Heroin vs. heroine

Photo of author

| Grammarist

| Updated:

| Usage

Heroin is an addictive narcotic derived from morphine. A heroine is a female protagonist in a work of fiction. Although heroine is traditionally the feminine equivalent of hero, hero is now a gender-neutral term for a person who acts with extraordinary courage. Heroine still appears from time to time in reference to female real-life heros, but it is increasingly rare. 


Most 21st-century writers have no qualms about using hero in reference to a female, as happens here:

She is a hero to those who think urban schools need big changes and a villain to those who think the reform movement is off-track. [Washington Post]

Now Susan Guy has been labelled a hero after she discovered Mrs Wilson, who lives alone, had fallen and was unable to get up or reach a phone. [Daily Mail]

Heroine is reserved for certain contexts, usually in reference to fictional stories—for example:

I even enjoy psycho-thrillers in which the ostensible heroine is unmasked as the assassin. [Guardian]

Two words that describe the stubborn determination of both the movie’s teenage heroine and the soused U.S. marshal she hires to avenge her father’s murder. [USA Today]

In her debut novel, Roberta Rich introduces a unique heroine, and her wry humour leavens a serious subject. [Globe and Mail]

And of course, heroin, without the e, is the correct spelling of the drug—for example:

Sitharthan points to the pioneering work of the US psychologist Lee Robins, who in 1972 studied heroin addiction among Vietnam war veterans. [Sydney Morning Herald]

A Jersey City man and a resident of Delaware were busted yesterday after undercover cops purchased drugs from a heroin drug delivery service, police said. [The Star-Ledger]

Leave a Comment