Relation vs. Relationship – What’s the Difference?

There are many words in English that sounds remarkably similar, and are even often used in similar contexts. One such example is “relation” vs. “relationship.” What is the real difference between these two words? Is there any significant distinction at all?

In this post, we’ll be going over the big differences between these two words and why they are important.

Relation vs. Relationship – What’s the Difference?

A relation is a connection between two things, while a relationship is the way in which two things are connected. Relation simply notes the existence of a connection, but relationship describes how or why two things are connected.

relation vs relationship

Admittedly, that’s pretty confusing. Let’s provide some simple examples to make the whole thing more clear. Take the following sentence:

  • Bernard and Chris have no relation to one another.

In this case, “relation” is just a synonym for “connection.” Bernard and Chris have no connection, no way in which they are connected to each other. But now consider the following sentence:

  • Chris and Bernard have a good relationship.

This sentence describes how the two are connected, albeit vaguely. It implies that they have an existing connection between one another that is beneficial. “Relationship” gives some insight into how two things are connected, whereas “relation” just specifies whether or not things are connected at all.

If that’s still confusing, don’t worry; we’re going to go into greater detail about all of this down below.


The Cambridge Dictionary defines relation as “the connection or similarity between two things.” Basically, “relation” is a word used to define whether or not two things are connected, but it does not necessarily describe how they are connected.

For instance, you can say there is “some relation between the sun and the moon.” But that does not specify what kind of connection you are referring to, only that there is a connection of some sort. In this way, relation is not particularly descriptive or informative, and is just a synonym for “connection.”

To drive this point home, let’s look at some examples of how to use “relation” in a sentence:

  1. There is no relation between John Smith and Kenny Smith.
  2. The relation between the movie and the source material is thin at best.
  3. Despite looking very similar to that stranger, I have no relation to him whatsoever.
  4. There appears to be no relation between swimming and growing taller.
  5. The size of the targets bears no relation to their importance.


The Cambridge Dictionary defines relationship as “the way in which two things are connected.” Admittedly, this doesn’t sound very different from “relation,” on the surface. The difference is subtle, but it is there. “Relationship” refers to how things are connected, not the fact that they are connected.

This sounds a little weird on the surface, because there is usually a lot of implication when using the word “relationship.” But if you replace the word “relationship” with the definition provided by the Cambridge Dictionary, you can see how it actually fits, more or less. For example:

  • Lack of trust is very destructive in a relationship.

This sentence turns into:

  • Lack of trust is very destructive to the way two people are connected.

Does it sound a little weird? Yes. Is it a little clunky when you think about what “relationship” means as a noun? Also yes. Unfortunately, this is one of those words in English that has an over-complicated definition and explanation for how simply it is used in everyday speech.

Because “relationship” sounds odd when standing alone, it is often accompanied by an adjective to make it obvious what kind of connection is actually being described. Most people would say that two people have a “good” or “bad” relationship as opposed to saying they just have “a relationship.”

Here are some examples of how to use “relationship” in a sentence:

  1. The mother and daughter have a strong relationship with one another.
  2. I do not have a very good relationship with my brother.
  3. There is an undisputable relationship between smoking and lung cancer.
  4. The relationship between poverty and lack of upward mobility is quite apparent.
  5. I am not sure what the relationship between those two is like.

Which Is Used the Most?

This graph from Google’s Ngram Viewer shows us that “relationship” is used must more often than “relation.”

relation vs relationship usage

In fact, it is used almost twice as frequently. This is mostly because “relationship” lends itself to more common topics of conversation, such as when discussing the relationship between people.

“Relation” is often used in more technical and scientific terms, so it doesn’t get used as frequently. In fact, while both of these words actually have unique meanings, most people would consider them to be interchangeable in actual speech. True or not, they are perceived as synonymous in many cases.

Final Thoughts

Relation is simply a connection between two things, but a relationship is the way in which two things are connected. A relation just means that two things are connected, but relationship, usually accompanied by proper context, describes what type of connection two things have.