What is the Difference Between 'Aural' and 'Oral'?

Commonly Confused Words

Edwin E. Gordon, Awakening Newborns, Children, and Adults to the World of Audiation (GIA Publications, 2007).

The adjective aural refers to sounds perceived by the ear.

The adjective oral relates to the mouth: spoken rather than written.

Examples:

  • "Harlem's brand of ragtime was not made to accompany dancing or seduction; its only aim was aural delight. . . . The music flourished where it could feed, and feed off of, high spirits."
    (David A. Jasen and Gene Jones, Black Bottom Stomp. Routledge, 2002)
  • "Poetry remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art."
    (Jorge Luis Borges)

    Usage Note:

     

    • "For many speakers of English, these words sound the same. But for all, their meanings are distinct. Aural refers to the ear or to hearing: aural disease, a memory that was predominantly aural. Oral refers to the mouth or to speaking: an oral vaccine, an oral report.
    • "In certain contexts, the difference can be more subtle than might be expected. An oral tradition is one that is conveyed primarily by speech (as opposed to writing, for example), whereas an aural tradition is one that is conveyed primarily by sounds (as opposed to images, for instance)." (The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Aural and Oral

     

    (a) Tall tales and legends have filtered down to us through oral traditions and early written records.

    (b) Her music is the aural equivalent of a deep breath of country air.

     

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words