I'm editing an article which talks about early terms for artefacts in the Russian language, but the article is in English. Both Russian and English have a diverse field of synonyms for 'thing' - I was wondering if anyone can spot any semantic differences between 'thing', 'object', 'piece' and 'item'? Be as subjective as you please!

2 Answers 2


Thing and object are a classic example of terms of Germanic origin versus Latin (or Norman French) origin, therefore informal/formal, domestic/intellectual (or legal) type of distinction. Does Russian have formal and informal registers? Piece and item are both parts of a larger group, but items feel like they are complete in themselves, whereas piece feels incomplete. (Jigsaw puzzles have pieces, not items, whereas collections tend to items rather than pieces) In usage of course this is not always so, as piecework tends to mean being paid for items.... And concerts have items, but you tend to practise them as pieces.....

You did say to be subjective....

  • I agree on those characterizations of item and piece -- 'thing' is most general but also mostly outside the standard academic register.
    – sventechie
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 22:44

I have no actual research backup for this, but I tend to see "thing" as being more amorphous. "Object usually means a discrete object, and I tend to imagine it as small unless otherwise specified, but that may be personal. "Piece" implies that it's either part of a whole or there are multiple items. "Item" ... I guess pretty similar to "object" - if I had to make a distinction, I'd say that I use 'object' for something just lying around and 'item' for something deliberate - an item in a shopping trolley or on a list or something.

That's all pretty personal, though.

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