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Heritage v. Inheritance 

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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question from Noura about the difference between “heritage” and “inheritance.”

Question:

Hi VOA learning team,

Would you please help me to understand the difference between “inheritance” and “heritage?” And in which situations we use each of them?

Thanks, Noura.

Answer:

Dear Noura,

Thanks for this question!

“Heritage” and “inheritance” are similar words. They are both nouns, and share some meaning. Both represent something passed down through generations.

The big difference in these two words is how we use them and their associations.

Let’s start with “heritage.”

Heritage

Heritage can be property, traditions, customs, or culture passed down through generations. “Heritage” is something you get just by being born.

Heritage is tied to the history of a person, group or nation.

For example, many Americans who are born in the U.S. have heritage from other countries.

I have Italian heritage, for example. My great-grandfather was born in Italy. But, I was born to Americans in the United States, so I have American heritage also.

Another example is when we talk about language:

Heritage speakers of a language learn the language from talking to their parents at home instead of just at school.

Inheritance

“Inheritance” can be an action or a thing. It is something passed down by one person to another, usually through death. Often this is property or money from a family member, like in this example.

My inheritance from my grandmother includes a little house on the coast.

But, inheritances are not always welcomed! Listen:

My inheritance from my new job is an old, dirty office.

Inherit

And a brief note on the word “inherit.” Inherit is a verb. It can mean either receiving something from someone at birth or when someone dies.

When you are born, you receive or inherit physical and mental traits from your parents or ancestors. Like in these examples:

She inherited her blue eyes from her father.

I inherited my father’s poor eyesight.

We can also use inherit in the same way we talk about inheritance, but as a verb.

The brothers will inherit their mother’s house when she dies.

Please let us know if these examples and explanations have helped you, Noura!

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

association – n. a connection or relationship between things or people

inherit v. to receive from someone when that person dies

traitn. a quality that makes one person or thing different from another

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