'Werewolf' vs 'Lycan': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on August 31, 2023

‘Werewolf’ vs ‘Lycan’: What’s the difference? It’s time to tap into our inner child and learn about fantasy creatures. Whether you’re doing research for a novel, are catching up on your history, or are simply curious, this is the article for you. Read more to learn the difference between a ‘Werewolf’ vs ‘Lycan’.

Are you in a rush? Here’s a short version of what you’ll learn:

  • ‘Werewolf’ is a term that refers to someone who turns into a wolf under the full moon.
  • ‘Lycan’ is a term that describes a humanoid wolf, who may be diagnosed with lycanthropy. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Werewolf’ vs ‘Lycan’?

The interesting thing about ‘Werewolf’ vs ‘Lycan’ is that there are certainly intertwined terms but have grown to be slightly distinct from each other. Since they are not interchangeable, we’re here to break down their differences. 

To start, ‘Lycan’ comes from the word ‘lycanthropy,’ which in mythology meant a curse that turned a man into a wolf. However, in modern times, ‘lycanthropy’ is considered a mental disorder in which the patient believes they are a wolf. 

  • This helps us see the distinction of a ‘Lycan’ — they are humans with wolf-like attributes, whether it be wolf-like body parts in folklore, or tendencies and actions. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Werewolf’ is a term that describes a person who fully transforms into a wolf or wolf-like creature, specifically under the influence of a full moon.

They are full shapeshifters, while a ‘Lycan’ merely takes on the qualities of a wolf. What can be confusing is that the term ‘lycanthrope’ is sometimes used as a synonym for ‘Werewolf’ because the words come from similar origins. But, what are those origins?

Now that we know the main difference between the two beasts, let’s look at what separates ‘Werewolf’ vs ‘Lycan.’

Definition of ‘Werewolf’: What Does it Mean?

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

  • (in myth or fiction) a person who changes for periods of time into a wolf, typically when there is a full moon. 
    • “He turned into a raving werewolf under the full moon.”
  • A person who can shapeshift into a wolf either purposely or after being placed under a curse or affliction (often the bite or scratch from another werewolf)

The history of the word ‘Werewolf’ is widely spread in European folklore and beyond. The term appears in various forms in different languages, but is most closely related to the Middle German ‘werwulf’, which means “man-wolf.”

While ‘lycanthropy’ is still considered a modern disease, ‘Werewolf’s’ were hunted for a time in Europe and were identified as people who were suspected of becoming wolves or wolf charmers. This practice was at its peak during the witch-hunting era but died down after the 

Synonyms of ‘Werewolf’

  • Wolfman
  • Man wolf
  • Changeling
  • Shapeshifter
  • Loup-garou
  • Werecat

Antonyms of ‘Werewolf’

  • Angel
  • Human
  • God
  • Fairy

Phrases with ‘Werewolf’

  • Werewolf of London
  • Werewolf full moon
  • Become a Werewolf
  • Bite of a Werewolf
  • Teenage Werewolf

Definition of ‘Lycan’: What Does it Mean?

‘Lycan’ is a noun that originates from the ancient Greek myth of Lycaon, the king of Arcadia. According to Britannica, King Lycaon is described as: 

  • A devious king who tried to trick Zeus into eating human flesh. Zeus was not deceived and, as punishment, turned Lycaon into a wolf-man, making him known as the first ‘Werewolf.’

‘Lycan’ then went on to be the ancient Greek word for “wolf” after the king who was transformed. Some versions of the tale say Lycaon had the body of a man and the head of a wolf, which may relate to the present-day view that a ‘Lycan’ is not a full-shape shifter. 

Synonyms of ‘Lycan’

  • Shapeshifter
  • Lycanthrope
  • Lichens
  • Werecat
  • Werewolf
  • Direwolf

Antonyms of ‘Lycan’

  • Angel
  • God
  • Fairy
  • Goblin

Phrases with ‘Lycan’

  • Lycanthropy
  • Become a lycan

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Werewolf’ vs ‘Lycan’

Since writing is not the only aspect of language learning, we also want to prepare you to tackle these beasts in conversations. Being able to correctly pronounce new words will ensure confidence in using them in any conversation, acting role, or presentation. 

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

  • ‘Wair-wuulf’ (with the first syllable pronounced like “pair” and the ‘o’ in wolf being a glottal sound like in “full”)

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

  • ‘Ly-kan’ (with the ‘y’ being tall as in “dry” and the 'a' is wide as in the word "ran")

How to Use ‘Werewolf’ vs ‘Lycan’ in a Sentence

The final step to learning new words is making sure you feel comfortable putting them into action. Especially with words like ‘Werewolf’ vs ‘Lycan’, you’ll want to be able to create the proper context in which the words will fit correctly. Below, you’ll find some sample sentences to read over, then try writing some of your own as practice. 

‘Werewolf’ Example Sentences

  • The hit series ‘Teen Wolf’ tells the story of teenage werewolves fighting against various evil mythological creatures in their California hometown. 
  • Werewolves and vampires are notorious enemies in folklore and are often depicted fighting each other for territory. 
  • To dress up as a werewolf for Halloween, he bought a massive fur suit and a wolf mask that he was sure would scare his neighbors. 
  • According to legend, Halloween is especially scary under a full moon because that’s when the werewolves come out. 

‘Lycan’ Example Sentences

  • He exhibited wolf-like behaviors and believed himself to be a lycan, so his psychiatrists diagnosed him with lycanthropy. 
  • Lycaon is viewed as the father of lycanthropy and is thus viewed as one of the first lycans
  • Depictions of lycans appear on Greek vases, often drawn as a man with the head of a wolf. 

‘Werewolf’ vs ‘Lycan’ Example Sentences

  • Werewolves are considered to be more brutal and animalistic, while lycans are said to be more cunning. 
  • Lycans seem to be more of a realistic phenomenon, while werewolves are definitively fictional. 
  • Peter Stumpp was the most infamous werewolf who was hunted in the 1500s, but it was likely he just exhibited symptoms of lycanthropy

Final Advice on ‘Werewolf’ vs ‘Lycan’

Mythical creatures can be fun to write and talk about because of their magical nature — but, you don’t want to get caught mixing up creatures. Learning new vocabulary and its history can be a great tool to broaden your understanding, so we hope this article gave you a better idea of the difference between two similar beasts. 

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

  • ‘Werewolf’ is a noun that refers to someone who turns into a wolf under the full moon, and the term comes from European origin. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Lycan’ is a noun that means someone who exhibits wolf-like tendencies and stems from the Greek myth of Lycaon. 

Want to tackle more monstrous words? Be sure to check out other confusing word articles to help navigate the small distinctions between terms. Remember that sometimes it’s helpful to see how words are related before we tear them apart.

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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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