Difference between Maternal and Paternal

Updated on September 16, 2017

The words “maternal” and “paternal” are fairly common English words. However, many people still confuse the two, especially because they have nearly the same spelling. If you think the difference between the two is indeed a head-scratcher, this article is for you.

Definitions

mother with a child

The word maternal originated from the Latin word maternus which means “mother.” It is an adjective which means:

  1. Being related through a person’s mother; for example: Tricia’s maternal grandfather used to work in the White House.
  2. Having the characteristics of a mother; for example: Samantha’s maternal instincts told her that her baby wasn’t feeling well.
  3. Being inherited from a person’s mother; for example: I don’t know if it’s true, but many people say that a child’s intelligence is a maternal trait.

father with a child

On the other hand, the word paternal comes from the Latin word paternus which means “fatherly.” It is an adjective that means:

  1. Being related through a person’s father; for example: My prom dress was given to me by my paternal aunt who is a fashion designer.
  2. Bearing the characteristics of a father; for example: Mr. Harris, Tom’s mentor and professor, never failed to give him paternal advice.
  3. Being inherited from a person’s father; for example: This huge farm is Shelby’s paternal inheritance.

Maternal vs Paternal

What, then, is the difference between maternal and paternal?

Maternal means “being related through your mother,” “having motherly characteristics,” or “being inherited from your mother.” Conversely, the word paternal means “being related through your father,” “bearing the characteristics of a father,” or “being inherited from your father.”

Comparison Chart

MaternalPaternal
Originated from the Latin word maternus which means “mother”Comes from the Latin word paternus which means “fatherly”
Means “being related through your mother,” “having motherly characteristics,” or “being inherited from your mother”Means “being related through your father,” “bearing the characteristics of a father,” or “being inherited from your father”