As a non-native English speaker, I often encounter the words 'goal' and 'target'. While they appear to be used interchangeably in some contexts, I suspect there might be subtle differences in their meanings or usage.

What is the fundamental difference between 'goal' and 'target' in English?

  • 1
    To me a goal is something you achieve once, and a target is something you're attempting to stay on (so eg. the goal is to raise a million dollars, and the target is to raise $50k daily). I'd also use goal over target when describing the reason for doing something - eg. The goal of the initiative is to improve productivity by twenty percent. Commented Jan 11 at 10:58
  • 2
    I don't recognize the above distinction at all. In certain contexts there's a "literal" difference - archers aim at targets, footballers aim at goals. But I'm not aware of any consistent semantic distinction between the figurative / metaphoric usages. Except maybe a tendency for politicians to set targets rather than goals when they know perfectly well the target is just something to be aimed at, rather than something that's expected to be achieved. Commented Jan 11 at 12:07
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    In the sense of a metaphorical 'thing to be aimed at', Oxford Languages regards them as synonyms. Commented Jan 11 at 18:53
  • In one context there's a difference. Targets are often numerical, but they're also often artificial waypoints on the path to a wider goal. The goal of a medical campaign might be to reduce cancer rates, but the target might be to screen 10000 people a year. Achieving the target brings you closer to the goal. But it's not a good question because there are many different senses in which the words are used and it's impossible to be thorough about all of them. I could write a long list of what sports have targets and what have goals, but that may be completely useless to you.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 12 at 14:58

1 Answer 1


In some senses they mean the same:

My supervisor has set me a target/goal of fixing 100 bugs this year.

Goals sometimes tend to be less precise, they are sometimes more like "aspirations":

My goal is to lose weight.

Targets might be more precise, but even here there is a lot of overlap.

My target is to lose 7kg in six months.

In the football sense, only "goal" is used. But in the archery/shooting sense only "target" is used.

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