Is there a difference between "English novel" and "novel in English"?

Needless to say, what it's at stake are two aspects: the language of the novel, and its country of origin. To my ear, an "English novel" is a more general term that could mean both, i.e. it is written in the English language, and possibly from England. Whereas a "novel in English" is definitely written in English, but could be from anywhere in the world.

The definition of the word "English" includes both meanings, hence my doubts. If that is correct, then my question becomes: Is there a sort of preference in spoken English to choose from? Is there a change in formality between the two?

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    Note that "The English Novel" is to some extent a recognised literary genre. From A Companion to the English Novel - The English novel is as much, if not more of a European phenomenon as it is an English one. There would be very few contexts where anyone would suppose that the author of something called "an English novel" necessarily lived in / was native to England. Jan 21, 2021 at 14:17

2 Answers 2


You're right: "English novel" is ambiguous.

Which you should use depends on the context: in some contexts, it may be clear that you're referring to language (e.g., "Compared to novels written in old English, modern English novels are...") or the country (e.g., "Compared to American novels, English novels are..."). In other contexts, it may be unclear. In those cases, I'd lean toward the unambiguous "novel in English" or "novel from England." It's a little bit more verbose (and thus maybe slightly more formal), but not so much that it would be out of place in any conversation.

Less precisely, you could also refer to "novels from England" as "British novels," but note that there is a difference in meaning.


"English novel" means either "A novel (originally) written in (the) English (language)" or "A novel written by an English person, (probably) about England".

On the other hand, "a novel in English" would immediately mean to me: "a novel which was originally been written in another language, but translated into English".

It can also mean both of the above, as in when you go into a bookshop in a non-Anglophone country and ask for "a novel in English" as opposed to those in the language of the country you are in.

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