Difference Between Human & Humane

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

The words 'human' and 'humane' look and sound similar because they have a similar origin, but today their meanings are very different. This lesson will discuss when and how to use both.

Shared Origins

Many English words look and sound similar despite having different meanings, and this is often because they have a similar origin. The words 'human' and 'humane' are a good example of this.

Both words derive from the Latin 'homo', which means 'man' or 'human being'. And for a long time, they were used pretty much interchangeably. But today, they have branched off to have distinct meanings, though the meanings overlap somewhat, showing their shared origin.

'Human' is now used today as a noun (person, place, or thing) or adjective (describing word) to refer to things literally having to do with being a human being. 'Humane', on the other hand, is only used as an adjective to refer to positive human traits like kindness and compassion.

A Human Being

As mentioned above, 'human' can be a noun or adjective. In its noun form, it simply refers to a human being and is often used to distinguish a human from other species:

  • Humans are believed to be the only species that cooks its food.
  • Many people believe that aliens have visited Earth and abducted humans.
  • Environmental activists argue that humans have a responsibility to take care of the planet.

It can also be used as an adjective to describe someone as having human qualities. This can mean human qualities in a scientific sense:

  • The human body has 206 bones.

The human body has 206 bones.
bones

But it can also be used to refer to human qualities of personality, both good or bad:

  • To err is human, to forgive is divine.
  • The space shuttle crash was caused by human error.
  • Mother Theresa was a great example of human kindness.
  • By giving the convict a lighter sentence, the judge showed his human side.

In these last two examples, 'human' refers to positive human qualities like kindness and forgiveness. These traits are described as 'human' because they are thought to separate us from the animals. And it is in this sense that 'human' shows its shared origin with 'humane'.

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