Is certificate a hypernym of diploma? This question came up in comments on another ELL question (here). I had considered the two synonymous, with some overlap in meaning. E.g. A diploma is a certificate issued by a university.

Notice that example has nearly identical wording to the definitions provided for diploma both by Google's dictionary, and Wikipedia. However, several dictionaries avoid the use of certificate to define diploma, e.g. Cambridge Dictionary. Others still use the word certified in the definition of diploma, e.g. Dictionary.com. This last definition, while not using the word certificate would still support the case of certificate as hypernym. After all, a diploma is a signed or certified document officially attesting to some achievement.

On the other hand, we have common educational usage, where the two words have different interpretations. E.g. This nice page from the University of the Potomac, "Certificate vs Diploma vs Degree".

  • If you're asking about hypernyms on ELL, you're asking in the wrong place. Try ELU. But good luck on getting people to agree that certificate is a hypernym of diploma. Common US usage is that diploma is not reducible to anything else. It is a diploma, the end. It is not a kind of anything else. Jun 1, 2021 at 17:29
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    This is going to be very dependent on the country. In Canada, you receive a diploma from a university after a four-year course of study, but a certificate from a college after a two- or three-year course of study. Diploma and certificate are distinct and non-overlapping categories (as are university and college). Jun 1, 2021 at 17:45
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    Lexico has for its primary meaning of diploma: A certificate awarded by an educational establishment to show that someone has successfully completed a course of study. It is a kind of certificate, which can be for other things too, and Lexico has for certificate: An official document attesting a fact. So yes. Jun 1, 2021 at 18:25
  • @FeliniusRex I had considered which forum would be most appropriate. Since the question arose in comments on an ELL question, and came from an ELL, I felt it fit best here. Thank you.
    – Mark G B
    Jun 2, 2021 at 19:15

1 Answer 1


One possible reason for the difference between dictionaries is that 'diploma' is used a lot more in American English than in British English. However, given that both Websters dictionary, which is chiefly US English and Cambridge dictionary, which is chiefly British, define diploma first as a "document", I would have to say yes - 'certificate' is a hypernym of 'diploma', because a diploma is a type of certificate.

In the UK, there are many different kinds of certificates of education, but there are essentially three common levels of education, and none of them are widely known as 'diplomas'. Most none-advanced qualifications are known by their official name (eg GCSE, A-Level, BTEC) and the qualifications obtained through higher education are known as "a degree" and "a masters degree". There is a certificate of none-advanced education known as an 'HND' which stands for 'Higher National Diploma', however it is almost always referred to by its initialism. In the US, I believe that both basic high school qualifications and higher qualifications obtained through 'college' (university) are known as 'diplomas'.

  • This is a good answer. Ultimately, after consideration, I think the complete answer is that whether "certificate" is a hypernym or not depends on which meaning is being considered. When it is a document attesting to a fact - it is a hypernym of diploma. When it is used to describe the type of achievement or course of study, it is not. I appreciate your bringing in the UK usage patterns.
    – Mark G B
    Jun 2, 2021 at 19:24

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