'Pumps' vs 'Stilettos': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on September 27, 2023

Are you looking for an explanation of the difference between 'pumps' vs. 'stilettos?' This guide will help!

Here is an overview: 

  • 'Pumps' are women's shoes that have a low-to-moderate heel and a closed or peep toe.
  • 'Stilettos' are women's shoes that have a tall tapered heel that is thinner than a spike heel. 

There is more to learn about these two types of shoes, and these terms have several additional meanings. So, stick around to learn more about the difference between them and how to correctly use each term.

What is the Difference Between 'Pumps' vs. 'Stilettos?'

'Pumps' and 'stilettos' are two types of women's high-heel shoes. Between the two, 'pumps' are more conservative. They typically cover almost all of the heel and toe. Or, some feature a peep toe.

In addition to offering more foot coverage, 'pumps' typically have a lower heel, while 'stilettos' feature a higher, thinner heel. The latter may also feature a strappy design or an open toe.

  • 'Pumps' can also mean to draw something out using a pump, to question someone repeatedly, or to raise someone up with praise, encouragement, or compliments.
  • 'Stilettos' also has alternative definitions. For example, a 'stiletto' can be a thin, pointed dagger-like weapon or an instrument with a point that seamstresses and tailors use to pierce holes for embroidery or eyelets.

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

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

  • A woman's shoe that fits closely at the toe and heel and features a moderate heel

It can also mean:

  • The act of pumping
  • Am energy source that pumps molecules and atoms
  • The biological mechanism of ions, atoms, and molecules being transported across the membrane of a cell

'Pumps' can also be a present-tense verb that means:

  • To work a pump
  • To act or give the impression that you are pumping something
  • To bring water or another fluid forth by pumping or using a pump
  • To question relentlessly
  • To squeeze information from someone by persistently asking them

Synonyms of 'Pumps'

  • Heel
  • High heel
  • Shoe

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

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

  • A shoe featuring a stiletto heel
  • A woman's shoe with a high, thin heel that may or may not be closed

It can also mean:

  • A thin dagger with a blade that tapers into a point
  • An instrument with a point that is used to create islets and holes for embroidery

Synonyms of 'Stilettos'

  • Dagger
  • Knife
  • Shank
  • Bolo
  • Machete
  • Switchblade
  • Pump
  • Heel
  • High heel
  • Spike heel

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Pumps' vs. 'Stilettos'

Many people overlook pronunciation when they are learning the meanings of words. However, whether you are learning English or a native speaker, you can benefit from knowing how to correctly say words that you use in conversation.

So, here is a pronunciation guide you can reference.

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'pumps':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'stilettos':


When and How to Use 'Pumps' vs. 'Stilettos

You learned the difference between 'pumps' vs. 'stilettos,' but it can still be confusing to decide when to use each term. So, here are some tips.

  • Use 'pumps' to describe a shoe with more coverage that has a lower and thicker heel.

For example, I might say:

If you have to stand a lot, pumps are a more comfortable choice than many other types of heels. 

  • Use 'stilettos' to describe a shoe with a heel that is higher and may feature a design that covers less of the foot.

As an example, you could say:

Stilettos are not ideal if you are going to be on your feet for extended periods. 

  • Use 'pumps' when you are describing someone repeatedly asking another person for information.

So, you might hear someone say:

Every time she goes out, he pumps her for information. 

  • Use 'stilettos' if you are speaking about pointy daggers that are longer than they are wide.

For example, you can say:

I always travel with a stiletto for protection in case someone tries to rob me. 

Sample Sentences Using 'Pumps' vs. 'Stilettos'

Next, read these sample sentences using 'pumps' vs. 'stilettos.' Seeing the terms used in various contexts will help you commit them to memory.


  • Do you see those cute black pumps? I would love to have a pair.
  • After years of wearing uncomfortable high heels, I switched to more practical pumps.
  • Every woman needs a pair of black pumps. However, I prefer to have a pair in every color.
  • Just a reminder, the attire for the event this evening is semi-formal. So, a pair of pumps and a nice dress or pants and a blouse are suggested.
  • If you need some new pumps, you should check out DSW, and they always have a large selection.


  • Wearing stilettos all the time can damage your back and feet.
  • Stilettos first gained popularity in the 1950s.
  • When you wear high heels like stilettos, you have to be careful not to fall.
  • I bought the cutest pair of stilettos today while I was shopping with my sister and mother.
  • I would never suggest wearing stilettos to the airport or any other place where you have to walk long distances quickly.


  • We have a large selection of pumps and stilettos on the back wall.
  • If you prefer comfort over style, a pair of pumps would be a better choice than the stilettos you have on.
  • By comparison, stilettos are much hotter than pumps.

Review: 'Pumps' vs. 'Stilettos'

After learning as much as you just did, it is a good idea to review what you learned. So, here is a recap of the difference between 'pumps' vs. 'stilettos':

  • 'Pumps' and 'stilettos' are both types of women's high-heel shoes. 
  • 'Pumps' are usually more conservative, featuring a closed or peep toe and a low-to-moderate heel.
  • 'Stilettos' often feature a design that covers less of the toes and the rest of the foot and a tall, thin post heel. 

These terms are often mixed up because they both describe the same object. However, you can remember the difference between them because the 'stiletto' has a thinner, higher heel.

If you need a reminder of the correct usage of these words, you can always return to this page to review this lesson. You can also verify the meanings of hundreds of other words 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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