'Lamb' vs 'Sheep': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on September 21, 2023

‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’: What’s the difference? Almost everyone grows up hearing the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb — but what exactly is a ‘Lamb’? And how is it different from a ‘Sheep’? Read below to find all the answers. 

In a hurry? Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll learn:

  • ‘Lamb’ is a term that is used for young sheep
  • ‘Sheep’ is a term that refers to a specific mammal with a thick woolly coat 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’?

The primary difference between ‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’ is not the animal they describe, but rather the stage of life that said animal is in. 

  • A ‘Lamb’ is still a ‘Sheep’. It’s just a small and very young sheep. Similar to how all humans are human, but a baby is not the same as an adult. 

Having different names for different animal stages of life is very common.

Here are some examples: 

  • Larvae, pupa, and butterfly
  • Ducklings and ducks
  • Puppies and dogs
  • Cubs and bears

The main thing to take away from this is that when using the word ‘Lamb’ you are still referring to a ‘Sheep’ but not one that is fully grown. This is usually emphasized by context because ‘Lamb’ is a term used in a more serene or adorable context, while ‘Sheep’ is more stumbling and easily manipulated. 

One final thing to note is that while these terms most commonly reference an animal, they can also used to depict humans or religious figures. Knowing this prepares you to tackle all meanings of the word. 

Speaking of, now that we know the key difference between these terms, let’s learn more individually about ‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’.

Definition of ‘Lamb’: What Does it Mean?

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

  • A young sheep, especially one that is less than one year old and without permanent teeth
  • The flesh of a young sheep as food
    • “We had roast lamb for supper.”
  • Used figuratively as a symbol of meekness, gentleness, or innocence
    • “He accepted her decision like a lamb.”
  • A person easily cheated or deceived, especially in trading securities
    • “He was swindled like a lamb.”
  • Used to describe or address someone regarded with affection or pity, especially a young child
    • “The poor lamb is very upset.”
  • Short for Lamb of God (in Christianity)

As a verb, ‘Lamb’ can also mean:

  • (of a ewe) give birth to lambs
  • Tend ewes at lambing time

Synonyms of ‘Lamb’

  • Fool
  • Chump
  • Pushover
  • Greenhorn
  • Stooge
  • Innocent
  • Easy mark
  • Simple soul

Antonyms of ‘Lamb’

  • Beast
  • Tough 
  • Heel
  • Wolf

Phrases with ‘Lamb’

  • Like a lamb to the slaughter 
  • Be a lamb
  • Lamb shank 
  • Lamb kabob
  • Lamb of God
  • Mary had a little lamb

Definition of ‘Sheep’: What Does it Mean? 

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

  • A domesticated ruminant animal with a thick woolly coat and (typically only in the male) curving horns, it is kept in flocks for its wool or meat and is proverbial for its tendency to follow others in a flock
    • “The farmers had ten sheep.”
  • A wild animal related to a sheep, such as an argali, bighorn, and urial
  • A person who is too easily influenced or led
    • “The party members had become sheep, and she refused to be taken in.”
  • A timid and docile person
  • A person regarded as a protected follower of God (in Christianity)
  • A member of a minister’s congregation
    • “They were the church’s sheep.”

Note that the word ‘Sheep’ is also linked to the word ‘Sheepish’ which is defined as “showing embarrassment from shame or a lack of confidence,” according to Oxford Languages. 

Also, be aware that 'Sheep' is both the word used for the singular and plural form of the word, so be careful to refer to context clues in your sentences to determine whether you are discussing one sheep or a flock of sheep.

Synonyms of ‘Sheep’

  • Ewe
  • Argali
  • Bighorn
  • Urial
  • Flock
  • Follower
  • Conformist
  • Doyen
  • Yes-man
  • Colt 

Antonyms of ‘Sheep’

  • Leader
  • Rowdy
  • Slob
  • Schemer
  • Aggressive

Phrases with ‘Sheep’

  • Counting sheep
  • Sheepskin
  • Flock of sheep
  • Wolf among sheep
  • Sheepish
  • Look through sheep's eyes
  • Black sheep

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’

While we want you to feel confident in your writing, another key component to learning a language is speaking. Below, you’ll find tools to practice saying ‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’ aloud so you feel confident discussing them in conversation. 

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

  • ‘La-m’ (note that the ‘a’ sound is wide as in the word “band” and the ‘b’ at the end of the word is silent)

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

  • ‘Shee-p’ (the word is spelled phonetically, with the ‘ee’ sounding like “need”)

How to Use ‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’ in a Sentence

The final step to mastering new vocabulary is being able to use the words on your own terms. The sample sentences below will give you a full understanding of how to use ‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’ in a variety of contexts depending on their specific meaning.

‘Lamb’ Example Sentences

  • The little girl wanted to keep the lamb as a pet, but the farmer warned her of how big it would grow up to be. 
  • In Christianity, Jesus is known as the Lamb of God since he was sacrificed to forgive the sins of his followers. 
  • Not everyone thinks it tastes good, but I love ordering lamb kabobs instead of chicken or beef. 
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb was one of the first songs I learned while taking piano lessons as a child. 

‘Sheep’ Example Sentences

  • People sometimes suggest visualizing and counting sheep in your head to help you fall asleep. 
  • His skill made him a wolf among sheep, meaning he could challenge and beat anyone whenever he chose to. 
  • They were taught in church that they, the congregation, were sheep and the Lord was their shepherd. 
  • She was the family's black sheep, being the only introvert and intellectual, while her siblings and parents preferred athletics. 

‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’ Example Sentences

  • Lambs have notoriously soft wool that makes them cuddly, while the wool of grown sheep is much more coarse and wiry. 
  • Lambs are harvested for their meat. Meanwhile, sheep are more often harvested for their wool or their skin. 

Final Advice on ‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’

Learning new words can be confusing when two words technically reference the same thing but at two different stages of life. But, by understanding the difference between words like ‘Lamb’ vs ‘Sheep’, we can make our writing more precise and our description more accurate. 

Need a recap? Here’s a review of what was covered:

  • ‘Lamb’ is a noun that refers to a young sheep, as well as a symbol of innocence
  • ‘Sheep’ is a noun that refers to the woolly farm mammal, but also a docile person

Want to learn other terms that help specify your writing? Check out other confusing word articles that break down the difference between related terms. Remember that the more you invest in moving beyond just memorization, the better your writing will become. 

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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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