The next time that you’re getting ready to work out at the gym, will you put on your “sneakers,” or your “trainers” before heading out the door? The answer to that question might very well depend on what part of the world you’re from. Let’s look at this topic closer.
What Is The Difference Between Trainers And Sneakers?
The short answer is none. The words “trainers” and “sneakers,” are two terms that refer to the same item – a rubber soled shoe. The only real distinction between the expressions is the background and/or location of the person to whom you are speaking.
The word “trainers” is commonly used in the UK to refer to the casual shoes used to train or work out. In general, they are more high quality than the cheaper, canvas type shoes often worn by children or casually when not engaging in athletics.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “trainer” as “a type of light, comfortable shoe that can be worn for a sport.” It could also be interchangeable with the phrase “training shoe.”
You will find the word “sneakers” used primarily in the United States to refer to the same type of shoe. Although in the US, the term is slightly broader and tends to include even the more casual versions that one wears for fashion versus for an athletic activity.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “sneaker” as “a type of light, comfortable shoe that is suitable for playing sports.”
So you can easily see from the official definitions that the two words mean the same thing.
Should I Use The Word “Trainers” Or “Sneakers” In British English?
If you are speaking or writing in British English you should opt to use the word “trainers” as it is the one that is most understood culturally by people in the UK.
A quick look at this Google Ngram Viewer that shows the utilization of both of the terms in British English, shows that the word “trainers” is more widely used than the word “sneakers.”
In fact, from the years 1800 until the 1980s, the words “sneakers” made almost no appearance at all. Even the word “trainers,” although definitely used more frequently, did not experience a significant rise in usage until about the early 1970s.
This data shows that the usage and association of the terminology with shoes is a relatively modern phenomenon. Although these types of shoes existed earlier, they only really started to become really popular in the second half of the 20th century.
Since then, there is no comparison that the word “trainers” is significantly more widely used in British English than the word “sneakers.”
Should I Use The Word “Trainers” Or “Sneakers” In American English?
When you are speaking or writing in American English, you should always defer to using the word “sneakers.” Most native American speakers do not understand the word “trainers” to mean the same thing and it would require a further explanation.
This Google Ngram Viewer seems to suggest at first glance that “trainers” is the more popularly used term, but as you can see, around the late 1960s, the word “sneakers” started to increase in popularity.
Since then it has continued to rise in popularity and seems as if trending continues, it will surpass “trainers’ soon.
Without the complete context of the utilization of the word “trainers” in the books analyzed by the graph,one can assume that for the most part of history, the term was most often not referring to shoes.
We can make this assumption because around the early 1970s, the word “sneakers” really started to become popular and that is around the time that this style of shoe was becoming more popular in culture as well.
We saw this trend also with the UK graph, and how the word “trainers” started to rise sharply around the 1970s, suggesting the same shift in usage and meaning.
If I Am Not From The UK Or The US, Should I Use The Word “Trainers” Or “Sneakers”?
If you are neither from the UK or the US, you should default to using the word “trainers” as it is the expression most recognized worldwide and “sneakers” is really only the prevalent term in the United States.
The Google Ngram Viewer here backs up this data. It shows that “trainers” is more frequently used than “sneakers” overall in the English language and after the early 1970s, there is an even larger margin between the two words.
Again, this suggests that around the time that this type of shoe became a phenomenon in pop culture, both “sneakers” and “trainers” were more frequently referenced as well. However, “trainers” is clearly the more utilized choice for English speakers in general around the world.
Can “Trainers” And “Sneakers” Be Used Interchangeably?
Based on their definitions alone, “trainers” and “sneakers” can be used interchangeably because they mean exactly the same thing. However, it is important to note your audience when you are choosing which one to say.
If you know that you are speaking or writing to an American audience, use the word “sneakers” and it will be well-understood and accepted.
If your audience is English-speaking, but not in the United States, you should use the word “trainers” as it is more widely understood worldwide.
Keep in mind when choosing which one to use that, although they are interchangeable by definition, you do not want to use both of them within the same piece of writing or conversation.
You should choose one term to use based on your listeners and stick with it throughout. This rule of thum will allow you to have consistency and clarity of message with your intended audience.
Can I Use The Word “Runners” Instead Of “Trainers” And “Sneakers”?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “runners” as “a running shoe.” This definition suggests that it is a more narrow term than trainers’ or sneakers” and should preferably be used when specifically talking about shoes made for running,
Looking at this Google Ngram Viewer you can see that in British English the word runners” has had pretty consistent usage throughout history, even as far back as the 1800s.
If we are to analyze post-1970 (as we did for the other graphs), you can see that the word “trainers” overtook it in popularity although “runners” is still a more widely used term in the UK than “sneakers.”
Looking at the information in this US chart, the word “runners” had outpaced both “trainers” and “sneakers” by 2019. Again, we don’t know the exact context in which the word was being used in the books analyzed by the graph.
From the data in both charts it can be safe to assume that one would contextually understand the meaning if you were to use “runners” instead of “trainers” or “sneakers,” but it shouldn’t be the preferred term for casually speaking about these types of shoes.
When Should I Use The Words “Tennis Shoes” And “Training Shoes”?
If you want to be absolutely specific, you should use the phrase “tennis shoes” only when you want reference shoes that are made specifically for playing tennis. On the same token, use “training shoes” to refer to shoes only used for training in sports.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “tennis shoes” as “a sport shoe with a rubber bottom and a top made of leather or strong cotton, suitable for playing sports.”
As you can see from the definition, sturdiness is implied and actual “tennis shoes” generally have greater ankle support than regular “sneakers” or “trainers.”
As for “training shoes,” The Cambridge Dictionary refers us back to the same definition of “trainers” which is “a type of light, comfortable shoe that can be worn for a sport.”
It is important to note that in the United States it has become common to refer to all comfortable, casual-type shoes that lace up as “tennis shoes,” even ones that are made of canvas. This association varies from the official definition but is still acceptable.
Follow these general guidelines to know when to use “tennis shoes” and “training shoes.”
- If you are referring to shoes that a person will wear to specifically play tennis, use the term “tennis shoes.”
- If you are in the United States or interacting with a native American English speaker, the word “tennis shoes” can be used to refer to any various types of casual shoes that have laces.
- If you are outside of the United States, the term “tennis shoes” would not be one that is widely understood or used unless specifically in the context of playing tennis.
- Use the word “training shoes” in the UK and worldwide as another way to say the word “trainers.”
- In the United States, “training shoes” would be interpreted as shoes that one would wear to train for a specific sport.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.