Difference Between Memoir and Autobiography

Difference Between Memoir and Autobiography

For many English learners around the world, one of the challenges they face is, “How is memoir different from autobiography?” This makes perfect sense because the two words share lots of similarities. As a matter of fact, many writers use them interchangeably in their books and journals because they have a lot in common.

Did you know that there are differences between them? Perhaps you did not. Here’s the catch: Despite the fact that many authors use them as synonyms, it is noteworthy to establish here that there are disparities between them. Yes, you read that right!

So, if you are one of those trying to make sense of these two words or if you never knew they had differences between them in the first place, this guide provides a thorough explanation of the mind-boggling question: “What is the difference between memoir and autobiography?” Still confused about what you just found out, you shouldn’t worry. Just get ready as we walk you through this interesting, well-researched article.

Definition of Memoir

This is the collection of a series of events that took place in a person’s life, which the person has written down himself or herself. These series of events could be public or private. In fact, they could just be about anything. Although the article explains the events that occurred in the writer’s life, it is thought that it doesn’t cover the entire event.

However, it captures the most significant things that happened in the life of the curator. To get a better grasp of the subject, it is important to connect it with people that we all probably know.

Memoir-writing, which originates from the Latin word, memoria, was practiced during the time of the Roman dictator and politician, Julius Caesar. In one of his epistles, he wrote – in detail – about the event that took place in his life between 49 and 48 B.C. Indeed, that was a very important event in the life of the iconic Roman general, and it is not his entire life story. Now, that is an example of a memoir.

But how are memoir and autobiography different? Before delving into that, we will put the meaning of the latter in context.

Definition of Autobiography

Well, this has to do with someone’s life story written by him/her – as opposed to someone else writing it for the person. It is crucial that we establish here that it may not be written by the person. In some cases, he or she will tell the story while a prolific author does the writing.

In many cultures around the world, people’s life stories are often read to mourners at their funerals, allowing the story of the deceased to be told. While most of these stories are not written by the deceased, a few of them are well documented and written by them. Here’s the thing: If the deceased wrote his/her story on his/her own, it is called an autobiography.

So, it is a self-written story, detailing a person’s struggles, victories, and other experiences. In the past, it was called an apology. A typical example is the work of the English theologian, John Henry Newman. First published in 1864, Apologia Pro Vita Sua became a reference point whenever experts talk about autobiography. On the other hand, if someone else has written without the person telling the story himself/herself, it is called a biography.

More importantly, if one thinks that the character in question has not written his/her biography, most of the time, the author seeks their input. Indeed, this is always the case when the person is still alive. That’s why there are a lot of quotes. But not to be confused with autobiography.  

At this critical stage, you may ask yourself: “How are memoir and autobiography different?” In a similar vein, others may ask: “What is the difference between autobiography and memoir?” Well, we use a table to spot the disparity between the two terms, which helps you and many others like you to catch the drift.

Memoir and Autobiography Comparison Table

As stated earlier, we will go ahead to spot the difference between memoir and autobiography for you by drawing the distinction in a tabular form.

Basis of ComparisonMemoir Autobiography 
Meaning An important event or series of events that happened in someone’s life, and were written by him/her A self-account of someone’s life history
Formality Less formal   Very formal
Author Written by the person himself/herself Although the person concerned is supposed to have written this document, that’s not always the case. Because it is a very formal document, the character in question sometimes engages a professional curator. She/He tells the story and the curator writes it.
Character It could be about just anyone Usually has to do with famous/influential people           
Focus  Emphasis is placed on emotional experiences and interiority   y     This is based on facts, history and engaging stories.

Conclusion of the Main Difference Between Memoir vs Autobiography

Are you still wondering: “What is the difference between autobiography and memoir?” Well, there is no denying the fact that this article has done significant justice to this issue. Yes, the difference between autobiography and memoir has been clearly explained in the table above. For a quick recap, broadly speaking, their disparity is based on these key factors:

  • Definition
  • Focus
  • Character  
  • Formality
  • Writer

Although there could be more contrasts between the two related words, those aspects differentiate them. Therefore, we strongly advise that you don’t use them interchangeably, as there are obvious disparities between them.

However, if you are put on the spot because you have a series of words to use, you may go ahead and ignore this grammar rule. But then, it is always pertinent that you keep in mind that there is a difference between autobiography and memoir. With that being said, you should go ahead and enlighten lots of people who have not yet understood this crucial disparity.

The truth is that many people have not yet understood the disparity. It is even surprising that some writers still do not know that the two words have some contrasts. Whenever you hear the question: “What is the difference between autobiography and memoir?” Do not hesitate to explain the disparity in detail just as we have done in this well-researched guide. When you do so, you don’t have to hide the fact that you are contributing to the quest for a more informed society.