'Siren' vs 'Mermaid': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on September 4, 2023

‘Siren’ vs ‘Mermaid’: What’s the difference? Writing explores both fact and fiction, and we want to prepare you to tackle all of it. Let’s dive into the world of fantasy and learn more about sea creatures of legend. 

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

  • ‘Siren’ is a term for a creature from Greek mythology that lured sailors to their deaths
  • ‘Mermaid’ is a term for a creature with the body of a woman and the tail of a fish

What’s the Difference Between ‘Siren’ vs ‘Mermaid’?

So, how do we tell these two mythical creatures apart when the truth is that the definition of one is influenced by the other? It seems best to discuss the two in chronological order of appearance. 

The ‘Siren’ is a creature of ancient Greek mythology that was originally depicted as being part bird and part human. The creatures would lure sailors to their deaths with their songs that would then crash their ships into rocks. 

  • Since they were associated with the sea, other cultures took their own spin on the stories of ‘Sirens,’ which led to them being part fish, making them look more like the modern mermaid. Over time, their songs became less evil and more joyous, thus turning them into the ideal form of a beautiful ‘Mermaid.’ 

This short history shows us that ‘Mermaids’ evolved from the stories of ‘Sirens’ but were initially formed from very different creatures. They also had very different temperaments, which can help us keep the two apart. 

  • ‘Sirens’ sing beautifully, but their behavior is much more nasty, and it is said that their song is actually horrible but distorted by magic to sound nice. So, let’s equate them to the sirens we hear today, which are loud warning noises that make us cover our ears. 
  • ‘Mermaids’ are viewed as much more serene and lovely creatures, so we can think of the word they’re named for — “maiden” — as a clue to their disposition. They are seen as fair and charming, much like a princess or maiden of a fairytale. 

After a brief look at these two new words, we can see there are obvious differences — but we don’t know everything about these words individually yet. Let’s take a closer look at ‘Siren’ vs ‘Mermaid’ and what they mean. 

Definition of ‘Siren’: What Does it Mean?

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, ‘Siren’ is a noun that means: 

  • A half-bird, half-human creature of Greek mythology who lured sailors to destruction by the sweetness of her song who are daughters of the river god Achelous
    • “The sirens seduced the sailors.”

‘Sirens’ have appeared in various capacities in Greek mythology and appeared in works such as The Odyssey. It wasn’t until the Classical period that ‘Sirens’ were depicted as being creatures of the sea who were part fish, which could be seen in ancient Greek artwork.

Note that there are other definitions of ‘Siren’ as well. According to Oxford Languages, ‘Siren’ can also mean: 

  • A device that makes a prolonged sound as a signal or warning
    • “The ambulance sirens wailed. 
  • Each of a number of women or winged creatures whose singing lured unwary sailors onto rocks
  • A woman who is considered to be alluring or fascinating but also dangerous in some way
    • “She had the beauty of a siren.”
  • An eel-like American amphibian with tiny forelimbs, small eyes, and external gills, typically living in muddy pools.

Phrases with ‘Siren’

  • Siren song
  • Seduced by a siren
  • A wail of a siren

Definition of ‘Mermaid’: What Does it Mean?

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

  • A fictitious or mythical half-human sea creature with the head and trunk of a woman and the tail of a fish, conventionally depicted as beautiful with long flowing hair
    • ‘The mermaid’s tail glistened.”
  • A metaphor for a highly skilled female swimmer

The word ‘Mermaid’ appears in many capacities across global cultures, and they are typically viewed as benevolent creatures. Though there are some versions of ‘Mermaid’ tales that link them to causing natural disasters and other dangers, many attribute to their original association with ‘Sirens.’ 

Modern views of mermaids depict them in popular culture as beautiful and magical beings. There are many movies and other stories about them, such as The Little Mermaid, both the story written by Hans Christien Andersen and the movie by Disney. 

Synonyms of ‘Mermaid’

  • Nereid 
  • Sea-maiden
  • Water nymph
  • Oceanid
  • Kelpie
  • Temptress
  • Goddess

Phrases with ‘Mermaid’

  • The Little Mermaid
  • Mermaid Parade
  • Mermaid Princess
  • Mermaid Queen 
  • Mermaids 

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Siren’ vs ‘Mermaid’

Since speaking is a major component of language learning, we want to make sure you feel confident saying these new terms aloud. This is especially important with mythical creatures because their stories are often passed down orally. 

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

  • ‘Sy-rin’ (note the first vowel is tall, as in “high,” and the second vowel is more flat, as in the word “win”)

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

  • ‘Merr-may-d’ (the first syllable should sound like you are saying the letter ‘r’ out loud)

How to Use ‘Siren’ vs ‘Mermaid’ in a Sentence

Now that we’ve learned the history and definitions, let’s make sure you can use them in context. Take a look at the sample sentences below to see how these words might show up in the real (or fantasy) world, then use them as a guide for your own work. Remember that sometimes words have more than one definition, so be careful of that. 

‘Siren’ Example Sentences

  • Odysseus is one of the only people to ever resist the sirens by putting wax in his ears to drown out their song. 
  • The sirens sang from the rocky shores, seducing the lonely travelers to come be with them forever. 
  • The ambulance’s siren blared as they rushed through traffic on the way to the hospital. 
  • She was called a siren for her seductive and mysterious nature that seemed to enter the men around her. 

‘Mermaid’ Example Sentences

  • Halle Bailey recently played the title role of Ariel in Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid
  • The sailors were weary from weeks of travel at sea, and when they saw a creature splash off the side of the boat, they were convinced it was a mermaid
  • She dressed as a mermaid for Halloween and handmade a seashell top and fish scale skirt to complete her look. 
  • While mermaids were originally thought to only be a race of women, many stories now include mermen. 

‘Siren’ vs ‘Mermaid’ Example Sentences

  • Sirens are harsh and typically evil creatures, while mermaids are viewed to be much sweeter and more playful. 
  • Ancient Greek sirens were actually part birds, but their association with the sea led to the fish's connection to today’s mermaids

Final Advice on ‘Siren’ vs ‘Mermaid’

Learning about mythical creatures can be just as important when learning a new language, because they link us both to popular culture and to history. The more we dive into the past, the better we can understand the present. 

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

  • ‘Siren’ is a noun that in mythology meant half bird half human temptresses that would lure sailors to their deaths. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Mermaid’ is the more modern depiction of half fish half human creatures who are more beautiful and appear in all cultures. 

Want to learn about more historical legends? Be sure to check out other confusing word articles that clarify myths and their origins. Don’t be afraid to tackle these more fun and mysterious words — they can be a great way to expand your creativity while writing.

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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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