I'm always confused between canal and channel after I see that different teachers refer to the same thing with two different variants: canal and channel. Are indeed both (canal and channel) used for the same thing in the correct English?


While channel and canal have the same origin, and have meanings in the same area, in ordinary English, they are quite separate, and it would be rare for them to be interchangeable.

Channel is a general word for a place where water or other fluids can pass: it is also used metaphorically, as in channel of communication.

Canal, apart from some specialised medical uses, only means an articial waterway originally built for boats or ships. We wouldn't normally use the word for an irrigation trench, for example.

  • 1
    What about anatomy descriptions? (we have some canals / channels in our body) Oct 12 '16 at 23:20
  • 1
    I said, apart from some specialise medical uses. Those are specific cases where "canal" is part of a set phrase, such as "alimentary canal". If it's not a thing where "canal" is in its name, it isn't called a canal.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 12 '16 at 23:21
  • 1
    and that means that in anatomy the term canal is the correct one? Sorry, it's not clear to me. Oct 12 '16 at 23:22
  • 1
    Expanding on @ColinFine 's comment, Canal (from Latin canalis) has many specific uses in medicine and anatomy, e.g. alimentary canal, anterior semicircular canal, ulnar canal whereas channel in medicine is found mainly in terms descriptive of biochemical processes like calcium channel blocker and ion channel. Oct 13 '16 at 0:08
  • 1
    By the way, I suspect that those teachers who "refer to the same thing with two different variants: canal and channel" are not native English speakers. In English, the two terms are not synonymous. It is common for native speakers of French and Spanish, for example, to imagine that canal and channel are synonymous in English because in both French and Spanish, canal means "channel." Oct 13 '16 at 0:14

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