Elegy vs. Eulogy: What’s the Difference?

The English language is full of confusing words that mix up writers and speakers alike, and most of this confusion surrounds English homophones.

If two words have the same pronunciation but different meanings, they are called homophones. A classic set of homophones is principal and principle.

While elegy vs. eulogy aren’t exactly homophones (since they have slightly different pronunciations), they are close enough to cause confusion, so today I want to take the time to address their differences.

What is the Difference Between Elegy and Eulogy?

In this post, I want to talk about the uses of these words and their functions in a sentence. I will provide sentence examples and pronunciation guides, so you will know exactly how each word works and how it sounds.

After reading this post, you shouldn’t ever again wonder, “Is it elegy or eulogy?”

When to Use Elegy

elegy versus eulogyWhat does elegy mean? An elegy, pronounced “elle-jee,” is a mournful poem or song composed especially as a lament for a deceased person. As such, it functions as a noun within a sentence.

  • The poet Nathaniel Mackey, who gave the conference keynote, also read recent work at the Judson Church on Tuesday night, aligning himself with the festival’s strain of commemorative elegy. –The New York Times
  • Less than four months after 9/11, the biggest band in the world took to the biggest stage and gave a sentimental, cathartic performance that went from celebration to elegy and back. –USA Today

In the early 16th century when elegy first made its way into English, it exclusively applied to a song of lamentation. Over time, however, that definition got loosened, and by the year 1600, elegy came to mean a poem of lamentation as well.

The corresponding adjective for elegy is elegiac.

  • It’s a deeply melancholy novel, but beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac. –The Guardian

The most common mistake made when using these words is to use elegy when the writer really means to use eulogy.

  • Thirteen bright student orators delivered formal elegies (read eulogies) to education and shared personal stories of fear, striving, and laughter.

When to Use Eulogy

eulogy versus elegy grammar rulesWhat does eulogy mean? A eulogy, pronounced “yoo-la-jee,” is a laudatory speech or written tribute, especially one praising someone who has just died.

  • The priest delivered a moving eulogy at the fallen soldier’s funeral.
  • There were multiple eulogies delivered by diplomats remembering the president.
  • His best friend delivered a heart warming eulogy.

As you can see, the difference between elegy and eulogy is clear. An elegy is a poem or a song, whereas a eulogy is a speech or written tribute.

It’s easy to see how they can get confused with one another, however, since they sound similar and they are both used around the times of death.

Pronunciation of Elegy and Eulogy

Something to notice when comparing these two words is that elegy and eulogy are preceded by different articles.

  • An elegy.
  • A eulogy.

This is because elegy begins with a vowel sound, and eulogy begins with a consonant sound. For more information on this, see our page on “A vs. An.”

Remember the Difference

Still not sure you can remember when to use eulogy or elegy? Here is a good trick to remember the difference.

A eulogy is a formal speech and tends to be longer than a song or poem would be. In other words, a eulogy is longer than an elegy. Both eulogy and longer have an “LO” in them.

Summary

It is common to see both of these words used during a funeral, but eulogy vs. elegy have different meanings.

An Elegy is a mournful poem or song written about someone who has recently died.

A Eulogy is a laudatory speech or written tribute praising someone who has recently died.

 

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