According to the similar thread on the forum and the following dictionary definitions all the listed items below mean the same to meand I cannot discern their distinctions!

  • epitome:
    if you say that a person or thing is the epitome of something, you are emphasizing that they are the typical or best possible example of a particular type of person or thing.

  • Exemplar:
    a perfect or typical example of something.

  • Textbook example:
    a classic, perfect case/example.

  • Paragon:
    Someone who is perfect or who is the best possible example of a particular quality.

Now, in order to specify their nuances I have made two (in order to avoid duplication) examples to realize how they differ in meaning and what is the possibly slight nuance between them:

    1. He is a / an ______________ of a stupid person.

a. epitome
b. exemplar
c. textbook example
d. paragon

Note: Here, I think substituting the adjective "stupid" with many other adjectives like "successful", "rude", "healthy" etc. would be natural and idiomatic. Also, I think we can utilize a noun like "gentleman" and that would work either with all these four choices. However, I have my doubts yet and really need native speakers' approval on my thoughts.

    1. What he did at the party last night was a/an _____________ of an insult.

a. epitome
b. exemplar
c. textbook example
d. paragon

Please let me know about them.

  • 4
    I think the questions you've been asking are a textbook example of why it's good to expose yourself to actual English, rather than just dictionary definitions.
    – user3395
    Sep 11, 2019 at 13:22

1 Answer 1


Exemplar and Paragon can only be used about positive things. Normally a paragon is a person and an exemplar is a thing.

You can use epitome and textbook example about something that is positive or negative. Epitome is mainly used about people and textbook example is only used about things.

Looking at your two sentences, they are both about negative qualities, so the choice is between epitome and textbook example. The first sentence is about a person, so epitome is the only choice, The second sentence is about a thing, so textbook example is probably the best choice, although you could use epitome.

  • 3
    Also "epitome" is the superlative, best possible example of ... whatever, so we usually say "the epitome", not "an epitome". (Because there is only one "best")
    – Lorel C.
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:09
  • 1
    Also "epitome" can be anything, not just people. Nothing wrong with: "What he did at the party last night was the epitome of an insult."
    – Lorel C.
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:13
  • @LorelC. I did say mainly.
    – JavaLatte
    Sep 12, 2019 at 6:59

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