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Doing an exercise to get an English language certificate I came across this sentence:

Jenya's ___ were excavated from the Siberian permafrost and taken to St Petersburg for analysis.

NOTE: Jenya is a mammoth

The blank space must be completed with a derivative of "remain". My answer was "remnants", but the correct one was "remains".

Remnant is described as:

  1. a part or quantity that is left after the greater part has been used, removed, or destroyed: the bogs are an endangered remnant of a primeval landscape
    Synonyms: remains, remainder, leftovers, leavings, residue, rest;

Remains:

  1. the parts left over after other parts have been removed, used, or destroyed: the remains of a sandwich lunch were on the table
    Synonyms: remains, remainder, leftovers, leavings, residue, rest;

    1.1. Historical or archaeological relics: Roman remains

Why would "remains" be more apt than "remnants"? Is it because Jenya's body is an archeological relic?

Is "remains" more idiomatic, or is "remnants" just plain wrong? If so, is there any hard-and-fast rule to know when to use remnants vs remains?

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The term "remains" is specifically used for dead human bodies, and especially when the bodies are not intact and there are only body parts (possibly from more than one body) rather than intact corpses or skeletons.

See for instance dictionary.com, definition 7c.

You can see this word used, for instance, in connection with the recent plane crash in Russia: telegraph.co.uk: "Emergency crews have already recovered some human remains from the wreckage."

It is less common to use the term for animal bodies, but here we have a mammoth which has a special status: it has been given a name and its body parts are being carefully recovered and preserved, like you would do for a human being. Usually animal bones would simply be left undisturbed.

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  • So "remnants" doesn't work in this case? I see how "remains" works but I don't see how "remnants doesn't. – Yay Mar 20 '16 at 19:06
  • "Remnants" does not have any specific meaning related to dead human bodies and body parts. So at best it would be a much less precise term, and it would sound somewhat odd to use it in this context. If you were talking about leftover scraps of food on a table after a meal, you could probably use either term. – ghostarbeiter Mar 20 '16 at 19:18
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Remains is what is left after a person (or any organism) dies; a corpse.Historical or archaeological relics.

Example: The victim's remains were one small piece of bone.

Remnant is:

  1. a : a usually small part, member, or trace remaining

    b : a small surviving group —often used in plural

  2. an unsold or unused end of piece goods

Examples:Remnants go on sale next week.

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