Fall versus autumn

Only a few parts of the world experience the classic four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. Many parts of the world get only two or even one. So, what's going on?

Every day, the Earth spins once on its axis.

But our planet isn't perfectly upright when it spins. Thanks to a few collisions during its formation, the Earth is tilted at an angle of 23.5 degrees.

This means that as the Earth takes it annual trip around the Sun, different areas of the planet face the Sun more directly during their daylight hours at different times of the year.

The tilt also affects the daily amount of light — without it the whole planet would have 12-hour days and nights every day of the year.

Summer and winter

Australia has summer at the end of the year when the southern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun.

In summer, days are longer because more hours are spent facing the Sun. And they're hotter because we're facing the Sun more head-on — so we get hit by more rays of sunlight than if we were on an angle.

The summer solstice in Australia — about December 22 — is when we have our longest day of the year. On this day the Sun is as far south in the sky as it gets — it passes directly above the Tropic of Capricorn, roughly over Rockhampton.

Fall Versus Autumn The seasons are a function of the Earth's tilt.(ABC: Julie Ramsden)

But while we're busy planning Christmas barbecues, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun. That means there are fewer daylight hours up there and the light is spread out over a greater surface area, so it doesn't get as warm. Their shortest day — the winter solstice — happens on our longest.

The tables turn six months later, when the Earth is halfway around its orbit of the Sun. The northern hemisphere's summer solstice (longest day) matches our winter solstice around June 22, when the Sun is as far north as it goes — above the Tropic of Cancer.

Spring and autumn

In spring and autumn the planet isn't tilted towards or away from the Sun — it's roughly side-on.

And for two days each year the Earth's tilt is exactly side-on to the Sun. The two days are called equinoxes (equal nights), and they fall in the middle of spring and autumn, usually on September 22 and March 22.

On an equinox, night and day are equal length everywhere on the planet.

But spring and autumn only happen in mid-latitude areas of our planet. It's a different story in the tropics and at the frozen ends of the planet.

Tropics and poles

Some parts of the polar regions are so consistently cold — and the tropics so hot — they could pass for having only one season.

Even the sunniest Antarctic day is as cold as winter in most places. This is because the light reaching the bottom of the planet is at such a low angle it doesn't carry much heat.

On the other hand, the tropics are consistently hot. It doesn't matter if they're tilted towards or away from the Sun, they're still closer to it than anywhere else on Earth and they get plenty of direct light and heat.

But both places have two distinct seasons.

Fall Versus Autumn Only the mid-latitudes experience four seasons.(ABC: Julie Ramsden)

In the polar regions, the main difference comes down to the amount of daylight. During 'summer', the whole area is tilted towards the Sun and flooded with sunlight. Daytime at the poles lasts for half the year.

And the polar night lasts almost as long — making for one very long, dark winter.

In the tropics, the difference between seasons is due to rainfall.

The wet is caused by a permanent belt of storm clouds around the middle of the planet that dumps huge volumes of rain on the land or sea below.

Thanks to the tilt of the planet and some super-sized sea breezes, the storm belt doesn't stay in one place.

During the northern summer, the hot air over the land rises, sucking the storm belt as far north as the Tropic of Cancer, doling out monsoons wherever it goes.

As the northern summer ends the storms are dragged down towards the Tropic of Capricorn, driving the southern tour of the monsoons.

The belt travels across the equator twice a year, once going south and once on the way back up. If they've got the right combination of mountains, wind and sea temperature, some equatorial areas — such as Kuala Lumpur — can score two wet seasons each year.

Fortunately, the Top End is far enough from the equator to just have the one wet season — imagine how crazy Darwin would get with two build-ups each year…

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Thanks to Dr Blair Trevin from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Autumn or Fall – What’s the Difference?

Some writers use fall to describe the season just before winter, and other writers use autumn to mean the same thing.

Which word is correct? Does it even matter?

In reality, these words are interchangeable in most contexts. Sometimes, one or the other might be preferred, but at least today, both words are accepted in the context of seasons.

What are those rare instances where autumn is a better choice than fall, or vice versa? I’ll discuss them in this post.

What is the Difference Between Autumn and Fall?

In this post, I will compare autumn vs. fall, both of which refer to the season that follows summer. I will use each word in example sentences, so you can see it in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that you can use to help you decide whether autumn or fall more accurately describes the season to which you refer.

When to Use Autumn

Fall Versus AutumnWhat does autumn mean? Autumn is a noun. It refers to the season that occurs between summer and winter. Autumn is also used as a feminine name, in which case it functions as a proper noun and should always be capitalized.

Autumn is an old word—it has origins in Latin and carried through to modern use through Middle English. It was first recorded in its current form in the 14th century.

The sentences below are examples of the correct use of autumn.

