0

I'm at a loss! When I check e.g., Cambridge Dictionaries and Merriam Webster, the word "pupil" seems to be perfectly fine to use about (young) school students (students in compulsory school), but when I check what different schools actually use to refer to their kids, "students" seems to be the more common choice by far. So, which is it?? And even if schools in general are more prone to use "students", would it still be ok to use "pupils", or would native speakers of (primarily British) English find it a bit odd or dated?

Edit: As Mari-LouA points out, there's a similar question here; however, while certainly very useful, it doesn't answer my question in full – I'm still interested in what native speakers of (primarily) British English think about the use of "pupil" in reference to students in compulsory school.

7
  • 1
    Traditionally, in the sense for children attending school, pupil was often used for very young children at junior or primary school.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 22:07
  • 1
    Almost a duplicate of this question. See StoneyB's comprehensive answer Word for a pupil who attends university courses
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 22:11
  • @Mari-LouA Oh my! For once I forgot to search the site before I posted 😱 I feel really stupid now...
    – Helen
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 22:22
  • 1
    No, don't feel that. You did do some research, you weren't to know any better. And like I said the question in the link is not a perfect match.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 22:26
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? Word for a pupil who attends university courses Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 3:21

2 Answers 2

2

As a native BrE speaker I would use pupil for the younger children and student for older ones, particularly those in tertiary education (Colleges of higher education and University). I would never call a university student a pupil. Older teenagers in 6th form Colleges would also be more likely to be called students. However even some junior schools call their children students. So there is a big overlap, for children up to school leaving age (16) the words are virtually interchangeable, after that student is far more common usage.

3
  • 1
    What an absolutely loverly answer! Thank you so, so much!
    – Helen
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 23:19
  • 2
    In my day only people at (FE and HE) colleges and universities were called 'students'. It's a comparatively modern development to use the term for schoolchildren. Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 8:23
  • As a BrE speaker who now lives in the AmE/CanE zone, I found the use of 'students' to refer to school children jarring at first. As a youth in Britain 'student' was not just a description of someone who attended a college or university, but a pejorative description of a way or life and a likely outlook on the world. 'Ugh, this place is full of students' could never refer to children, but meant any of the variety of annoying temporary residents who often dominated university towns - youths somewhere on the spectrum between 'Rick' from 'The Young Ones' and Jim from 'Lucky Jim'.
    – fred2
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 21:26
2

I know the OP was primarily interested in British English, however I'll add for the sake of completeness that the word 'pupil' appears to have been entirely abandoned in North America as a word to refer to children in pre-tertiary education. Primary and high school children are universally referred to as 'students'.

I asked a Canadian teacher about current and past usage, and they tell me that 'pupil' predominated in Canada until at least the late 1980s/early 90s, but has completely fallen out of use now. One might hypothesize that the change may reflect the continuing British influence on the English language and customs that still existed in Canada post Second World War, and the increased American influence that exists now.

This article suggests the same process is now happening in the UK, which is something my non-prescriptavist brain will struggle to stop my prescriptavist heart from being annoyed about.

1
  • 1
    Thank you so much for this – really interesting, and definitely a great addition to the thread!
    – Helen
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 21:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .