'Lion' vs 'Tiger': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on September 15, 2023

Do you need to know the difference between 'lion' vs. 'tiger?' Take a look at this guide!

Here is the short answer: 

  • 'Lion' is a noun for a large social cat with tawny fur that was once widely distributed across South Asia and Africa, but now lives in rocky areas of sub-Saharan Africa.
  • 'Tiger' is a noun for a large carnivorous Asian cat with tawny fur and dark brown or black stripes that lives in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Eastern Russia, and China in mangrove swamps, grasslands, tropical jungles, and evergreen forests with temperate climates. 

There are a few reasons that people confuse these two apex predators. So, keep reading to learn how they differ and why people often mix them up.

What is the Difference Between 'Lion' vs. 'Tiger?'

'Lions' and 'tigers' are similar-sized large cats. 'Lions,' known for being king of the jungle, are actually smaller than 'tigers' and they do not live in the jungle.

They actually live in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia in rocky savannahs and open lands. 'Lions' travel, live, and hunt in packs called prides.

'Tigers' are slightly bigger and live in evergreen forests, tropical jungles, and mangrove swamps in South Asia, Eastern Russia, and China. They are independent hunters and generally travel alone.

Another difference in these large cats is their fur. The former has tawny fur, while the latter is tawny with dark brown or black stripes.

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

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

A predatory big cat with a tawny body and dark brown to black mane on males and tufted tails with darker fur belonging to the Panthera leo family that once were distributed throughout Africa and southern Asia, but now lives primarily in rocky areas and open lands in sub-Saharan Africa

It can also mean:

  • A cougar or mountain lion
  • A Leo
  • A person who resembles a lion in traits like ferocity and courage
  • A member of a Lions Club, an international service club

Synonyms and Similar Words to 'Lion'

  • Captain
  • Leader
  • Tzar
  • Czar
  • King
  • Ruler
  • Tsar
  • Mogul
  • Monarch
  • Magnate
  • Prince
  • Lord
  • Star
  • Celebrity
  • Deity

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

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

  • A large carnivorous Asian cat belonging to the Panthera tigris family that has a brownish-orange to white coat transversely striped with black
  • Any of several large cats
  • A striped house cat
  • A Tasmanian tiger

It can also mean:

  • An aggressive, forceful, or daring quality or person
  • A person or thing that is impossible to control
  • In Britain, a groom at a livery stable

Synonyms and Similar Words to 'Tiger'

  • Shark
  • Pitbull
  • Bully
  • Barracuda
  • Bully
  • Militant

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Lion' vs. 'Tiger'

Next, let's look at the pronunciation of these terms. Whether you are learning English as a second language or a native speaker working on improving your communication and writing skills, learning proper pronunciation will help.

So, here is a guide you can reference for the pronunciation of 'lion' vs. 'tiger.'

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'lion':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'tiger':


When to Use 'Lion' vs. 'Tiger'

Knowing the difference between 'lion' vs. 'tiger' is one thing, but knowing how and when to use these terms is different. So, here are some tips for using 'lion' vs. 'tiger.'

  • Use 'lion' when you are talking about the large social cats that live in the rocky regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

For example, you could say:

We went on an African safari last year and we were able to get incredibly close to two lion prides.

  • Use 'tiger' for large cats that have black stripes.

As an example, you could say:

I used to love to see the Bengal tigers at the zoo.

  • Use 'lion' to describe a person who is charismatic and has a strong personality.

So, you might say:

Take Brian with you when you make the proposal. He is a lion at the negotiation table. 

  • Use 'tiger' when talking about someone who is bold, daring, and fierce.

For example, you might hear someone say:

Gloria is a real tiger. Last year at our company retreat, she beat everyone on our sales team at every event she competed in. 

Sample Sentences Using 'Lion' vs. 'Tiger'

Now, read these sample sentences using 'lion' vs. 'tiger.' They will help you remember the difference between these terms.


  • Lion males are easily identifiable by their large manes.
  • Lions live in groups called prides that can have as many as three males and as many as a dozen females.
  • When male lion cubs are older, they leave their pride and attempt to take over another pride.
  • Over the last year, conservation efforts to save the Persian lions
  • The male lions in a pride protect the females and their young, but when a male lion gets in trouble, the females will come to his aid.


  • The only real bonds that tigers form are those between mothers and their cubs.
  • Tigers are polygamous, and male and female tigers are only found together when they are mating.
  • When tiger cubs are big enough to hunt and defend themselves they leave their mothers to look for their own territory.
  • Female tigers typically stay closer to their mothers, while male tigers travel further to find their own domain.


  • It is interesting that lions are known for traveling and living in groups, and tigers are loaners.
  • Lions and tigers can have hybrid babies called ligers and tigons.
  • The liger is the offspring of a male lion and a female tiger.
  • A tigon is the offspring of a male tiger and a female lion.
  • The only country in the world with native lions and tigers is India.

A Last Look at the Difference Between 'Lion' vs. 'Tiger'

After covering so much information it is a good idea to review what you learned. So, here is a recap of the difference between 'lion' vs 'tiger': 

  • A 'lion' is a large cat classified as Panthera leo living in sub-Saharan Africa's rocky plains.
  • Male and female 'lions' have tawny fur with darker tail tufts, and males have a darker brown or black mane around their faces. 
  • A 'tiger' is also a big cat classified as Panthera tigris that lives in jungles, rainforests, evergreen forests, and grasslands in Asia and Russia.
  • 'Tigers' have dark brown or black striped orangish-brown fur. 

To learn about other English terms people often misuse, check out our hundreds of guides in the confusing words section here.

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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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