Difference Between Autumn and Fall

The main difference between the interchangeable terms autumn and fall is that the autumn is seen more in British English and fall is seen more in American English.

Autumn vs. Fall

Autumn and fall are interchangeable words in most contexts. Autumn and fall are both accepted words and widely used terms for the season that comes between summer and winter. Autumn and fall both refer to the season that follows summer.

Sometimes, the other word autumn is preferred or sometimes the word fall however today, both these words are accepted in the context of the seasons. Autumn is a noun. It directs a season that occurs between summer and winter. Fall is an old term for the same season. But the word autumn is used in more formal contexts; hence, it is more formal than fall.

Autumn is used as a feminine name. It functions as a proper noun and is always be capitalized. It is an old word originating in Latin and carried through to modern use through Middle English. The word autumn was first recorded in its current form in the 14th century. The word fall originates in English in the 16th century or earlier.

The word autumn came to the English language from the French “Automne” in the 15th or 16th century, but it did not gain prominence by the end of the 18th century. ‘Fall’ became the preferred term in the U.S. ‘Autumn’ became a prevalent term in British English.

After the prominence and excessive use of the word, “autumn” fall was eventually considered archaic for the season. But language is a thing that is always changing. This state did not remain constant as there too was a time when the term fall gained the ground among the British for some time.

Comparison Chart

Autumn Fall
A formal name for the falling season that follows summer An informal name for the falling season that follows summer
Formal Informal
14th century 16th century
British English American English
Other Users
Australians Canadian

What is Autumn?

Autumn refers to the season in which the leaves of the trees fell. Autumn follows the summer season. The word autumn came to English from the French ‘Automne’ in the 15th or 16th century. But it did not gain any popularity and prominence until the 18th century. Autumn is a noun. The word autumn is used in more formal contexts; hence, it is a formal word.

Autumn is used as a feminine name. It functions as a proper noun, and therefore, it is always be capitalized. It is an old word originating in Latin and carried through to modern use through Middle English. The word autumn was first recorded in its current form in the 14th century. Autumn word came into common usage about the same time as Fall did.

The English who stayed home adopted the word Autumn. In U.S. English “Autumn” sounds archaic and poetic. Also, the Australian writers favor autumn by a significant margin. American writers use both fall and autumn, mostly depending on which sounds better. There is a little preference for autumn in British English.

See also:  Is the first dictionary pronunciation the best one?

Autumn is the more formal word for the falling season.


  • John goes into the woods every autumn and draws maple syrup from the old trees.
  • In the Northern Hemisphere, autumn is a season of falling temperatures and brightly colored leaves.
  • In the autumn, the goats spend most of their time grazing the treetops, when there is little food on the ground.

What is Fall?

The word “fall” came from the Old English word “feallan,” which means “to die or to fall.” This phrase was shortened eventually to fall. The names for the season did not just end with autumn.

Poets introduced the phrase “the fall of the leaves” that came to be associated with the season. This phrase was shortened in the 1600s to fall. Today, American English uses the word “fall.” However, this term fall or this season is an informal one.

Moreover, Fall is a very old word. It has been used to describe the autumn season for several centuries. It was derived from a verb, and now it is considered as a noun to name a season. Fall also has several other meanings. Many of them mean to slip or to drop.

It is very rare for British speaker to use the word fall instead of the word autumn. The people in the UK largely use the word fall.


  • This fall, John will be in 11th grade.
  • Ellie started a new job last fall as a manager of a construction company.
  • I am off to London for some business purpose and will stay there till the next fall.

Key Differences

  1. Autumn came to the English language from the French “Automne” in the 15th or 16th century whereas the word “fall” originates in English in the 16th century or earlier from the Old English word “feallan” which means “to fall or to die.

  2. Autumn is seen more in British English on the flip side fall is seen more in American English.
  3. The word autumn is used in more formal contexts. Conversely, the word fall has an informal context.

  4. Australian writers seem to favor the word autumn; on the other hand, Canadian writers seem to favor the word fall.


In the context of seasons, the names autumn and fall are more or less interchangeable. Both words are accepted and used in different communities.

Why Does Fall/Autumn Have Two Names?

Ambivalence over the name of the third season of the year reflects its status as a relatively new concept. As natural as it seems today, people haven't always thought of the year in terms of four seasons.

Fifteen hundred years ago, the Anglo-Saxons marked the passage of time with just one season: winter, a concept considered equivalent to hardship or adversity that metaphorically represented the year in its entirety. For example, in the Old English epic poem “Beowulf,” the title character rescues a kingdom that had been terrorized by a monster for “12 winters.”

According to “Folk Taxonomies in Early English” (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003) by Earl R. Anderson, the importance of winter in marking the passage of time is evidenced by the constancy of its name over time and across many languages. “Winter” probably derives from a root word meaning “wet” that traces back more than 5,000 years.

