Ethereal vs ephemeral

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Ethereal and ephemeral are two words that are often confused. In fact, they have two very different meanings. We will examine the definitions of the words ethereal and ephemeral, where these terms came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Ethereal is an adjective that describes something airy and delicate, or something spiritual. Something ethereal is refined, heavenly or exquisite. The word ethereal is derived from the Latin word aether, meaning pure, upper air, sky, and the suffix -ial which is used to form an adjective.

Ephemeral is an adjective that describes something that doesn’t last for very long, something that only lasts for a short time or has a short life. The word ephemeral is derived from the Greek word ephemeros which means lasting for the day, and the suffix –al which is used to form an adjective. Note that ephemeral is often used incorrectly to mean ethereal. The only true definition for ephemeral is something that doesn’t last for very long.


Shanghai is renowned for its soup dumplings, the kind that spill a delicate, ethereal liquid from parcels with gossamer-thin walls. (D Magazine)

The ethereal, heartbreaking guest vocal heard on “Ruin” is sung by Numan’s 11-year-old daughter Persia, who also appears in the song’s video—a white cross painted across her forehead, her gentle face framed by the future world’s relentless, unsetting sun. (Houstonia Magazine)

It’s an ephemeral experience that leaves an eater mostly with pleasant feelings, but not much in the way of actual memory. (The Portland Mercury)

Just after “Pump It Up” is heard on the soundtrack, the two lovers-to-be dance to “Boogie Oogie Oogie” — a cheeky nod to one of the silliest awards upsets of all time, when the ephemeral disco group A Taste of Honey famously beat Costello for the best new artist Grammy. (Variety Magazine)