'Pandemic' vs 'Epidemic': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on August 11, 2023

‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic’: What’s the Difference? I’m sure everyone on the planet is sick of hearing about pandemics after going through COVID-19 — but how much do we know about the meaning of the word itself? And how does it compare to an ‘Epidemic’? Well, we’re here to help you get to the bottom of it. 

In a rush? Here’s a quick preview of what’s to come:

  • ‘Pandemic’ is a word that refers to something prevalent in the whole world 
  • ‘Epidemic’ is a word that refers to something that is widespread in a community. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic’?

These words have been thrown around plenty during the last few years, but what do they actually mean? What’s the difference between a ‘Pandemic’ and an ‘Epidemic’? Let’s start with prefixes. 

  • Prefixes are a set of letters added to a word or word segment that change its meaning. 

In the case of ‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic,’ the prefixes are ‘pan-’ and ‘epi-,’ but what do they mean? 

The prefix ‘pan-’ comes from Old Greek and means “all” or “of everything” or “involving all members” of a group. You can see how this connects to meaning “the whole world.”

  •  Some examples of words using this prefix are:
    • Pangea
    • panorama
    • pancreas
    • panegyric

Meanwhile, the prefix ‘epi-’ from Old Greek means “upon,” “on,” “over,” “near,” and “at.” This clearly shows how it does not refer to the entirety of something. 

  • Some examples of words using this prefix are:
    • EpiPen
    • epilogue
    • epidermis,
    • epicenter

Now that we know what the prefixes mean let’s take a quick look at the root of these two words. 

  • ‘Demic’ comes from Greek as well and means “of or pertaining to a distinct population of people.” While this root often appears in words related to the spread of illness, it has no direct relation to the meaning. 

So, when we connect this to ‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic,’ we can combine these clues to help us define the words and understand how they differ. 

  • ‘Pandemic’ is something that affects the whole world, so the big picture, while ‘Epidemic’ is something that affects just one area, like a small town or city. 

Since we have a basic idea of the difference between these words, let’s take a closer look at them individually. Time to dive into ‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic.’

Definition of ‘Pandemic’: What Does it Mean?

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

  • A widespread occurrence of infectious disease over a whole country or the world at a particular time. 
    • “The impact of the pandemic caused loved ones to be separated.”

As an adjective, ‘Pandemic’ can also mean:

  • (of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world. 
    • “Pandemic diseases have occurred all throughout history.”

Synonyms of ‘Pandemic’

  • Universal
  • Broad
  • Common
  • Empyrean
  • Sweeping
  • Whole
  • Generic 

Antonyms of ‘Pandemic’

  • Abnormal
  • Exclusive
  • Extraordinary
  • Partial
  • Infrequent
  • Rare
  • Specific

Phrases with ‘Pandemic’

  • Global pandemic
  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Pandemic conditions

Definition of ‘Epidemic’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Epidemic’ is a noun which means: 

  • A widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time
    • “A flu epidemic.”
  • A sudden, widespread occurrence of a particular undesired phenomenon
    • “An epidemic of violent crime.”

As an adjective, ‘Epidemic’ can also mean:

  • (of a disease) occurring widely in a community at a particular time
    • “Epidemic diseases can run rampant.”
  • (of something bad) widespread in a community
    • “The problem has become epidemic as people spend more time online.”

So, notice how the definition of the two words is relatively similar, but one pertains to the whole world while the other pertains to a specific community.

Also note that for both, they only occur for a specific amount of time — they have a definitive start and end. 

Synonyms of ‘Epidemic’

  • Contagion
  • Outbreak
  • Pest
  • Plague
  • Rash
  • Scourge
  • Spread
  • Wave
  • Endemic
  • Infectious

Antonyms of ‘Epidemic’

  • Limited
  • Close range
  • Healthy
  • Ineffective

Phrases with ‘Epidemic’

  • Town epidemic
  • Crime epidemic
  • The epidemic of pink eye 

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic’

We all know that using words in writing is only half the battle; more often than not, we use our vocabulary in conversations. So, we want to make sure you can pronounce these words correctly, especially since these words are often found in more professional settings that require a more sophisticated understanding.

Follow the guides below to learn how to properly pronounce ‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic’ to prepare yourself for your next conversation or presentation. 

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

  • ‘Pan-deh-mik’ (with the last syllable sounding like “kick”)

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

  • ‘Eh-pih-deh-mik’ (note the first “e” is not long, but short like “rent”)

How to Use ‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic’ in a Sentence

The final step to mastering new words is making sure you know how to use them. Knowing definitions and pronunciations means nothing if you can’t put the words into practice. The most helpful part of this aspect of learning is ensuring you understand the context and can use contextual clues to guide your understanding.

Below you’ll find some sample sentences that show how these words may appear in the real world. 

‘Pandemic’ Example Sentences

  • The COVID-19 pandemic lasted way longer than people originally projected that it would
  • Since mental health issues are a lasting effect of pandemics, much more research has been done in that area. 
  • Thanks to vaccinations and modern medicine, we are able to combat pandemics more readily than in the past.
  • There were many protests about wearing masks during the recent pandemic

‘Epidemic Example Sentences

  • The county went through a head lice epidemic last year and had to send a bunch of kids home from school. 
  • The recent epidemic of violent crime in the neighborhood has been brought to the local government’s attention. 
  • People are advised to renew their flu vaccines every year to prevent an epidemic outbreak. 
  • The internet has set out to tackle the epidemic of cheating in relationships by promoting healthy communication. 

‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic’ Example Sentences

  • What was thought to be an illness epidemic got exponentially worse and turned into a pandemic
  • An epidemic that seemed to spread through animal bites was feared to become a pandemic issue if the animals left their habitat. 

Final Advice on ‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic’

Even though we are all sick of hearing and talking about pandemics, it is important to be up to date on the word’s meaning and relation to other similar words. Knowing the difference between ‘Pandemic’ vs ‘Epidemic’ can also help you navigate other words with similar prefixes as roots, thus expanding your vocabulary even more. Also, now that you’ve learned the meaning of these words, you can use them in more sophisticated writing and speaking scenarios — or in your latest dystopian novel. 

Want a recap? Here’s a short overview of what we covered: 

  • ‘Pandemic’ is a noun that refers to a widespread occurrence of a disease over a whole country or the whole world.
  • ‘Epidemic’ is a noun that refers to a widespread occurrence of a disease over a specific area or community. 

Unlocking the meaning of prefixes can lead to a whole new set of vocabulary. Want to learn more words that use prefixes like these? Take a look at other confusing word articles to expand your understanding of language as well as build on your vocabulary knowledge.

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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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