Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference between Sign and Symbol

Both signs and symbols are graphical presentations but people often use them interchangeably. The main difference between the two is that a sign is a language on its own and it is used to communicate something to people. It is broader term and symbol comes  under it.

Main Characteristics of a Sign

A sign is language in its own right and its meaning universally shared by people belonging to a specific geographical location. For instance, a sign is mainly used to give warning to people, inform them or to regulate their conduct in certain instances. A sign is mandatory to follow since it is communicating vital information with you. For example, when driving a red traffic light tells you to stop or DO NOT ENTER sign or DO NOT PARK or HANDICAP parking etc.

Difference between Sign and Symbol

Handicapped Accessible sign

A sign is descriptive in nature and it stands for something. In most cases, when a sign is erected somewhere, it is directly communicating with the targeted audiences and they must follow what it means. Many signs often have a universal meaning that is shared by people from various backgrounds.

Main Characteristics of a Symbol

A symbol is a  something that is accepted by certain group of people or general population.  It can be interpreted differently by people from different backgrounds. A cross is an example of symbol that has been universally accepted as representing Christianity. Other examples are Power OFF buttons, WiFi oe thumbs up symbol.

Summary of the Differences Between a Sign and Symbol


  • A sign is a form of language in its own right and it is specifically meant to communicate certain information. Signs are usually informative, regulatory, warning or prohibitory. A sign is ought to be followed as it is.
  • Symbol is a form of a sign that may have deep meaning. It can be interpreted in different ways since its meaning may not be universally shared by different people.

Table Showing the Differences Between a Sign and Symbol

Sign Symbol
A sign is a form of language that is descriptive in nature. ex. Road signs ( DO NOT ENTER) A symbol represents something that are accepted by certain subjective areas. Example of a symbol could be a letter or letters standing for a chemical element or a character in musical notation. Symbol for a religious cults or groups.
A sign could stand for something and it may be mandatory to be followed. May only target certain group of people. May be interpreted differently by different people.


Over and above, it can be observed that both a sign and a symbol are not synonymous. The main difference between the two is that a sign is a form of language that directly communicates with the targeted audiences.

Sign could also mean a usage of gestures to convey information or instructions.

In contrast, a symbol is a conventional representation of an object, function, or process.


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  1. Thanks a millions .

  2. Awesome super content has been learning easy this website

  3. Excellent explanation

  4. I have been teaching 12 signs of the zodiac in spiritual sense as a sermon. And I was checking and searching about symbols and signs and I stumble in your site differentiating symbols ang signs. And its a good explaination. Can use it in my next sermon about symbols in December.

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References :

[0]“The difference between a sign & a symbol.” https://penandthepad.com/difference-between-sign-symbol-8361620.html

[1]"Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Handicapped_Accessible_sign.svg"

[2]"Image Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Radiation_warning_symbol.svg"

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