The first is 'an edible tropical tuber (Ipomoea batatas) with pinkish orange, slightly sweet flesh' and the second is 'the potato (Solanum tuberosum) that tastes sweet'?

If only the first is right, then how do you say when you describe 'the potato that tastes sweet'?

  • 3
    "Sweet potato" versus "sweet tasting potato".
    – AdrianHHH
    Commented Oct 2, 2021 at 12:28
  • 'Sweetened potato'? I've never come across an ordinary potato that tasted sweet unless something had been added to it. Commented Oct 2, 2021 at 12:33
  • 1
    @Lambie I think it is clear what the OP means, but I've added the scientific names to avoid doubt.
    – James K
    Commented Oct 2, 2021 at 15:19
  • Would you please respond to my answer? Thanks.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 17:32
  • Solanum tuberosum=not sweet.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 17:12

4 Answers 4


Potatoes don't normally taste sweet. "Sweet potato" means "the tuber with pinkish-orange flesh", except when it very obviously doesn't.

So this is not a real problem. It is unreal, in the sense that while there is ambiguity between the compound word "sweet potato" and the adjective-noun construction "sweet potato" it never occurs, simply because potatoes are not naturally sweet.

In the rare situations that one does have a potato that is sweet, you can say:

This is a sweet potato!

And allow the fact that you are eating a potato to resolve the ambiguity.

Or you can say:

This potato is sweet.

Which is not ambiguous at all.

But remember this isn't a problem. Just say "sweet potato" and the context will naturally resolve the ambiguity in any realistic situation.

In the same way there is no problem with the compound word "dry cleaner" (nobody thinks you mean a person who cleans and isn't wet) or "greenhouse"/"green house" "redhead"/"red head" - very similar in speech, but again it never causes an actual problem

  • You're British? I think we eat a lot more sweet potatoes in NA than you do across the pond. They most certainly taste sweet.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 2, 2021 at 16:34
  • Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea) taste sweet. Potatoes (Solanun) don't taste sweet.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 6:59
  • You are mistaken. My answer is the only one that deals with this. The difference is the one I point out. If you are not familiar with both, you can't make the difference. And frankly, unless you have traveled in LA, you probably had no idea about this about what I explain in my answser.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 14:40
  • I am familiar with both. They are both common vegetables worldwide.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 17:57
  • Not at all. "white sweet potatoes" are not common in the UK or the USA. They are quite uncommon. embrapa.br/busca-de-solucoes-tecnologicas/-/produto-servico/… In my entire life, except for very recently, those Brazilian-type sweet potatoes weren't even available in the States.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 18:25

In speech, they would be distinguished by stress: "a SWEET potato" for the compound with the special meaning, and "a sweet POTATO" for a potato that happens to be sweet.

  • In general, American English usually puts additional stress on the first word of a two-word compound if it can be taken as a single unit with the noun, e.g. SWEET potato (yam), FRENCH fry, WRITING desk, FISHING pole, SUMMER squash (the yellow one), HALF dollar (the coin) vs. sweet POTATO, French FRY (a small fish from France), writing DESK (a desk that writes?), fishing POLE (a pole that fishes?), summer SQUASH (could be a zucchini), or half DOLLAR (50 cents). Worth noting that I don't think UK English does this. Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 19:50
  • While there are some words that are stressed differently in different English dialects, I'm not aware of a dialect difference for these noun-noun compounds. Do you have a source? (In fact I know of a Stephen Fry sketch in which he makes a joke by pronouncing "waiting room" with the stress on the wrong word.)
    – nschneid
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 22:55
  • collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/french-fry gives the same stress pattern for "French fry" in American and British.
    – nschneid
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 22:57
  • Maybe the difference is only for adjective-noun compounds? I know I've heard British people refer to "brown SAUCE" (which I assume is something specific.) Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 3:52
  • Perhaps the British have adopted an American pronunciation on that one because they don't typically use that term? Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 3:54

Having grown up in the southeast United States on "sweet potatoes", the only definition I have ever heard is the pinkish orange tuber. Compared to a typical white potato, the orange potato has a slightly sweet taste to me. In the southeast US, cooks will add lots of butter and cinnamon sugar to the sweet potatoes. Never (to my knowledge) will cooks add sugar to white potatoes. Where I grew up, the words "sweet potatoes" and "yams" were synonyms. I learned later in life that some people use the words differently. And, I have never heard the term "sweet potato" used to describe the actual taste of the potato.

  • Exactly. In general, sweet potatoes in the US are yams. And yes, sweet potatoes and yams are the same thing but there are also white sweet potatoes as I explain in my answer.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 18:32

There are two common varieties of sweet potato: one is white and the other is orange. There are also other colors of sweet potato.

Regardless of the color the name of this sweet potato is: Ipomoea batatas

Ipomoea batatas, commonly called sweet potato or sweet potato vine, is native to tropical America. It is a tuberous rooted tender perennial that has been cultivated for its orange-fleshed edible tubers for over 2000 years. It was reportedly brought back to Europe from the New World by Columbus. Today, the sweet potato is a popular root vegetable that is grown in vegetable gardens and as a commercial food crop throughout the world.

Although species plants and varieties grown as food crops have somewhat attractive green foliage, it is the more recently introduced purple-, chartreuse- and variegated-leaved cultivars that have transformed this vegetable into a popular ornamental foliage plant.

Sweet potato

The OTHER ONE is: Solanum tuberosum

AKA The IRISH POTATO Solanum tuberosum is commonly known in Canada as Irish potato, potato, white potato, yellow potato, red potato, and pomme de terre ( USDA - ARS 2014).May 24, 2015. [THESE ARE NOT KNOWN AS "SWEET POTATOES"

Irish Potato

The white SWEET ones are hard to find in northern countries, sometimes.

To distinguish them in a northern hemisphere country, you can say: white sweet potato because generally just sweet potato is the orange one in the north, also known as yam. And you don't need to say: orange sweet potato. I'll repeat that: In North America, yams are called sweet potatoes. So, to refer to the others, you have to say: white sweet potato, purple sweet potato, etc.

If you are in Brazil, on the other hand, you just say: batata doce, which is the white or purplish kind because there no one knows the orange kind (generally speaking). Here are the purple and white sweet potatoes eaten in Brazil. Please note: Traditionally, the white one is more popular than the purplish one.

enter image description here

Here is an entire article on this subject:

white sweet potato

  • Downvoting this is a huge mistake.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 14:36
  • No: southernliving.com/food/veggies/potatoes/sweet-potato/…. Brazilian sweet potatoes do taste sweet, almost like yams but they are crumbly. The first sentence in your answer is completely wrong.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 18:28
  • @ColleenV 1) To non-English speakers, I say this: We do not say "sweet potato" unless we are referring to yams, at least in American English. 2) ERGO, if you are referring to a white sweet potato (or any other color), you would say: white sweet potato, purple sweet potato, etc. as we normally understand sweet potato on its own to mean yam. I mean this is so very reasonable. I think the other answer completely misses the point.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 19:25
  • @ColleenV I give up. All I did was add the colors. I really do not need to do any reading. I know what people call potatoes. I think that you and James are not really familiar with white sweet (crumbly) sweet potatoes, because if you were, like I am, you would see that my answer is fine. I will tell you this: I was born and raised on the white sweet potatoes (in Brazil) but have never ever had one in the States. Today, there are all sorts of potatoes out there. But I am addressing the generality.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 22:31
  • Look where James says: potatoes don't normally taste sweet. Come on, say something to him. The entire premise here is that we are talking about sweet potatoes. I'm done because now I am annoyed.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 22:37

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