meaning - Difference between "packet", "parcel" and "package"

  • Em1

    The definition on OALD is identical for parcel and packet.

    parcel (especially British English) (North American English usually package) something that is wrapped in paper or put into a thick envelope so that it can be sent by mail, carried easily, or given as a present

    packet a small object wrapped in paper or put into a thick envelope so that it can be sent by mail, carried easily or given as a present

    According to OALD, package is a North American term, though ngram viewer indicates that it is also the most common word in British English.

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    What is the difference between packet, parcel and package? Do the words denote size or material (package in its second meaning)?

  • Answers
  • KeithS

    Mostly conjecture and original research:

    A parcel has the modern connotation of being sent by mail, and you normally never hear of the noun used to describe anything else (though you may sometimes hear it in verb form, meaning "to deliver in regular, divided amounts"). The word originated from the Old French parcelle meaning "a small piece or part".

    A package also generally has the same connotation. The word evolved from "pack" which has its roots in Old German, to basically mean "the product of packing" similar to the etymology of "baggage". While a package is often sent by mail, you could hear of a "package" being stored, or of a "gift-wrapped package" being delivered in person.

    A packet is a newer word, with forms first appearing in the 1500s (vs the 1200-1300s) in Middle French (pacquet). The word originally meant "bundle", but now typically has one of the following connotations:

    • A small envelope containing spices, grain, seed, or similar material.
    • A collection of papers or other information, often bound, as in the written material for a presentation.
    • A chunk of data sent over a network.
  • Henry

    It is whatever you define it to be.

    For the Post Office in the UK, a packet is generally smaller than a parcel though larger than a letter. Both a packet and a parcel might be informally called a package.

  • Jessica Brown

    There are connotations about shape and size in regards to the difference.

    In regards to US English (as I am unfamiliar with British English): Typically, a packet is of a smaller scale than a parcel or package. You might put a packet of sugar in your coffee, or pick up a packet of papers at back to school night. Parcel or package would not be suitable in those contexts. Usually a packet would refer to an envelope shaped container with an assortment or quantity of materials or supplies inside, papers or flyers, sugar, peanut butter, salad dressing, etc.

    In the US, parcel is almost exclusively used to refer to packages sent by US Mail, eg: their package sending service is called "parcel post" and is for sending boxes, or packages, of various sizes. Typically a US speaker would say package rather than parcel unless they are talking about how their item is being shipped. Package would connotatively imply a box or similar container with item(s) inside, usually not envelope shaped, usually it refers to a box-shaped item. As the other commenters have noted, the usage of parcel vs package is slightly different.

  • Related Question

    meaning - Is there a difference between "vice", "deputy", "associate", and "assistant" as descriptive job titles?
  • Ray

    When vice, deputy, associate, or assistant is collocated with a job title, such as vice manager, deputy manager, associate manager, assistant manager, I wonder how to rank or differentiate their levels. Or, they sometimes can be the same, can't they?

  • Related Answers
  • Vamsi Emani

    Vice refers to the one who is next in command! And its usage is usually confined to a small number of people, whereas Deputy also refers the same but it is confined to considerably large number of people.

    For example: There would be just one or two vice presidents under a president! On the contrary, there can be many deputy engineers under a manager.

    Associate refers to someone who is usually not as high in the cadre as Deputy/Vice but of someone who is of equal level in being a sub ordinate & Assistant being the least in the cadre of the above mentioned!

    So if you are looking to differentiate, it would be something like this,

    Vice = Deputy > Associate > Assistant

  • Snubian

    'Deputy' literally means someone who can act in the stead of his/her superior. Hence, the verb to 'deputize' for somebody, to take their place. A sheriff's deputy is a good example.

    Similarly, 'vice' comes from the Latin meaning 'in place of'. We have the familiar example of the President of the United States of America, and his/her Vice President who, while being subordinate, may take on the role of President in certain circumstances.

    I would rank both 'deputy' and 'vice' ahead of 'associate' and 'assistant'. 'Associate' is commonly used to refer to general employees of not especially high rank, such as associates in a law firm. 'Assistant' is a term which can be used to mean something like 'helper' or 'aide' - it may even be pejorative depending on context - but in some cases can be used to indicate a rank similar to 'deputy', such as Assistant District Attorney, or Assistant Coach.

    In general, these are quite fluid terms depending on the setting in which they are used.

  • Ibn Ar-Rashid

    "Vice-," "deputy" and "assistant" are generally used to refer to the "second-in-command" or the one who may act as a representative for the holder of the original job title. Usually, these are also job titles held by a single person. "Associate," on the other hand is used to mean something similar to the others (in terms of being a subordinate), but they may be one of a number of such persons.

  • Potatoswatter

    I'm not looking this up, but…

    Vice goes only with president and signifies a position that is both executive and subordinate.

    Deputy specifically implies that the person in charge hired the underling so as to delegate not only tasks, but authority over others as well.

    Associate is often used in marketing positions, so clients may be impressed that they are talking to a "manager." If your manager is only an associate manager, then you are definitely low on the chain.

    Assistant signifies delegation like deputy, but the person works more closely to perform tasks for the superior. The assistant gives orders less often than the deputy and writes more reports.

  • trideceth12

    This depends on the ranking system of the institution in question, geographical location also plays a big part, see academic ranks below:

  • Will

    For the military services, the term "Vice" is used to identify the second in line for non-command roles, such as the Vice Chief of Staff, Army/Air Force. The term "Deputy" is used to denote the second in line for Command billets, as in Deputy Commanding General, Pacific Command.

  • mgb

    Gets even more complicated with armies.

    Lieutenant originally meant assistant so Lieutenant Colonel is below a Colonel. While Major means senior - hence a sergeant major is a senior sergeant - but a Major General is below a Lieutenant General.

    edit - corrected, I mis-remembered the quote