AEE 1119: Don’t Take the Safe Way When It Comes to Goals and Objectives

Do you have any specific goals for this year?

Do you ever have to ask yourself what your goals or objectives are?

Have you heard people talk about what they aim for in English?

The reality is that these three words are very similar–and knowing how to use goal, objective, and aim can be tough sometimes.

We’re going to talk about the slight differences and help to clarify which one may work best in a conversation.

We have a listener question about how to talk about goals, aims, and objectives.

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Hello Lindsay and Michelle,

I am really motivated to follow your podcast every day. Therefore, I use your app on a regular basis. I really appreciate the way you explain the daily life in a very humorous way. Your laughing is contagious.

Nevertheless, I have a question. I am unsure how to use “goal, aim, objective.” Are there any rules?

Best wishes from Germany, Jürgen

Different Words With Similar Meanings

This is a great question in the example because it talks about three words that are used interchangeably.

When you have very similar words such as in this example, there are a couple of things to pay attention to.

  1. Listen for context
  2. See if there are differences in parts of speech
  3. Ask and experiment!

To start off with this example–grammatically, goal and objective are nouns while aim is a noun AND a verb.

BUT what about when they are all nouns?

Which do you think is used most frequently in conversations?

You might think that goal is used most frequently, but that may vary at times.

Breaking Down The Differences

So, is there a difference between the three?

Let’s break this down and look at each word for further clarification.

  • Goal: Tends to be more general, and it can be use at any time. It is all encompassing and therefore tends to be used the most frequently.
  • Aim: More formal sounding and therefore may be used in a more professional setting.
  • Objective: Also more formal and may be used in written documentation or broad company statements.

In some research, it looks like aim and objective may be slightly more specific.

They are very similar, but the latter two are common in a more formal setting.

How Do You Tell The Difference?

There isn’t really a great way to tell the difference though.

It can be best to think of scenarios and chunks to make this easier.

So again, goal is more general and it could be used for anything. It sounds the most natural.

Aim– more formal but may be used more about intention in a sentence.

Objective may be the most professional and used in papers or formal meetings or settings.

Sometimes hearing the two used in conversations can help a bit.

“The objective of this meeting is to figure out the company finances for the year.”

“My aim is to get a job with your company because I believe in your philosophy.”

With both “The objective/aim of this meeting is to decide on the company’s goals for this year.”

Takeaway

Goal is the most natural sounding, but there are definitely times when aim and objective can sound more natural/appropriate/professional.

When words are similar, follow our advice so you’re sure of which one may fit.

Find the appropriate context, listen to those around you, and never be afraid to ask if you’re unsure!

Most of all, don’t stress because the differences are often small and native speakers have a hard time explaining them.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.