‘Serpent’ vs. ‘Snake’: What’s the Difference?

By Kelsey Weeks, updated on June 9, 2023

Are you trying to decide if you are writing about a serpent or a snake? What is even the difference between a serpent and a snake?

In short:

  • ‘Snake’ is any limbless scaled reptile with a long body with glands that sometimes produce venom.
  • ‘Serpent’ is just a foul creature that creeps, hisses, or stings.
  • ‘Snakes’ can be ‘serpents,’ but serpents aren’t typically ‘snakes.’ 
  • ‘Serpent’ is an outdated term, and people can generally use ‘snake’ instead.

Although some use these words interchangeably, they come from different backgrounds and have multiple uses. Continue reading this post to learn more!

What is the Difference Between 'Serpent’ and ‘Snake’?

Both words are nouns used to identify Ophidia (a class of animals meaning reptiles). However, the terms have different roots, leading to different meanings. Serpent is used in more formal writing and descriptions than Snake. Serpent can be used in the Bible and other religious practices, such as Serpent-god worship from the Western Ghats of India.

For example, Serpent can be used in:

  • Religions
  • Mythology
  • Ancient Dragons
  • Healing Symbols (Rod of Asclepius)
  • Describing a giant snake
  • Describing a treacherous person

Although some may call these versions snakes, the correct term is Serpent due to their time frame and the usage of the word serpent at the time. Time changes word usage, and we do not typically see snakes large enough to qualify as serpents.

When to Use 'Serpent' vs. ‘Snake’

We see ‘serpent’ and ‘snake’ used as nouns, but what is the proper usage?

Serpent’ can describe mythological snakes, lizards, dragon-like creatures, or giant snakes.

For instance, one may say:

We learned about religions in class, and the serpent king rose to protect Buddha. 

Serpent’ can also describe a treacherous person, but ‘snake’ can be used interchangeably with updated and not antiquated language.

Someone may say to you:

A ‘serpent’ in the Bible used by Satan is who deceived Eve.

Snake’ can describe the animal or as a verb to describe a winding motion.

To illustrate what someone saw, they may tell you:

I was outside when a snake crossed before me on the sidewalk.

Use ‘snake’ when referring to twisting or winding.

To demonstrate, you could say:

The road snakes up the hill on the way to the house.

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

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ‘serpent’ means:

  • (archaic) a noxious creature that creeps, hisses, or stings
  • Snake

It can also mean:

  • Devil
  • A treacherous person.

Synonyms of Serpent

  • Snake
  • Cobra
  • Boa
  • Viper
  • Python
  • Rattlesnake
  • Copperhead
  • Constrictor
  • Racer
  • Mamba
  • Anaconda
  • Sea Serpent
  • Satan
  • Devil
  • Lucifer
  • Beelzebub
  • Traitor
  • Betrayer
  • Backstabber

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

The same reference book defines 'snake' as:

  • Any of numerous limbless scaled reptiles with a long tapering body and with salivary glands

It can also mean:

  • A worthless or treacherous fellow.
  • Something (such as a plumber’s snake) resembling a snake.
  • To wind in the manner of a snake.

Synonyms of 'Snake’

  • Serpent
  • Cobra
  • Viper
  • Rattlesnake
  • Copperhead
  • Racer
  • Rat Snake
  • Reptile
  • Jerk
  • Dog (a person whose behavior is offensive to others)
  • Varmint
  • Son of a gun
  • Sleaze
  • Traitor
  • Betrayer
  • Backstabber
  • Snitch
  • Sneak
  • Lurk
  • Worm
  • Creep
  • Crawl
  • Slither
  • Slide

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Serpent' or 'Snake'

To clarify the words, we will cover pronunciation. This will allow you to use the word correctly not only in writing but also in conversations.

The phonetic spelling of 'serpent' is:

sur pnt

Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'snake':


Sample Sentences Using 'Serpent' or 'Snake'

Review these sample sentences to see 'serpent' or 'snake’ in use.


  • A winged serpent flew through the sky, breathing fire on the people below. The townspeople ran to protect themselves.
  • I recently discovered that some Pentecostal Christians use serpents in their sermons and that the reasoning concerns capitalism!
  • I didn’t believe the myths of the Serpent-God until I saw him for myself. I needed proof that he existed, and he presented himself to me.
  • One of the most famous serpents is Hydra, the multi-headed serpent from Greece. Not only was it a difficult foe due to its venom,  but it would grow back a head when a serpent’s head was cut off!
  • Although most serpents are not known for having feathers, the Quetzalcoatl or Feathered Serpent Deity was a god to people in Mesoamerica.
  • A popular serpent reference would be the Basilisk in Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets.  Harry had to speak parseltongue (a way to talk to snakes) to have the final boss fight against the serpent.
  • Be cautious about whom you share information with. Some people can secretly be a serpent telling their secrets to others.


  • It is taboo to harm snakes in sacred groves in India due to the snake deities.
  • Not all snakes are venomous, but almost all snakes are not poisonous. Being poisonous is something that impacts a person when it is digested.
  • It took time to accept that my daughter has a pet snake that I will see when I go to her house.
  • Snakes are a common phobia called ophidiophobia. This is where people have an overwhelming fear and anxiety relating to snakes.
  • The trail I hiked on two weeks ago snakes around the river outside of Okeechobee.
  • In a research study, snakes were detected more easily than frogs. There are many hypotheses as to why this might be.
  • I am thankful for the black racer snake around the house. It keeps rats, mice, and other rodents in check.

Closing Words on ‘Serpent’ vs. ‘Snake’

That is an abundance of information about Serpents and Snakes! To review:

  • ‘Serpents’ are usually giant and used in older texts.
  • 'Snakes’ are technically ‘serpents,’ but it is a subclass.
  • You can use the terms interchangeably, as they are synonyms.

Overall, which word to use is up to you, but you will most likely be understood easily if referring to something as a snake outside of religious contexts.

All posts on our website explain how to use tricky words correctly. Check back frequently to reduce the errors in your writing. You can find additional resources on English words in the confusing words section.

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Written By:
Kelsey Weeks
Kelsey Weeks is currently a school counselor at a high school and a previous English teacher. She loves helping others with literacy, learning more, and exploring nature. She has an undergrad in English with an emphasis on secondary education and an M.A. in Applied Psychology from NYU.

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