English Vocabulary: Custom vs. Habit

Yo people!

One common mistake many English learners make is using “custom” and “habit” correctly.

Why are these two words so difficult?  Well, because according to many Japanese-English dictionaries, they are the same!

Custom and Habit1

Here’s the page so you can see for yourself.

Unfortunately, in English they are quite different.  So what are the differences?

Custom vs. Habit

Custom vs. Habit

1. Customs are deliberate, but habits are unconscious.

A custom is something we intend to do.  There is a reason to do it, like bowing or shaking hands.  A habit is (usually) something that we do unconsciously.  Sometimes we don’t even know we do it, like snoring, or tapping our fingers on the table.

2. Customs are desirable, habits are (usually) undesirable.

A custom is something we choose to – and usually want to – do.  In Japan, it is a custom to take your shoes off at the entrance.  Why?  So you can keep your house clean!  A habit is usually something we don’t want to do.  In fact, we often want to quit doing it!  Smoking is a very common habit.  Many people want to quit, but find it difficult.

Careful though!  Habits are not always bad.  Sometimes developing habits are good things.  For example, washing the dishes every night after you eat is a good habit!

3. Customs are communal, habits are personal.

Customs are things we share with other people.  Customs are things that everyone in the group (community) knows about and does.  Some customs are shared among family, some among friends, some among entire countries.  In my family, it was a custom to sit together and eat dinner every night.  When I was younger, it was a custom for my friends and I to have a shot before going out.  In the U.S., shaking hands is a custom.

Habits, on the other hand, are personal.  They are not shared by others.  They are done alone.  I have a habit of waking up every day at 6:30am, but not everyone does.  Some people wake up regularly at a different time.  Some people wake up at a different time every day.  This is not something shared by a family, group of friends, or country.

Hope that helped!  You know what to do if you have any questions!

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