A music teacher is portrayed as follows:

“She talks to everyone. She always says hello.”

Thus, is she friendly or kind?

Cambridge Dictionary defines friendly as

behaving in a pleasant, kind way towards someone

Apparently, the word is paraphrased as kind to some degree. Not limited to this, the fact is that the Chinese native speakers are very puzzled at the usage of these two words.

Do the American and British native speakers give the same answer to this?

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    What does your dictionary tell you about these two adjectives? Are their definitions the same or different? Please use the edit key to tell us what you think; this will help us to provide a useful answer. Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 3:38
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    In some English-Chinese dictionaries, friendly and kind share some identical translations. This overlapping often leads us to getting confused about their distinction.
    – Shudong
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 3:56
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    It is not wise to use English-Chinese dictionaries as a learner of English except very early in your study. That will only build your skill in translating between the languages; it will not be very helpful to you in learning to think in English. Instead, try this link to consult a variety of English dictionaries, and start by learning what friend means in English. The two words sometimes connote the same trait, but they are not interchangeable in every case; sometimes the differences are idiomatic, as well. Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 4:34
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    Please edit your question and include the dictionary citation and your comments, which are directly related to your question. Comments on ELL tend to get deleted if the mods believe they distract too much attention away from posts, in other words, comments are (or should be) temporary in nature.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 5:58
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    To expand on P.E.Dant's comment, when a learner has passed the Beginner and Pre-Intermediate stage, they should consult monolingual dictionaries. The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary is one good example, the definitions will tend to be more detailed, and there will be more examples of how to use a word, phrasal verb, or idiom correctly. It is one of the steps towards "thinking" like a native speaker, i.e. when you finally stop translating your thoughts into a second language. Some say, when your dreams are in English that means you're getting close :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 6:09

8 Answers 8


Mr Smith greets everyone who enters his bookstore with a broad smile and a bit of pleasant conversation. He might inquire about a regular customer's family, or offer his opinion on the latest best sellers. When lunchtime comes, Mr Smith locks up his shop and heads to the little luncheonette on the corner, where he orders his usual pastrami sandwich on rye with a Coke. The waitresses all know Mr Smith, and he knows them all by name, and chats with them as he eats his lunch.

"Wow!" one of them says as he heads back to his shop after lunch. "That guy is so nice and friendly!"

"Yeah," says another waitress."He's friendly, all right, but he only tipped me a quarter. And he keeps yelling at Old Steve—you know, that scruffy panhandler? He keeps yelling at him to stay away from his store!"

"Hey, I said he was friendly," says the first waitress. "I never said he was kind."

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    I don't think this is a good example, since he is both friendly and kind to some people and neither to the panhandler. The one-off tip of a quarter isn't enough to indicate that he is unkind while being friendly (maybe he's poor or needs to go to the ATM?), and isn't the focus of the quote besides. Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 15:41
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    Perhaps a better, if extreme, example would be your typical confidence trickster (or to a lesser extent, salesperson &c) who uses friendliness to do unkind things.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 18:29
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    @jamesqf Friendliness is a social trait. Kindness is a moral trait. As English speakers, we can make this distinction. It's not as easy to define them that way to a non-native speaker, though, because of course the terms social and moral need defining, too; thus the little tale above. Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 17:24
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    I agree with your comment more than your answer. I really think you should make a better illustration, since your little tale conveyed nothing about social or moral attitudes to me, and I'm a native speaker. In the same vein as @jamesqf's suggestion, you could consider a conman, who may be very friendly. Also, it is not rare to find people actually distinguishing between inward and outward kindness as well as friendliness, which would tax your explanation.
    – user21820
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 15:30
  • @user21820 I I think this is an important enough question to warrant a response to a comment even after many months have passed. I wrote this trifle with the Chinese speaker's confusion in mind. A truly useful and enlightening discussion of kindness, of the Christian religious and moral principle of lovingkindness, and of their distinction from mere friendliness, would comprise (and has comprised) many volumes of writing. Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 6:26

One would hope that friendliness and kindness go together, hand in hand, but this is not always so.

Friendliness really has to do with someone's appearance and outward behaviour. Do they seem welcoming? Do they have a big smile on their face? Friendliness always promises something in the future, but that something may not be realised. Politicians are usually very friendly (until you have voted them into office). Afterwards, they may be less so inclined.

Kindness has more to do with how people have behaved in the past. To see kindness, you must always look backwards. Someone who at first appears to be very cold may still do you a good turn (an act of kindness).

In the end, people may be friendly because they are genuinely kind, or it may be because they are just curious about you, or want something from you. Only their actions towards you will tell you if they are kind.

