Do native English speakers distinguish pines, spruces and firs in informal spoken English? Can it be that for most people they are just pine trees and people rarely use "spruce" or "fir" in their everyday vocabulary?

  • 1
    Those three are all types of coniferous tree or conifers. Of those three, we would normally say "pine" trees when referring to conifers generally, sometimes as "fir" trees but rarely as "spruce" unless they actually are spruce trees, but many people won't know the differences. Mar 6, 2020 at 10:58
  • @WeatherVane Alright, thank you. And what about Christmas trees, i.e. would it be OK to refer to conifers as Christmas trees in non-festive context?
    – Karolini
    Mar 6, 2020 at 11:31
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    A child might, others only call them that if they are for a Christmas tree. Mar 6, 2020 at 11:33

1 Answer 1


I think most English speakers are not necessarily knowledgeable enough about trees to be able to tell the difference between pines, spruces, or firs on sight, so in general people don't make that sort of distinction unless it's actually relevant to the conversation. When in doubt, most people will use "pine" as a generic term for most small/medium conifers, so that's what you'll hear most commonly when there isn't a need to distinguish what specific type something is.

That doesn't mean that somebody wouldn't use "spruce" or "fir" in informal speech if they did know that was the sort of tree they were dealing with, though, it's just most people aren't going to bother to find out just so that they can use the correct term. "Pine" is usually good enough.

The term "Christmas tree" is pretty much reserved only for trees which are used or are intended to be decorated or used in a festive context. Outside of the holidays, they're usually just called "pine trees".

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