Acquaintance vs Friend: What Are the Differences?

We often refer to the people we know as ‘friends’, be it a neighbor, a co-worker, or just a guy from a nearby coffee shop. But is it actually a correct term to use? Let’s compare acquaintance vs friend and point out the differences, starting with the definitions of each one.

Acquaintance definition

An acquaintance means a person you know but have no close relationship with. It can be someone you keep contact with, but you two don’t get too personal with each other.

Your communication revolves around mundane subjects and small talk topics. You don’t know much about your acquaintance–sometimes you know only their name and how they look.

Examples of acquaintances:

  • A neighbor you have polite chitchat with
  • A friend’s friend you see at get-togethers from time to time
  • A co-worker you only discuss work matters and everyday topics with

Friend definition

A friend means a person you know well and have a close bond with. This is someone you can trust and turn to for help and support.

If someone is your friend, you feel comfortable to share the details of your personal life and discuss your intimate problems with them.

Examples of friends:

  • A college buddy you’ve been through a lot with, so you still stay in touch and keep up with each other’s lives
  • A co-worker you’ve grown close to over time, so you now also socialize outside the workplace
  • A next-door neighbor you talk to and spend time with almost every day because you have kids of the same age

Acquaintance vs Friend: 5 Key Differences

1. A friend is someone you know on a deeper level than an acquaintance

The most substantial difference between a friend and an acquaintance is how well you know each.

If someone is your friend, you know everything about their life and background. You know about their love life and other personal things, such as what they dream about and what upsets them.

When a person is just an acquaintance, you only know the basic information about them, such as their name and occupation. In other words, you know them on a superficial level.

2. You can touch on more personal subjects with a friend; socializing with an acquaintance is limited to small talk and everyday topics

couple talking

The depth of communication is the second key factor in comparing friends vs acquaintances.

Since you don’t know an acquaintance well enough, getting too personal feels awkward. So, you stick to small talk and other polite subjects, such as today’s weather and day-to-day happenings. If it’s your co-worker, you probably only discuss current work matters.

Even if you ask an acquaintance a question about their personal life, it’s more about showing interest and being polite. They are not going to tell you about their marriage problems or the anxieties that keep them up at night.

With a friend, it’s different. You tell each other about your worries and dreams, problems and aspirations.

Of course, the definition of friendship varies from a person to person. Some people have other criteria for calling someone a friend and don’t necessarily discuss their personal problems with all their friends.

But still, the basic difference between friendship vs acquaintance is what topics you feel comfortable to discuss with someone. You certainly won’t touch on any personal topic with an acquaintance. At the same, it’s possible with a friend, regardless of how often you do it.

3. You expect a friend to be there for you, but an acquaintance doesn’t owe you anything

We have different expectations of our friends and our acquaintances. We realize that an acquaintance doesn’t owe us anything–they are just a person we happen to know. So, we won’t turn to them in times of adversity.

You won’t call an acquaintance to tell them about the quarrel you had with your girlfriend, right? You will call a friend. The same is true if you need help with solving a problem you have.

The only thing an acquaintance can help you with is some kind of minor, mundane issue, such as borrowing a screwdriver or getting a ride from work.

Just a note: There can be different kinds of situations in life, and sometimes a random person can save your life. But here, I’m talking about the expectations we have toward different people. That’s where the actual difference between friends and acquaintances lies.

4. A friend is someone you’ve known for long enough to say you’ve been through things together

intimate friendship

Typically, we can call someone a friend when we’ve known them for long enough, let’s say, at least a few years. Because, among other things, friendship is tested by time.

When you’ve been someone’s friend for long, it automatically means you’ve been through things together-both positive and challenging ones. You may have travelled together or have been in the same college. Or you may have seen your friend in their most difficult moments.

Going through challenges together is the best way you can know someone on a deep level. This is how you see their true face and realize whether you can trust them or not.

You can’t say this about an acquaintance. You either know them for too little time or on a too superficial level. It’s not a person with whom you’ve shared many moments of joy and pain.

So, before you consider someone your friend, think about it. We often mistake so-called casual friends for true ones, but in reality, they are just people we hang out with. They may not even be in our lives tomorrow. True friendship is a more lasting bond that endures the tests of time and adversity.

You can read more about the different levels of friendship in this article.

5. A friend is a person you trust and feel comfortable with, which is not necessarily true about an acquaintance

You can be yourself with a friend. There is no need to pretend to be better, nicer, or smarter than you actually are. You know that your friend loves and accepts you exactly as you are.

This gives you a sense of psychological comfort. You can act foolishly, openly express your opinion, and show your vulnerable side without the fear of being judged.

You don’t share this level of psychological comfort with an acquaintance. Consciously or not, we try to make a good impression on other people. For this reason, we shy away from calling things by their names and displaying certain behaviors with someone we don’t know well.

So, a sure way to tell an acquaintance from a friend is to observe how you talk and behave in their presence. If you have to think about how you make yourself look, then this person is most likely just an acquaintance.

These are the basic factors in comparing acquaintance vs friend. I hope that the above differences make it clear that not everyone you know is your friend. Therefore, don’t rush to call someone one. Friendship is much more than just knowing someone or hanging out together.

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