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Habits, Customs and Traditions - How Are They Different?

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Ask a Teacher
Habits, Customs and Traditions - How Are They Different?
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This week we answer a question from Ashraf in Egypt.


He writes, “Can you explain the difference between habit, custom and tradition?”


Dear Ashraf,

Great question. All three words relate to actions that are done repeatedly. The difference is that traditions and customs are practiced over a long period by many people. A habit is more informal, and is usually limited to one person.

Let’s talk more about traditions and customs first. Traditions can include what most people in a country do on holidays. For example:

“Sharing a meal with turkey is a Thanksgiving tradition in the United States.”

Or: “Fireworks are part of America’s July 4th holiday tradition.”

Customs are also usual ways of behaving. But they are not as old as traditions, and they are practiced by fewer people.

Here is an example:

“In the American workplace, it is the custom to shake people’s hands when you first meet them"

When a custom continues from generation to generation, it becomes a tradition.

“For fifty years, my grandparents had a custom of swimming in the lake on the first day of summer. Now my aunts, uncles, parents, and cousins do it, too. ‘Summer swim’ is our family tradition.”

In comparison, habits are about just one person’s behavior. A habit is something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way.

Here is an example:

“When she reads the newspaper, Jane makes it a habit to look at the weather first.”

We hope you will make it a habit to visit our website every day!

And That’s Ask a Teacher!

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

Do you have a question for the teacher? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.


Words in This Story

regular – adj. happening over and over again at the same time or in the same way : occurring every day, week, or month