18:24
I want to understand the context in which I should use one over the others. That is the point of my question. – xaxa Jul 25 '14 at 18:28
up vote 7 down vote accepted

to kill/killing

Most basic/versatile expression.

to murder/murder

Implies the voluntary killing of a sentient being. In US law, there is a distinction between "murder" (intentionally killing someone) vs. "manslaughter" (unintentionally killing a person); murder is considered even worse.

Depending on the context, "murder" may have a sense of cruelty.

to slaughter/slaughter

Literally to kill an animal prior to butchery. When used in other contexts it has an overtone of being very messy or cruel, because of the association with killing a defenseless animal and then dismembering it. Thus, it has the implication of completeness or thoroughness; an army that was slaughtered was killed brutally; a sports team that was "slaughtered" was beaten by a painfully large margin.

to slay/slaying

Somewhat archaic. Focuses on the act more than the results; may be considered a "deed" or significant action. May also imply a sense of struggle. "He slew the wolf" sounds like he fought with it on equal terms (or terms that were not favorable to him), and accomplished something by killing it; "he murdered the wolf" focuses on having killed a living being, and has a pronounced tone of disapproval.


Literally killing a person. More of a legal term.


Killing of a large number of people (or "multiple people" at least--the Boston Massacre actually only resulted in the deaths of five people after all). Usually there is a tone of disapproval, though in metaphoric usage it's similar to "slaughter" above ("We massacred them" in the context of a sporting event means our team won by a large margin.)

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These terms vary mostly in number and moral connotation:

Kill: a generic term for ending something's life. Unique in that it does not have a strong moral connotation.

Murder: to criminally and intentionally kill an individual. Has a strongly negative moral connotation. A accidental killing of an individual would be termed 'manslaughter.'

Slaughter: to kill many or brutally. Originally used exclusively to refer to the killing of animals, if applied to humans it communicates a killing, "as if they were animals." Can have a neutral or negative moral connotation:

  • "I slaughtered my cow yesterday" - neutral
  • "It was a slaughter of innocents" - negative

Slay: an older, less frequently used equivalent of kill. Frequently used in fantasy contexts.

Homicide: a more precise term for a human killing another human. Typically refers to the crime of murder.

Massacre: similar to slaughter: a brutal killing of many. Almost always used refers to killing of people, and almost always has a strong negative connotation.

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America (and many other English-speaking countries) have the legal concept of "killing in self-defense". This concept includes killing in defense of others. In some jurisdictions, it even applies to the defense of property. "Killing in self-defense" is neither murder nor homicide. Also, there is the concept of "justifiable homicide", which is a legal homicide. – Jasper Aug 5 '14 at 22:54

To a great extent, the rest of these words are synonyms or clarifications of "to kill" or of one another.

  • To kill: cause to die
  • Murder: kill with intent or forethought; not accidental
  • Slaughter: kill with relish or abandon, or large number
  • Slay: another form of slaughter?
  • Homicide: noun form; murder
  • Massacre: noun or verb form; slaughter
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