'Knight' vs 'Samurai': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on September 18, 2023

‘Knight’ vs ‘Samurai’: What’s the difference? Learning new vocabulary can also be a great way to learn about culture and history. In this article, you’ll learn about two kinds of ancient warriors and how to distinguish between them. 

Are you in a rush? Here’s a quick preview of what’s to come:

  • ‘Knight’ is a term for a man who served as a mounted soldier in armor
  • ‘Samurai’ is a term for a powerful member of the ancient Japanese military 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Knight’ vs ‘Samurai’?

Before we dive into the differences, let’s discuss what makes these words similar. Both ‘Knight’ and ‘Samurai’ are words describing men who were or are warriors. They serve their country or sovereign, typically in some military fashion. 

The main difference between ‘Knight’ vs ‘Samurai’ is who, where, and sometimes when they are serving. 

  • Knight’ is a term that is typically used in Europe, mainly the United Kingdom, and is still used today to describe people. In essence, it is not a strictly medieval term. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Samurai’ is exclusive to Japan, particularly pre-modern Japan, and cannot be found in militaries today. 

Note that both of these terms describe very real people and positions, and are not just used in fairytales and folklore — despite that being where these people can sometimes appear. 

Knowing the main difference between these words is a good place to start, but it doesn’t give us the full picture. Let’s take a closer look individually at ‘Knight’ vs ‘Samurai’ and learn more about what they mean. 

Definition of ‘Knight’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Knight’ is a noun that means:

  • (In the Middle Ages) a man who served his sovereign or lord as a mounted soldier in armor
  • (In the Middle Ages) a man raised by a sovereign to honorable military rank after service as a page or squire
    • “He was a knight in the king’s guard.”
  • A mounted man at arms serving a feudal superior 
  • A man devoted to a woman or a cause
    • “Amidst your troubles, I will be your knight.”
  • (in the UK) a man awarded a nonhereditary title by the sovereign in recognition of merit or service and entitled to use the honorific “Sir” in front of his name
    • “He was knighted by the Queen.”
  • A chess piece, typically with a top shaped like a horse’s head that moves by jumping to the opposite corner of a rectangle two squares by three.
    • “The knight took the pawn.”

As a verb, ‘Knight’ can also mean:

  • Invest someone with the title of knight
    • “He was knighted for his service to the industry.”

The word ‘Knight’ comes from the Old English ‘cniht’ which meant “boy, youth, servant” and had ties to Dutch and German words of similar meaning. We can see how the origin of the word, particularly meaning “servant” would evolve to the warriors of today. 

Synonyms of ‘Knight’

  • Cavalier
  • Banneret
  • Champion
  • Paladin
  • Man-at-arms
  • Horseman
  • Protagonist

Antonyms of ‘Knight’

  • Enemy
  • Jester
  • Squire

Phrases with ‘Knight’

History of ‘Knight’

As mentioned, the term ‘Knight’ is of European descent and remains relevant there today. Historically though, ‘Knights’ were gentlemen soldiers who were typically of a higher status, specifically cavalrymen. As Christianity grew more popular in Europe, the notion that ‘Knights’ were men of chivalry evolved and connected them to the ideals of the church. 

  • This is how the ‘Knights’ of the Crusades and the Knights Templar were named and grew in notoriety. 

This religious idea of knighthood combined with the fairytales of the Medieval Ages is likely what led to modern depictions of ‘Knights’ as heroes who rescue princesses in towers. However, being a ‘Knight’ is still possible in the modern age in the United Kingdom.

  • One can be knighted to be recognized for their achievements by the crown and receive an official title and honorary standing. 

Definition of ‘Samurai’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Samurai’ is a noun that means:

  • A member of a powerful military caste in feudal Japan, especially a class of military retainers of the daimyos
    • “A group of samurai warriors.”
  • A member of a military class of high social rank from the 11th to 19th century in Japan

The term ‘Samurai’ comes from the Japanese word ‘saburau’ which means “to serve” and was first used in 702 A.D. to describe a class of empirical guards. Note that this is similar to the origin of the word ‘Knight’ and how, in both cultures, these types of warriors began as servants.

Synonyms of ‘Samurai’

  • Bushi
  • Ronin
  • Kenshi

Phrases with ‘Samurai’

  • Samurai warriors
  • Samurai sword
  • True samurai
  • Ancient samurai

History of ‘Samurai’

The basis of ‘Samurai’ conduct is a practice called Bushido, which means “the way of the warrior.” It is a practice that emphasizes stoicism and honor, as well as selflessness and the principle of giving up one’s life to serve a master. 

  • They carried a special kind of sword, the katana, which originally served as a weapon but later evolved to be a symbol of power. The sword was considered part of the ‘Samurai’ soul. 

The ‘Samurai’ were a powerful class of warriors, particularly during the Edo Period and times of war. They would defend the lord’s territories and fight against rebel tribes and bandits. But, during the two-century peacetime of the Tokugawa shogunate, the need for trained warriors declined which led to the disbandment of the ‘Samurai’ class permanently. 

There is a lot of media content that involves ‘Samurai,’ some that are more historically accurate than others. Many movies that depict ‘Samurai’ are from the mid-20th century, but their influence and stories appear in a variety of pop culture works. 

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Knight’ vs ‘Samurai’

Now that you have an understanding of who they are let’s ensure you can properly pronounce the titles of ‘Knight’ vs ‘Samurai’. The guides below will help you feel confident saying the words aloud.

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Knight’ as a guide:

  • ‘Ny-t’ (note the ‘k’ is silent and the ‘igh’ sounds like a tall ‘i’ as in “spy” or “ice”)

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Samurai’ as a guide:

  • ‘Sa-moo-rai’ (the first syllable includes a wide ‘a’ as in “ran,” and the last syllable with ‘a’ and ‘i’ next to each other makes a tall ‘i’ sound)

How to Use ‘Knight’ vs ‘Samurai’ is a Sentence

The final step to mastering these words is being able to use them in your own context. Take a look at the sample sentences below to get an idea of how these words may appear in the world, and use them as a reference for learning and practicing your own sentences. 

‘Knight’ Example Sentences

  • She wanted a man to be like a knight in shining armor and come sweep her off her feet. 
  • Sir Elton John was knighted in 1998 for his services to the music industry and for his charity work and advocacy for gay rights. 
  • One of the most famous fairytales is that of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, who presided over Camelot.

‘Samurai’ Example Sentences

  • Samurai warriors believed the most honorable way to die was to die in battle in service of their country or lord. 
  • While they are indeed ancient warriors, many do not know that samurai existed well into the 19th century. 
  • Samurai often wore elaborate costumes that showed off their rank and status, which distinguished them from lower-class soldiers.

‘Knight’ vs ‘Samurai’ Example Sentences

  • While not commonly associated with one another, knights and samurai had similar functions within their respective cultures. 
  • Samurai used a curved blade, which is very different from the large straight swords used by knights in the Middle Ages. 

Final Advice on ‘Knight’ vs ‘Samurai’

While some words may not seem like they relate, learning how they connect and differ can be a great way to expand your vocabulary. It can also be a great way to increase your global understanding and connect your writing skills to different historical periods and cultures. 

Need a review? Here’s a quick recap of what we learned:

  • ‘Knight’ is a noun that describes a mounted man in arms who served the European sovereign, 
  • While ‘Samurai’ is a noun that describes an elite class of Japanese warriors who ruled from the 11th through 19th centuries. 

Want to learn how you can keep connecting your vocabulary to history? Be sure to check out other confusing word articles that give you a better understanding of how language connects to culture and history.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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