'Lilac' vs 'Lavender': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on September 3, 2023

‘Lilac’ vs ‘Lavender’: What’s the difference? Learning basic colors is an important part of learning a language, but as we grow more confident, we want to expand our level of detail. Let’s explore some new color words that can be used to be as descriptive as possible. 

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

  • ‘Lilac’ is a word that refers to a pale pinkish-violet shade
  • ‘Lavender’ is a word that refers to a pale bluish shade

What’s the Difference Between ‘Lilac’ vs ‘Lavender’?

‘Lilac’ vs ‘Lavender’ are commonly known as shades of purple that vary based on their undertones. But how do we tell them apart? 

  • ‘Lilac’ is distinctly a purple shade, though it can also lean more towards pink. It is pale, often made by adding white pigment to the shade violet. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Lavender’ is also a purple shade, but it falls on the blue end of the shade spectrum. While it is a pale shade, it is darker and more rich than ‘Lilac.’

The interesting thing about both of these colors is that they are named after flowers. The flowers are the inspiration for the shades of the colors, so ‘Lilac’ is the same color as lilacs, while ‘Lavender’ is the same color as lavender plants. 

When colors or other descriptors are named after other objects, they can be a great tool to identify their meaning. 

  • For example, since we know the colors are modeled after flowers, we can either research or go find the physical flower to use as a color reference. 

Now that we have a basis for these two new terms let’s take a closer look individually at ‘Lilac’ vs ‘Lavender’.

Definition of ‘Lilac’: What Does it Mean?

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

  • A Eurasian shrub or small tree of the olive family that has fragrant violet, pink, or white blossoms and is widely cultivated as an ornamental
    • “She grew lilac bushes in her backyard.”
  • A pale pinkish-violet color

As an adjective, ‘Lilac’ can also mean: 

  • Of a pale pinkish-violet color
    • “A lilac cardigan.”

The origin of the word ‘Lilac’ comes from the Persian ‘nīlak’ meaning “bluish,” which came from ‘nīl’ which means “blue.” It is important to note that as a plant, lilacs can grow in a variety of colors, but the color defined as ‘Lilac’ is specifically a pale purple. 

The lilac flower represents different things depending on their color, such as white for innocence, purple for spirituality, and blue for happiness and tranquility. Knowing this can be helpful if you’re using lilacs as symbolism in a story. 

Definition of ‘Lavender’: What Does it Mean?

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

  • A small aromatic evergreen shrub of the mint family, with narrow leaves and bluish-purple flowers. Lavender has been widely used in perfumery and medicine since ancient times. 
  • The flowers and stalks of the lavender shrub dried and used to give a pleasant smell to clothes and bed linens
  • A scented oil distilled from lavender flowers
    • “Lavender, like most essential oils, is kind to sore or infected skin.”
  • Used in reference to refinement or gentility
    • “She had a certain lavender charm.”
  • A pale blue color with a trace of mauve
    • “Romantic designs in old-fashioned colors of primrose and lavender.”

As a verb, ‘Lavender’ can also mean:

  • Perfume with lavender
    • “They owned lavendered sheets.”

The origin of the word ‘Lavender’ comes from the Latin ‘lavare’, which means “to wash” because the flower was used as a fragrant oil in Roman baths — a technique still used today. 

‘Lavender’ both as a color and the flower represents purity, devotion, calmness, and grace. They are also known as luxurious flowers, given their purple color, which is considered to be tied to royalty. 

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Lilac’ vs ‘Lavender’

A key component of language learning that is just as important as knowing definitions is being able to say words aloud. Read the following guides to gain confidence in pronouncing ‘Lilac’ vs ‘Lavender.’

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

  • ‘Ly-lak’ (the ‘i’ is a tall sound, as in “high,” and the ‘c’ is hard like the letter ‘k’, not soft as in “ice”)

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

  • ‘La-vehn-derr’ (the ‘a’ is a wide sound as in “hat,” with the ‘e’ vowels being more swallowed as in ‘earn’)

How to Use ‘Lilac’ vs ‘Lavender’ in a Sentence

The final step to mastering new vocabulary is actually being able to use the words in real-world scenarios. Read the sample sentences below to get a better understanding of the contexts in which these words may appear so you can use them as a reference for your own work. 

‘Lilac’ Example Sentences

  • My mom loves the lilac tree that grows in our front yard, even though it only blooms for a few weeks out of the year. 
  • She wanted a palette of spring pastels for her wedding, so the bridesmaids all wore lilac dresses. 
  • She dressed up as a flower fairy for Halloween and attached fake lilac petals to her dress. 

‘Lavender’ Example Sentences

  • We went to a farm that let you pick fresh lavender, and you only had to pay five cents per stalk. 
  • She drizzled lavender oils in her bath water to create a calming scent as well as infuse the water with healing essential oils. 
  • Lavender is such a pretty pale color, so it often pairs well with bright complementary tones like a sunny yellow. 

‘Lilac’ vs ‘Lavender’ Example Sentences

  • While the dress code specifically said to wear lilac accessories, all he could find in stores were lavender ones. 
  • Although known for having similar colors, lavender plants grow much closer to the ground, while lilacs grow in large trees or bushes. 

Final Advice on ‘Lilac’ vs ‘Lavender’

Expanding your vocabulary to be as detailed as possible is a great way to improve your understanding of a language. You can learn to be more descriptive, which will help you become a more sophisticated writer and expressive conversationalist or presenter. 

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

  • ‘Lilac’ is a pinkish-purple color named for the shrub with blossoms of a similar shade. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Lavender’ is a more bluish-purple color named for the flowers that grow on a small stalked plant that is often used in fragrances.

Don’t be afraid of detailed words because they can also help you be a more effective communicator. Want to learn more about how you can be descriptive in your writing? Check out other confusing word articles that will help you learn more words and hone in on the differences between them.

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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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