What is the difference in British English of the words usage for killer, murderer, and slayer?

I found these definitions in the Free Dictionary:

killer - a person or thing that kills.
murderer - one who commits murder.
slayer - one who murders another.

Should I use more specific word slayer instead of killer when I'm trying to explain the war units? Should I use for instance murderer instead killer in the victim illegal shot death explanation? Is it right that in talking about animals I must use only killer?

  • 3
    At the very least, we would expect you to look these words up in a dictionary (which you probably did) and then summarize what you found (which you neglected to do). Also, it might help if you explained what you mean by "difference in usage." Do you mean which words are more common vs, obscure? Which words are more formal vs. colloquial? Without that kind of information, people can only guess about what you know, what you don't know, and what you hope to learn.
    – J.R.
    Sep 28, 2018 at 14:00
  • I've added the dictionary definitions and reopened your question. In the future, just show us what you already know about the words and explain why knowing that didn't help answer your question.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 1, 2018 at 11:29

2 Answers 2


To answer question 1, no. Use "killer". Slayer sounds very literary and would only be used in a figurative sense in a novel, for example.

To answer question 2, the question is not grammatical, but you should use "murderer" when the killer planned to kill someone and it was illegal.

To answer question 3, in general, yes. Use "killer" when referring to the killing of animals. Only use "murderer" if you want to show an emotional connection (for example, if you care a lot about animals and the person planned to kill the animals in an illegal way).


A killer is someone who kills. Usually this means other people. A soldier in the military is certainly a killer. But he is no murderer.

A murderer is someone who kills another person, and does so illegally - meaning he isn't a soldier in a war or an executioner or anyone else who would have legitimate cause to take a life. Every murderer is also a killer, but not the other way around.

A slayer is someone who kills with extensively. In fantasy literature, you certainly see the title "Slayer of Dragons". But you can also slay many other animals and even people. You would use this term for dramatic effect (and some newspapers have also done that, for precisely that reason). A slayer can be a murderer or a killer, if he slays people.

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