Pupil or Student: Which is Correct in Terms of Usage?

Hello dear! Welcome here. I have specially prepared this post titled: Pupil or Student: Which is Correct in Terms of Usage? For your reading pleasure. You might not have given a serious thought to these two terms and how appropriately they are to be used. This post, however, examine the meanings of these words and the correct usage.

Pupil or Student: Which is Correct in Terms of Usage?

These two words do not mean the same thing and as such, are not somewhat interchangeable. But wait, it has become quite difficult to make that submission rigidly! Language is fluid and dynamic, therefore, we may not be able to categorically state that pupil and student are interchangeable as this post shows. Who is a pupil? Let us begin from that…


If you want to define pupil, what definition will you give? Let us consider pupil definition and the general notion we often attach to it…

Pupil refers to ‘a child or young person who is at school or in the charge of a tutor or instructor’. Also, pupil refers to a young person attending school (up through senior high school) as in:

  • The competition is only for primary and secondary school pupils.
  • School pupils should not be allowed to go home unaccompanied.
  • The pupils wore different attires for their open day.
  • Pupils of Gregory’s Primary School came first in the competition.
  • Pupils usually wear different uniforms to school on different days.

In another sense, pupil refers to someone who has been taught or influenced by a famous or distinguished person as in:

  • She was a pupil of Jung.
  • He is a pupil of Aristotle.
  • Many females have become pupils of feminism.

What is the Pupil of the Eye?

In a different sense, pupil refers to an opening in eye; that is the dark circular opening at the centre of the iris in the eye, where light enters the eye. But this is not the sense we are looking at in this post; however, it is good you know this.

Pupil Synonym

There are various synonyms of the word pupil among which are: school-age child, schoolchild, schoolkid, spring chicken, young person, younker, youth, acolyte, apprentice, scholar, follower, understudy, learner, beginner, novice, trainee, student, etc.

Student Meaning

The word student has various descriptions or definitions. Everybody, at one level or the other, is a student. We are all students of life. Being a student may not necessarily be in the academic sense. There are students of politics, students of philosophy, etc. So student meaning or student definition has a varied description.

Who is a student?

Let us see the various meanings that we can ascribe to the word student; in order words, who is a student? A student refers to ‘a person who is studying at a place of further education, at a university or college’; that is, a learner who is enrolled in an educational institution, an educatee, as we have in the following examples:

  • Students try to find work during the vacations.
  • The students of St. George University are here on a visit.
  • University student are future potential leaders.
  • College students protested the hike in their fees.

Student also means a ‘knowledgeable or interested person who has studied or takes much interest in a particular subject’. In another vein, we are referring to a learned person (especially in the humanities); someone who by long study has gained mastery in one or more disciplines as we have in these examples:

  • He is a student of human foibles.
  • Timothy was a student of Paul.
  • Plato was a disciple and student of Socrates and Western Philosophy.
  • Many in the Literature class are students of Wole Soyinka.
  • He is a student of prophetic writings and the epistles.

As an adjective, it means ‘in training for job: studying as part of the training for a job or profession’ as in:

  • There are many student pilots in the aviation school.
  • Student teachers have arrived for their Teaching Practice exercise.

Student Compound Words

In addition, there are some compound words that begin with ‘student’ but which function as a noun. Such words include:

  • Student body, referring to the students of a school collectively.
  • Student council, meaning an elected group of students with consultative powers in school administration.
  • Also, Student government, referring to a representative assembly of college or university students with consultative powers.
  • Student lamp, a desk lamp with a flexible stalk allowing the light to be moved into different positions.
  • Student loan, meaning a loan taken by students to pay for educational expenses, usually at a favourable rate of interest.
  • Finally, Student teacher, referring to a student enrolled in a teacher preparation programme and who is doing practice teaching under supervision.

Pupil or Student

Which of these do we use and in what context? In modern usage senior pupils at secondary school are sometimes known as students. In American English student refers to people at school as well as to people in further education. Pupil can also refer to ‘a person who is receiving instruction in something from an expert’ as in ‘the piano teacher has several adult pupils’. Student can also refer to ‘a person who is studying a particular thing’, as in ‘in his leisure time he is a student of local history’.

Pupil and Student

Generally or ideally, we refer to young kids attending kindergarten, nursery school and junior school as pupils. Even those who are below eighteen and are in an institution are sometimes called pupils. When pupils get into a higher institutions, they become students. In several parts of the globe, this is usually the case. However, in America, everyone attending school is tagged student. Asia and Britain use pupils for elementary, primary and secondary school children. In Law, the term pupil has to do with someone who trains to become a barrister (a trainee barrister) in UK or Canada.

Pupil Student

Surprised by this title? It seems there is no dichotomy between these two words. Let us put it this way: the term Pupil or student has to do with anyone that a teacher teaches or someone who is learning. Pupil has come to be associated with a young learner or student while someone undertaking formal education in a college or university is termed student. The confusion arises from the slight disparities in the way we use them especially with respect to different countries. But one thing is quite clear: a student is involved with formal education while a pupil is a learner; one under instruction.

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