Swine, Pigs and Hogs


Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question about the difference between swine, pigs and hogs.


Dear teacher,

I am Ken from China.

I am one loyal reader for VOA, so glad to write an email to you again. I am just confused by three words: “pig,” “hog” and “swine.”

I sincerely hope to know their differences.

Thanks a lot!


Thanks for writing to us again, Ken. This is a great question.

I am not a farm animal expert, as I grew up in a small city. But a family member, my niece, Amanda, grew up on a farm with many pigs and hogs! So, I asked her for some help.

Let’s start with “swine.”

“Swine” is an older term that is mainly used in agriculture today. The term describes all animals that are pig-like: short-bodied, short-legged, thick-skinned and that have a large snout or nose.

You may see the word “swine” in old sayings, stories and readings.

The idiom “do not cast pearls before swine” means do not offer valuable things to people who will not appreciate them.

In English, calling a person is swine is a big insult. In agriculture, the term is still widely used, for example, in the term “swine flu.”

Pig and hog

In the United States, pigs and hogs are different to farmers.

A “pig” is the term that is most often used for all members of the family of animals with the scientific name Suidae.

Charlotte’s Web is a book about the friendship between a spider and a pig named Wilbur.

In farming, a “pig” refers to either a young swine or one that weighs less than 113 kilograms. Pigs are not often used for their meat or for breeding until they are much older or bigger.

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Some people in the U.S. have miniature or “teacup” pigs as pets because of their small size.

“Hogs,” on the other hand, are large and weigh over 113 kilograms. Hogs are raised for their meat or for breeding.

Brianne’s family raises hogs on their farm.

There is another kind of animal called a pig — that is not really a pig. Guinea pigs are small mammals that are members of the rodent family. They are called guinea pigs because they could be bought for a guinea, a gold coin that was used in Britain more than 200 years ago. They also look a little like small pigs with short legs and small bodies.

I have two guinea pigs, Nina and Nibblets.

Pigs are a touchy subject in a lot of cultures around the world. Jewish and Muslim people consider them religiously unclean. Comparing people to pigs or swine is a big insult in many places while, in East Asia, pigs are considered to have good qualities and are well liked.

So, like many things, there are big differences in how people see things depending on where they are and who they are with.

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

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.


Words in This Story

pearl – n. a hard, white, round object made inside the shell of an oyster, used to make jewelry

appreciate – v. to understand the value of a person, to be thankful for something or someone

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breeding – adj. the process by which young animals are produced by their parents

guinea pig – n. a small furry animal, or rodent, that is often kept as a pet

mammal – n.a type of animal that feeds milk to its young and that usually has hair or fur covering most of its skin

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>