Award or Reward – What’s the Difference?

English is full of tiny nuances in meaning. The words award and reward, for example, might seem to mean exactly the same thing.

If you are a behaviorist, though, the differences between awards and rewards are massive, and failing to recognize these differences can turn a promising intervention strategy into a hopeless failure.

Continue reading to learn more about these confusing words.

What is the Difference Between Award and Reward?

In this post, I will compare reward vs. award. I will use each of these words in example sentences, so you can see them in context.

Then, at the end of the post, I will also show you a useful memory tool that will help you decide whether something is an reward or award.

When to Use Award

Definition of reward definition and definition of award definitionWhat does award mean? Award can be a noun or a verb.

As a noun, award refers to a prize given in recognition of an achievement.

For example,

  • I received an award for my services in the armed forces.
  • Attendance awards are exciting for children, but they have little intrinsic value in real life.
  • The fast-growing sector has transfored itself over the past 30 years from national joke to international award winner. –The Wall Street Journal

As a verb, award means to give something in recognition of an achievement.

For example,

  • I hereby award Sotheby with a gold medal for his first place finish in the 100-meter dash.
  • I will award the winner of the challenge with immunity in the next round of challenges.

Award is a regular verb, and it follows the standard English conjugation rules. Here are a few ways to conjugate this verb:

  • I/we award: first person singular/plural present
  • You award: second person singular/plural present
  • He/she/it awards: third person singular present
  • They award: third person plural present
  • Awarding: present participle
  • Awarded: simple past

An award is something that is given to recognize someone’s achievements. For instance, an athlete might receive the MVP award. A passionate teacher might receive a teacher of the year award.

In senses such as these, you would never use reward.

When to Use Reward

Define reward and define awardWhat does reward mean? Reward can also be a noun or a verb. In both usage cases, its meaning overlaps with award significantly. A reward is a contingent benefit for an action. For example, an extra five minutes of recess might be a reward for excellent classroom behavior.

For example,

  • The king rewards faithful service with vast riches and a seat at the high table.
  • The treasure chest is my reward for spending 20 years searching shipwrecks for gold.

As a verb, reward means to give someone something for their actions. Here are a few more examples:

  • If you bring me flowers, I will reward you with a kiss.
  • When you reward disruptive actions with attention, you are reinforcing bad behavior.

A reward has less to do with achievement and more to do with an action or exchange. For example, if you see a flyer for a lost cat, it might say there is a reward of $20. In these types of examples, you would never use award.

  • The board of trustees of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has doubled the reward to $10 million for the recovery of 13 masterpieces stolen nearly three decades ago in the largest art heist in American history, the museum said Tuesday. –The New York Times

Trick to Remember the Difference

award versus rewardReward and award have very similar meanings. They both refer to something received as a result of one’s actions.

The main difference between these words is that an award is always given by someone: Olympic judges give awards, as do classroom teachers and store managers.

In contrast, a reward may not always be given by someone. In behavior modification frameworks, for example, a reward might be something intrinsic, like relief from hunger or the satisfaction achieved by beating everyone else in a game.

Award vs. Reward Trick: Award and achievement both contain the letter A, and an award is usually something given by one person to another for some sort of achievement. Rewards aren’t always given by someone, and they don’t necessarily have to do with an achievement.


Is it award or reward? Award and reward can both be nouns and verbs.

  • An award is given by someone in recognition of an achievement.
  • A reward is a consequence of an action, and is often given by someone, but it can also be realized independently as well.