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Famous v. Popular

Ask a Teacher: Famous v. Popular
Famous v. Popular
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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question from Mohammadreza from Iran about the difference between “famous” and “popular.”


Dear VOA teachers,

Would you please let us know difference between the words “popular” and “famous,” and how to use them in our day-to-day speech?




Dear Mohammadreza,

Thanks for writing to us and asking this question.

Famous and popular are both adjectives. The words may seem similar, but their meanings are very different.

Let’s start with famous.


“Famous” means known or recognized by many people. We often use the word when describing people.

For example, movie actors, singers and professional athletes can be described as famous.

For example: Taylor Swift is a famous singer-songwriter.

2019 American Music Awards - Show - Los Angeles, California, U.S. Taylor Swift performs. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo
2019 American Music Awards - Show - Los Angeles, California, U.S. Taylor Swift performs. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

Some famous people are known to people around the world. Others may be famous in their home country.

Places can be famous, too. For example, the Eiffel Tower in France and the pyramids in Egypt are very famous.


Now let’s talk about popular. “Popular” means liked or enjoyed by many people.

One way we use “popular” is to talk about trends like “popular fashion” or “popular styles.”

For example:

The bucket hat was a popular trend in the 1990s, and now younger generations are wearing it again today.

A bucket hat
A bucket hat

We also use popular to talk about people. For example, there are “popular students” at school. These people are generally well-liked by people in their class. They are not famous, though. People outside of the school probably do not know who they are.

Places can also be described as popular. If we describe a place as popular, we mean a lot of people like to go there.

The difference

“Famous” and “popular” mean different things. Just because someone is popular does not mean the person is famous. And some famous people might not be especially popular.

Let us compare these two examples:

This restaurant is famous.

In this example, we are saying that many people know about this restaurant. Maybe it has become known for a special kind of food it serves. Maybe it appeared on a television show.

This restaurant is popular.

In this example, we are saying that many people go to the restaurant. But it may just be the local population that knows about it.

Please let us know if these examples and explanations have helped you, Mohammedreza!

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

athleten. a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina

fashion n. a popular way of dressing during a particular time or among a particular group of people​

style – n. a method, manner, or quality that is felt to be very respectable, fashionable, or proper


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