“Example” vs. “Sample”- Learn the Difference

Some English words invite confusion every time someone tries to use them. Many might think that only the words with overlapping meanings would be difficult to use correctly. However, surprisingly, such a confusion is quite common around words having very distinct meanings as well.

For instance, example and sample.

Example and sample are two words with very different meanings, but still manage to puzzle a lot of people who are not aware of this difference!

No matter what the words are, the easiest way to clear this confusion is by understanding how these words differ in their meanings!

So, today we will detangle example and sample and learn when to use them in our writing.

When is Example used?

The word example is used to mention an illustration, in support of a claim. It shows that something is typical of or fits into a particular category. An example is not exclusive; there could be others similar to it.

She has set an example for women who want to join forces.

When used as a verb, example means to illustrate or exemplify.

His low attendance in class examples his negligence towards studies.

When is Sample used?

The word sample is used to denote a specimen or model. A sample is a piece or part of a particular thing used to explain what the whole thing is like. In most cases, a sample is a physical entity.

Typhoid infection is detected by testing the patient’s blood sample.

Sample can also be used as a verb to describe the action of collecting a part or piece of something.

We sample wine from each production batch.

Usage in academic writing

Example means an illustration. Sample means a specimen. While they may appear to be synonyms, we saw how these words express very different ideas. Knowing this difference proves to be helpful in avoiding errors in writing. More so in academic writing, where both these words are used extensively.

Let us see how the words example and sample are used in academic writing.

Incorrect: Previously, Powell (1984) gave a sample of the censored least absolute deviations estimator.

Correct: Previously, Powell (1984) gave an example of the censored least absolute deviations estimator.

In this sentence, the author intends to convey that Powell provided an illustration or exemplar of the mentioned concept. Hence, example is a better word choice.

Incorrect: It is not possible to fit an autologistic model when only an example of sites is surveyed.

Correct: It is not possible to fit an autologistic model when only a sample of sites is surveyed.

This sentence is not providing an illustration; instead, it is talking about a part of the sites that have been analyzed. In the scientific context, such a part of a substance or product which is used to understand the substance or product as a whole is called a sample.

There you go! Now you can use the words example and sample in your writing with confidence!

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