Summer is also a time-honored concept, though perhaps never quite as weighty a one as winter, and this is evidenced by greater ambivalence over its name. In Old English, the word “gear” connoted the warmer part of the year. This word gave way to the Germanic “sumer,” which is related to the word for “half.

” Eventually, speakers of Middle English (the language used from the 11th to 15th centuries) conceived of the year in terms of halves: “sumer,” the warm half, and “winter,” the cold half. This two-season frame of reference dominated Western thinking as late as the 18th century.

[What Causes Earth's Seasons?]

Incidentally, Chinese culture also had a two-season framework, but there, the major seasonal polarity was autumn (symbolizing adversity) and spring (symbolizing regeneration), with little importance given to the extremes of summer and winter.

In the West, the transitional seasons, being more trivial, were “not fully lexicalized in the language” until much later, Anderson wrote. Lexicalization is the realization of an idea in a single word.

In 12th- and 13th-century Middle English, spring was called “lent” or “lenten” (but this also meant the religious observance), and fall, when it was considered a season at all, was called “haerfest” (which also meant the act of taking in crops).

In the 14th and 15th centuries, “lenten” gave way to a panoply of terms, including “spring,” “spryngyng tyme,” “ver” (Latin for “green”), “primetemps” (French for “new time”), as well as more complicated descriptive phrases.

 By the 17th century, “spring” had won out.

In terms of seasons, the period spanning the transition from summer to winter had the weakest credentials of all, and so it got lexicalized last. “Autumn,” a Latin word, first appears in English in the late 14th century, and gradually gained on “harvest.” In the 17th century, “fall” came into use, almost certainly as a poetic complement to “spring,” and it competed with the other terms.

Finally, in the 18th century, “harvest” had lost its seasonal meaning altogether, and “fall” and “autumn” emerged as the two accepted names for the third season. But by the 19th century, “fall” had become an “Americanism”: a word primarily used in the United States and one that was frowned upon by British lexicographers.

The persistence of two terms for the third season in the United States, while somewhat of a mystery, may have something to do with the spread of English to the American continent at the very epoch when “fall” began jockeying for position with “autumn”: the 17th century.

At that time, both terms were adopted stateside, and the younger, more poetic “fall” gained the upper hand. Back in Britain, however, “autumn” won out.

The continued acceptance of “autumn” in the United States may reflect the influence, or at least the proximity, of English culture and literature.


A season is a period of the year that is distinguished by special climate conditions. The four seasons—spring, summer, fall, and winter—follow one another regularly. Each has its own light, temperature, and weather patterns that repeat yearly.

In the Northern Hemisphere, winter generally begins on December 21 or 22. This is the winter solstice, the day of the year with the shortest period of daylight.

Summer begins on June 20 or 21, the summer solstice, which has the most daylight of any day in the year. Spring and fall, or autumn, begin on equinoxes, days that have equal amounts of daylight and darkness.

The vernal, or spring, equinox falls on March 20 or 21, and the autumnal equinox is on September 22 or 23.

The seasons in the Northern Hemisphere are the opposite of those in the Southern Hemisphere. This means that in Argentina and Australia, winter begins in June. The winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere is June 20 or 21, while the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, is December 21 or 22.

Seasons occur because Earth is tilted on its axis relative to the orbital plane, the invisible, flat disc where most objects in the solar system orbit the sun. Earth’s axis is an invisible line that runs through its center, from pole to pole. Earth rotates around its axis.

In June, when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, the sun’s rays hit it for a greater part of the day than in winter. This means it gets more hours of daylight. In December, when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, with fewer hours of daylight.

Seasons have an enormous influence on vegetation and plant growth. Winter typically has cold weather, little daylight, and limited plant growth. In spring, plants sprout, tree leaves unfurl, and flowers blossom. Summer is the warmest time of the year and has the most daylight, so plants grow quickly. In autumn, temperatures drop, and many trees lose their leaves.

The four-season year is typical only in the mid-latitudes. The mid-latitudes are places that are neither near the poles nor near the Equator. The farther north you go, the bigger the differences in the seasons.

Helsinki, Finland, sees 18.5 hours of daylight in the middle of June. In mid-December, however, it is light for less than 6 hours. Athens, Greece, in southern Europe, has a smaller variation. It has 14.5 hours of daylight in June and 9.

5 hours in December.

Places near the Equator experience little seasonal variation. They have about the same amount of daylight and darkness throughout the year. These places remain warm year-round. Near the Equator, regions typically have alternating rainy and dry seasons.

Polar regions experience seasonal variation, although they are generally colder than other places on Earth. Near the poles, the amount of daylight changes dramatically between summer and winter. In Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the U.S., it stays light all day long between mid-May and early August. The city is in total darkness between mid-November and January.

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