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    The purpose of a "community wiki" is that the whole community is invited to improve or clarify an answer, a bit like Wikipedia is (supposedly) editable by anyone on the Internet . And because it is an open invitation, no one earns any rep. But this answer is not factual, it is subjective, and users either agree or disagree. Consequently, it would be awkward and improper for anyone to "improve" this personal interpretation.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 5:54
  • I was just curious. I'm not really expecting anyone to add anything.
    – Mick
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 5:57
  • I did know. If it happens, I shall try to be philosophical about it. I once wrote a 2-line answer in Stack Overflow that should have been a comment. Others' contributions have turned it into a nice little earner for me.
    – Mick
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 6:09
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    If you don't want rep, you should give it away via bounties. Please don't abuse the wiki feature for non-wikis! Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 15:43
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    If folks want to make their answers wikis and not earn reputation from them, and the change wasn't made to escape the consequences of a negatively scored answer, I don't see the harm. If it turns into an edit war or is otherwise disruptive to the site, flag it and one of the mods will take care of it. It doesn't make much sense to me to make this a wiki, but since it has a positive score, I don't see any reason that the author shouldn't be allowed to open it up. However, I will listen if someone sees an issue I don't.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 16:22

To directly answer the question: The music teacher is friendly. I imagine Americans would say the same.

I read this and considered kindness has a level of warmth to it that friendly does not.

Kind (http://chambers.co.uk/puzzles/search/?query=kind&title=21st)

  1. friendly, helpful, well-meaning, generous, benevolent or considerate.
  2. warm; cordial e.g. kind regards.

Friendly (http://chambers.co.uk/puzzles/search/?query=friendly&title=21st)

  1. kind; behaving as a friend.
  2. (friendly with someone) on close or affectionate terms with them.
  3. relating to, or typical of, a friend.
  4. being a colleague, helper, partner, etc rather than an enemy

As we can see from the Chambers dictionary there is some overlap.

It has been stated that you can have one without the other, but this may be more to do with appearances.

For example if one is quiet/shy and seems distant or aloof but subtly, secretly or occasionally does really nice thoughtful things they would be said to be kind but not necessarily friendly.

Someone who is cheery and greets everyone, asks how do you do etc would at least appear very friendly but it might only be on the surface. Kindness goes deeper hence the "warmth" aspect. Someone who is kind will warm your heart. Someone who is friendly might just make you smile.

They can be used interchangeably if you really wanted but colloquially I think the difference is the depth of affection/concern/helpfulness etc.


A friendly person will wave at you as your carry your groceries up the stairs. A kind person might get off their butt and offer to help.


The distinction is subtle. Most of the answers here talk about how you can be friendly but not kind. I think it's easier to understand that someone can be kind without being friendly. For example you might have someone who is very caring and empathetic but likes to keep to themselves and therefore is not openly friendly. Keep in mind that not friendly and being unfriendly are also subtly distinct.

The best example I can think of of someone who is friendly but not kind would be a something like a car salesman who has a wide smile and a firm handshake but will take advantage of the customer's lack of information. I don't mean to imply all sales people do this, but they are known to exist.


To be friendly is to interact with others in a nice and pleasant way. It means giving a positive outward appearance, and being an enjoyable person to interact with.

To be kind implies a level of genuineness that is not implied by friendliness. That is not to say that being friendly is necessarily phony, but it can be. Kindness on the other hand is genuine, and also carries with it the connotation of doing good things beyond simple social interaction. A kind person is sensitive to the emotional and physical needs of others, and genuinely strives to help others in any way they can.

A friendly person appears nice, whereas a kind person is very genuinely empathetic and helpful with a noticibly strong degree of caring to the extent that they very likely actively help people regularly.


There can be a difference.

Normally we would associate being 'friendly' with day to day social interactions, for example often making a particular effort to greet people or engage in conversation.

On the other hand being 'kind' generally implies that you go out of your way to help others, it also has a bit of an implication that there is some emotional warmth and empathy involved beyond just practical assistance. For example inviting a homeless person to have dinner with you at your house is definitely 'kind' whereas giving money to a homelessness charity (discounting any cynical motivation) could be done out of a sense of duty or responsibility without necessarily requiring empathy as such.

Equally you could be friendly without much sincerity either for your own benefit or because you feel it is socially required of you.

Conversely a person who is kind might not be very overtly friendly simply because they are shy, for example they might never consider approaching a stranger in normal circumstances but would't hesitate to help them if they were obviously in trouble.

Then again being friendly may be an expression of kindness. For example a person who is not normally very friendly might make a special effort to socialise with someone if they see that they are lonely or miserable.


Can't we just say, being friendly is a conscious behavior and being kind is more of a persons nature?

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    You imply that friendliness is always an affectation, or at least a consciously chosen behavior. I don't think that's true; some children don't have to learn it. Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 23:22

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