Replicate vs. Duplicate – What’s the Difference?

When you make copies of something, are you replicating it, or duplicating it?

It might not seem to matter—the meanings of these words are very similar. However, they are distinct, and the one you choose depends on how exact your copies are.

What is the Difference Between Replicate vs. Duplicate?

In this post, I will compare replicate vs. duplicate. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that makes choosing duplicate or replicate much easier.

When to Use Duplicate

replicate versus duplicateWhat does duplicate mean? Duplicate can be a verb, a noun, or an adjective.

As a verb, duplicate means to make an exact copy of something. When you run a document through a copy machine, you are duplicating it. The machine will spit out exact copies of the document you put into it.

Duplicate’s noun and adjective forms are related—a duplicate is an exact copy of something, and as an adjective, duplicate refers to the quality of being an exact copy.

Here are examples that use duplicate in all three of these forms:

  • If we duplicate all of our dollar bills, and then duplicate those dollar bills, we will have much more money when we are finished. (verb)
  • “Please organize these filing cabinets, and remove any duplicate folders you might find,” said Marcia. (adjective)
  • “These images are duplicates,” said the art critic. (noun)
  • Five hundred Rhode Island residents have received duplicate tax refund checks totaling $364,000. –The Daily Mail (adjective)

When to Use Replicate

definition of duplicate definition of replicate definitionWhat does replicate mean? Replicate has a similar but slightly different meaning. It can also be used as a verb, a noun, and an adjective.

As a verb, replicate means to reproduce something, like research results or a piece of fine art. The noun replicate means something that has been reproduced, and the adjective replicate refers to the quality of being a reproduction.

Replicates may not be exact copies of the original, in the way that duplicates are. If an art student paints Van Gogh’s Starry Night, the new painting is a replicate, not a duplicate, since it would not be exactly identical. Usually, in this context, however, one would call it a replica, not a replicate.

Here are more examples:

  • Before we can determine the validity of the new research, we need to replicate its results. (verb)
  • Casey displayed the original painting next to its replicate, and the differences were stark. (noun)
  • The replicate summaries were found to diverge on several important points. (adjective)
  • The ideal move would be to replicate the deal Washington did last year — turning a protected first-round pick into Morris, a player in his prime (he was 26) and with three more years on his contract at an affordable price. –The Washington Post

Trick to Remember the Difference

define duplicate define replicate What’s an easy way to remember duplicate vs. replicate?

Despite the similarity in meaning between these two words, there are enough nuances that you should use each carefully.

  • A duplicate is an exact copy of something.
  • A replicate is only a reproduction, even if it is not exact.

Since duplicate and double both begin with the letter D, remember that a duplicate is an exact double of something.

Summary

Is it replicate or duplicate? The words are just different enough to be distinct, so you should use them carefully.

  • Duplicate means to make an exact copy and can also be used as an adjective and a noun.
  • Replicate means to reproduce something, and can also be used as an adjective and a noun.
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