'Coyote' vs 'Wolf': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on October 24, 2023

If you are looking for an explanation of the difference between a 'coyote' vs. 'wolf,' you are in the right place.

Here is a quick answer, in case you are in a hurry:

  •  A 'coyote' is a noun for a carnivorous mammal from North America belonging to the Canis latrans species, which is closely related but smaller than the wolf.
  • A 'wolf' is a noun for several large members of the Canidae family of the Canis genus that is mostly nocturnal and hunts and lives in packs. 

The above answer is just an overview, though. There is much more to learn about these terms. So, keep reading!

What is the Difference Between a 'Coyote' vs. 'Wolf?'

Many people confuse the words 'coyote' and 'wolf.' Both words describe an animal that is wild but closely related to larger breed domestic dogs. However, there are only a few types of coyotes, and there are many wolves.

Types of Coyotes

  • Central American Coyotes
  • Eastern Coyotes
  • Central U.S. Coyotes
  • Western Coyotes

Types of Wolves

  • Eastern Wolf
  • Arctic Wold
  • Italian Wolf
  • Eurasian Wolf
  • Northwestern Wolf
  • Japanese Wolf
  • Indian Wolf
  • Hokkaido Wolf
  • British Columbia Wolf
  • Labrador Wolf
  • Arabian Wolf
  • Texas Wolf
  • Florida Black Wolf
  • Mongolian Wolf
  • Greenland Wolf
  • Tundra Wolf
  • Baffin Island Wolf
  • New Guinea Singing Dog
  • Great Plains Wolf
  • Steppe Wolf
  • Manitoba Wolf
  • Mongolon Mountian Wolf
  • Canis Lupis Youngi

Additionally, the 'coyote' is smaller than a full-grown wolf. Yet, it is more widespread and typically less fearful of humans. So, you are much more likely to see a 'coyote' than a 'wolf.

Definition of 'Coyote': What Does 'Coyote' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 'coyote' is a noun that means:

  • A carnivorous mammal of the Canis latrans species known for its distinctive yipping howls, pointy muzzle, and triangular ears that range in color from light brown-gray to reddish-gray, which is closely related to but smaller than a wolf and hunts alone or with a partner

It can also be a slang term that means:

  • A person who smuggles other people into the United States

Synonyms and Similar Words to 'Coyote'

  • Mule
  • Gunrunner
  • Runner
  • Bootlegger
  • Smuggler
  • Courier
  • Contrabandist
  • Mutt
  • Pooch
  • Hound
  • Dingo
  • Lobo
  • Fox
  • Hyena

Definition of 'Wolf': What Does 'Wolf' Mean?

The same dictionary defines 'wolf' as a noun that means:

  • Any of a variety of large predatory carnivorous members of the Canidae family of the Canis genus, which are mostly nocturnal pack animals that resemble domestic dogs

It can also mean:

  • A wolf's fur
  • A fierce, vicious, or destructive person
  • A man who is direct, forward, and zealous about his romantic desires or amatory attentions towards women
  • Starvation or crippling poverty
  • A warble fly maggot
  • Dissonance in cords on an organ, piano, or other instrument that has fixed tones tuned by unequal temperament
  • A harshness that comes from faulty vibration in a variety of tones from a bowed instrument, like a violin

'Wolf' can also be a verb that means:

  • To devour ferociously or eat greedily

Synonyms and Similar Words to 'Wolf'

  • Womanizer
  • Don Juan
  • Romeo
  • Lover
  • Seducer
  • Lounge Lizard
  • Lady's Man
  • Whoremonger
  • Casanova
  • Amorist
  • Gallant

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Coyote' vs. 'Wolf'

When you are learning the difference between words like these, it is always a good idea to learn the correct pronunciation. Learning how to say terms correctly gives you the confidence you need to use them in conversation and when speaking publicly.

However, learning pronunciation also helps you remember the meanings and spellings of words.

So, here is a guide you can reference for pronouncing 'coyote' vs. 'wolf.'

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'coyote':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'wolf':


When and How to Use 'Coyote' vs. 'Wolf'

Knowing the definitions of terms like these is great, but it often helps to know exactly when and how to use one versus the other. So, here are some tips for using 'coyote' vs. 'wolf.'

  • Use 'coyote' to describe specific members of the Canis latrans family.

For example, I might say:

We know that those coyotes have been killing our animals because one of our neighbors identified them a few nights ago. 

  • Use 'coyote' to describe someone who smuggles people into other countries.

As an example, you might hear someone say:

The government is currently fighting a battle against drug cartels and coyotes. 

  • Use 'wolf' to describe a member of the Canidae family of the Canis genus.

As an example, you can say:

The animal we saw last night must have been a wolf because it was larger than a coyote or fox.

  • Use 'wolf' to describe a man who preys on women or is overly zealous about his romantic intentions.

So, you could say something like:

I am glad that Jim is not working here anymore. He was a wolf. Every time I was alone with him, he made me feel uncomfortable. 

  • Use 'wolf' to describe a destructive person.

For example, you might say:

Edward was a wolf the last time he came over. The entire night, he wouldn't let anyone else sit in 'his spot', and he left a huge mess.

  • Use 'wolf' as a verb to say that someone is eating ravenously.

As an example, I might say:

Don't wolf your food down like that. You could choke.

Sample Sentences Using 'Coyote' vs. 'Wolf'

Before you leave, here are some sample sentences using both words. If you have a few minutes, reading them should help you remember the meanings of these terms and help you to learn additional ways to use them.


  • Have you ever seen a Wile E. Coyote cartoon?
  • I heard a coyote yipping last night, and it was unsettling.
  • Coyotes yip and howl to communicate with each other.
  • Border states are struggling to stop coyotes from illegally entering the country.


  • The wolf is a symbol of family ties, communication, loyalty, and intelligence.
  • Wolves are usually scared of humans and avoid them.
  • There are currently 108 wolves living in Yellowstone National Park, making it an excellent place to study them.
  • He was a real wolf in sheep's clothes. We did not realize what he was planning.


  • Coyotes and wolves are two animals that mate for life.
  • A coyote or wolf only finds another partner if their partner dies.

Recap: 'Coyote' vs. 'Wolf'

We reviewed a lot of information in this post. So, let's quickly review the difference between 'coyote' vs. 'wolf':

  • 'Coyote' is a member of the C. latrans species of the Canidae family that is slightly smaller than a wolf and has a pointy muzzle and triangle-shaped ears. 
  • 'Wolf' is a member of the C. lupus species in the Canidae family, which is larger than a fox or coyote but tends to be more fearful of humans. 

If you want to learn about the differences between other animals, check out the confusing words section here. You will find hundreds of guides that explain the differences between English terms that are commonly misused, misspelled, or mispronounced.

Each guide gives a brief and detailed description of the terms, definitions, pronunciations, and examples. So, they are an excellent way to verify the correct word to use or expand your vocabulary.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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