'Law' vs 'Ethics': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on October 16, 2023

Do you want to know the difference between 'law' vs. 'ethics?' This guide explains.

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

  • 'Law' is a noun and a verb that means or relates to customs, restrictions, practices, and rules for society. 
  • 'Ethics' is a noun that means a set of moral principles or a guiding philosophy. 

The answer above is just a brief overview. There is much more to learn. So, keep reading this guide to learn the definitions, pronunciations, and uses of these words.

What is the Difference Between 'Law' vs. 'Ethics?'

When it comes to 'law' vs. 'ethics, ' the difference is:

  • A 'law' is a rule that government agencies and lawmakers typically implement.
  • 'Ethics,' on the other hand, are a group of moral standards that someone follows.

However, in some professions, people are held accountable for not following ethical standards. For example, it might not be unlawful to do something, but breaking a code of ethics may result in disciplinary action by an oversight committee.

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

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

  • Rules of conduct that are formally recognized and enforced by a governing authority
  • The entire body of rules, customs, or practices applicable
  • Common law
  • Control that is brought about by the rules, customs, or practices set forth and enforced, for example, law and order
  • Litigation or the use of laws to right wrongs
  • Rules or orders that you must observe to avoid punishment
  • Something that is compatible with or enforceable by established decrees
  • Authority and control
  • Legislation
  • In the Old Testament, the revelation of God's will
  • The Pentateuch, Torah, or the first part of the Jewish scriptures
  • Rules of construction and procedure
  • The profession an attorney practices
  • Jurisprudence or the knowledge of law
  • Legal knowledge
  • A proven or assumed relationship between logical, scientific, or mathematical expressions
  • A phenomenon that is invariable under specific conditions

'Law' can also be a verb that means:

  • To litigate
  • To bring about legal action

Synonyms and Similar Terms to 'Law'

  • Statute
  • Rule
  • Act
  • Ruling
  • Bill
  • Legislation
  • Prohibition
  • Regulation
  • Restriction
  • Edict
  • Bylaw
  • Fiat
  • Canon
  • Directive
  • Martial law
  • Ground rule
  • Command

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

The same defines 'ethics' as a noun that means:

  • A theory or set of moral principles or values
  • The code of conduct governing an individual or group
  • Awareness or acceptance that something is of moral importance
  • Guiding philosophies
  • A set of moral aspects like right and wrong
  • The field is concerned with moral duties, obligations, and good and bad acts and behaviors

Synonyms and Similar Terms to 'Ethics'

  • Norms
  • Principles
  • Morals
  • Standards
  • Values
  • Beliefs
  • Etiquette
  • Customs
  • Morality
  • Manners
  • Tenets
  • Dogma

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Law' vs. 'Ethics'

Pronunciation is often overlooked, but it is essential to learn the proper way to say terms so that others understand what you mean when you use a term.

So, here is a guide you can refer to for pronouncing 'law' vs. 'ethics.'

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'law':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'ethics':


When and How to Use 'Law' vs. 'Ethics'

You learned the difference between these terms, but knowing which word to use may still be challenging. So, here are some tips for when and how to use 'law' vs. 'ethics':

  • Use 'law' when you are talking about a rule that is overseen by a government agency.

For example, you could say:

If I were you, I would follow the laws of the road. Otherwise, you may get a ticket. 

  • Use 'ethics' when you are discussing a set of principles applicable to a profession.

As an example, I might say:

Medical professionals follow a code of ethics.

  • Use 'law' to refer to the legal profession.

For example, you can say:

He has been practicing law for more than 30 years. 

  • Use 'ethics' to refer to a set of guiding principles of a personal nature.

So, I might say:

I follow personal and professional ethics when I create content.

  • Use 'law' or 'laws' for people who enforce laws, like police officers.

As an example, you might here someone say:

Did you see the laws parked on the corner? I think they are looking for someone. 

Sample Sentences Using 'Law' vs. 'Ethics'

Here are some sample sentences using 'law' vs. 'ethics.' Read them to help you remember the difference between these terms and how to use them.


  • Many people disagree with the law, but they still have to follow it. Otherwise, they may face harsh punishments.
  • Did you vote on the red light camera law?
  • If you become an attorney, you need to go to law school and pass the bar exam in each state where you practice.
  • The laws around here think they can do whatever they want.


  • There are many fields that have a code of ethics.
  • As an escrow officer, you have an ethical obligation to keep certain information confidential.
  • Do you have a complete lack of ethics?
  • When the committee found out about his ethics violations, they took swift action.


  • Failing to adhere to professional ethics can result in losing your law license.
  • It is against the university's code of ethics for professors to date students, but it is not against the law.
  • She knew her actions were unethical, but they did not violate federal or state laws.

Review: 'Law' vs. 'Ethics'

Finally, let's review what you learned about the difference between 'law' vs. 'ethics': 

  • 'Law' is a term that means a group of rules or regulations that are implemented and enforced by government agencies or lawmakers. 
  • 'Ethics' is a term used for standards or best practices set forth for an individual or group. 
  • 'Laws' are enforceable through legal action, while ethics violations may result in the loss of a license or the ability to practice a particular profession. 

Terms like these can be challenging whether you are an experienced writer or an English language learner. So, if you are unsure of the meaning of words like these, you can always verify the correct term to use in the confusing words section here.

Each guide contains an explanation of the meaning, pronunciation, and uses of the terms it covers. So, they are an excellent way to expand your vocabulary and improve your writing and grammar skills.

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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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