Vagabond vs. Vagrant vs. Truant vs. Tramp vs. Bum vs. Hobo: What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on October 6, 2022

'Vagabond,' 'vagrant,' 'truant,' 'tramp,' 'bum,' and 'hobo' all convey a similar meaning. They have a negative connotation and describe an individual that typically has no job or home. 

These words have different meanings influenced by hundreds of years of history and criminal laws. If you want to know the difference between these words and how to use them correctly in modern writing, keep reading! 

  • 'Vagabond' means people who float around with no real home.
  • 'Vagrant' also means people who float around with no real home.
  • 'Tramp' also means someone who floats around with no real home.
  • 'Truant' means someone who avoids responsibility, like missing school.
  • 'Bum' means someone who takes advantage of others and doesn't attempt to work.
  • 'Hobo' means someone who is homeless, though it can also refer to migrant workers.

'Vagabond' Meaning - Adjective or Noun

'Vagabond' originates from the Latin word vagabundus, which translates to wandering or wandering around. However, for centuries people have used 'vagabond' to describe people who float around with no real home. 

'Vagabond' Usage Examples

  • As a noun: Look at that 'vagabond.' 
  • As an adjective: The 'vagabond' child was pitiful. 

'Vagrant' Meaning - Noun and Adjective 

The term 'vagrant' comes from the Latin word for wander, 'vagari.' For hundreds of years, there have been vagrancy laws that prevented people from wandering around without money or a productive purpose. 

'Vagabond' and 'vagrant' both derive from the Latin base word, vagari, and while they may have had a slightly different meaning in the past, many people use them interchangeably today. 

'Vagrant' Usage Examples

  • As a noun: The 'vagrant' is constantly on the move. 
  • As an adjective: The 'vagrant' man was not allowed to enter the establishment. 

'Truant' Meaning - Noun, Adjective, or Verb

'Truant' means someone who avoids responsibility. However, many people use it to describe someone who is late or misses school. After continued truancy, students are often summoned to appear before a truancy court judge

'Truant' Usage Examples

  • As a noun: 'Truants' do not get far in life. 
  • As a verb: The girl got in trouble for being 'truant.'
  • As an adjective: The 'truant' child must answer to the judge. 

'Tramp' Meaning - Verb, Adjective, or Noun

'Tramp' is another centuries-old word used to describe someone wandering or a drifting person. However, some people call women or men who drift between partners 'tramps.' It can also have the meaning of walking or stomping around. 

'Tramp' Usage Examples

  • As a verb: Don't 'tramp' around all day. 
  • As an adjective: The 'tramp' old lady had nowhere to go. 
  • As a noun: That 'tramp' was out with a different woman every night. 

'Bum' Meaning - Noun, Adjective, or Verb

A 'bum' is someone who uses other people or takes advantage of them instead of doing honest work for what they receive. When someone calls someone a 'bum,' they usually mean that the person uses others. 

However, you can also use 'bum' as an adjective to describe something that does not work correctly. 

'Bum' Usage Examples

  • As a noun: The 'bum' was begging on the street corner. 
  • As an adjective: The old woman had a 'bum' knee. 
  • As a verb: Don't 'bum' around all day.

'Hobo' Meaning - Noun or Verb

Unlike other words people use to describe homeless people, you can use 'hobo' to describe someone who engages in migratory work. 

'Hobo' Usage Examples

  • As a noun: The 'hobos' travel across the country working the farmland. 
  • As a verb: Don't 'hobo' around here. 

Differences: ‘Vagabond’, ‘Vagrant’, ‘Bum’, ‘Tramp’ vs. ‘Truant’

Vagabond, vagrant, bum, and tramp have similar meanings and are frequently used interchangeably. Generally, someone would use these words to describe an individual that lives off of the charity of others. They are uninterested in it if they can't obtain something through swindling, stealing, or gift. 

For example, a 'vagrant' person is typically someone with no job who may be willing to accept a blanket and tent given to them, but who would rather live the challenging life of a drifter instead of seeking the security of a permanent job and home. 

A 'truant' is skipping an obligation such as school or work. Truancy does not describe the state of someone's living. A 'truant' child or employee can live anywhere. Although, 'truant' children sometimes come from 'vagrant' families. 

Differences: ‘Vagabond’, ‘Vagrant’, ‘Tramp’, ‘Bum’ vs. ‘Hobo’

In most cases the word 'hobo' can replace 'vagabond,' 'vagrant,' 'tramp,' or 'bum.' However, a 'hobo' can also refer to a migrant worker. 

Differences: ‘Vagabond’, ‘Vagrant’, ‘Tramp’ vs. ‘Bum’

A 'bum' does not necessarily have to be homeless. You could call anyone who takes from others without working for what they receive a 'bum.' Yet, people sometimes use the term 'bum' to describe homeless individuals. 

Here are a few examples of how you can use the 'bum' in different contexts: 

  • Josh has been a 'bum' for years. He always goes to someone's house to eat, shower, and sleep on their couch, and he doesn't even clean up after himself. 
  • Since the last economic downturn, hundreds of 'bums' have been downtown. 

Negative Connotations

Words with a negative connotation impact some people by causing bad emotions. 'Vagabond,' 'vagrant,' 'tramp,' 'bum,' and 'hobo' can all have a negative connotation. 

Calling someone one of these names is almost always perceived as an insult. Even with the double meaning of 'hobo,' you do not want to call a migrant worker a 'hobo.' They will likely assume you mean they are homeless or begging. 

Can You Use 'Vagabond,' 'Vagrant,' 'Truant,' 'Tramp,' 'Bum,' and 'Hobo' Correctly?

When using 'vagabond,' 'vagrant,' 'truant,' 'tramp,' 'bum,' and 'hobo,' remember that 'truant' is the only word that does not have a particularly negative meaning. Someone can be 'truant' without taking advantage of others, begging for money, and drifting from place to place. 

They will likely be offended when you call someone a 'vagabond,' 'vagrant,' 'bum,' or 'hobo.' In a business setting, calling someone a 'tramp' could result in serious disciplinary action, and referring to someone as a 'hobo' will likely give them the sense that you think they are lazy or unwilling to work.

So, choose your words wisely when using any of these terms for unhoused people. Unless you are trying to write like Ernest Hemingway, instead of using one of these outdated terms, try unsheltered or unhoused to describe individuals experiencing homelessness. 


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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for 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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