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Trait vs. Characteristic: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 6, 2023
A trait is a specific and distinctive feature, often inherited, while a characteristic is a general quality or attribute.

Key Differences

Traits are often considered to be inherent qualities that are genetic or learned from early life. Characteristics, however, can be acquired at any point and may change over time. Both words describe qualities, but traits often hint at biological or personality features.
Every individual has specific traits, such as blue eyes or introversion, which make them unique. Characteristics refer to broader qualities like height or intelligence that can describe groups. Both terms are used in describing living beings but in slightly different scopes.
Traits can be dominant or recessive in the context of genetics, shaping an organism's nature. Characteristics define properties of an object or person but are not strictly tied to genetics. The specificity of a trait often ties it closely to an individual's identity.
In literature, an author might develop a character with the trait of being quick-witted. Alternatively, a characteristic such as being tall could describe not just a person but an object or even a geographic feature. Each term allows for detailed descriptions but with different applications.
While traits are often used in discussions of biology and personality, characteristics are more general and can apply to inanimate objects. A smartphone may have the trait of being waterproof or the characteristic of being durable. Both terms add richness to descriptions but in their distinct ways.

Comparison Chart


A distinguishing quality, often inherited.
A distinguishing quality, which can be general or specific.

Usage in Biology

Used to describe inherited features.
Can describe general qualities of a species.


Tends to be stable over time.
Can be more mutable, changing over time.


Usually specific and narrow.
Broad and general.


More often applied to individuals.
Can be applied to both individuals and groups.

Trait and Characteristic Definitions


Trait refers to a distinguishing quality that defines a person's nature.
Honesty is his most admirable trait.


A characteristic is a typical feature that helps to identify a person or thing.
Curiosity is a characteristic of great scientists.


Trait also means a small distinguishing feature of something.
The new model of the car has several updated traits.


Characteristic refers to a quality or feature that is often apparent or important.
The bright colors are characteristic of tropical birds.


A trait can be a feature that sets someone or something apart.
The bird's ability to mimic sounds is a unique trait.


A characteristic can be an attribute that is distinctive to a particular subject.
The characteristic smell of baking bread filled the kitchen.


A trait is an inherited characteristic that defines an individual.
Her red hair is a trait shared with her mother.


In describing objects or conditions, a characteristic is a notable property.
Durability is a key characteristic of this material.


In genetics, a trait is an attribute determined by one's DNA.
Attached earlobes are a trait that runs in his family.


Characteristic may imply a feature that is representative of a group or category.
Being warm-blooded is a characteristic of mammals.


A distinguishing feature, as of a person's character.


Being a feature that helps to distinguish a person or thing; distinctive
Heard my friend's characteristic laugh.
The stripes that are characteristic of the zebra.


A morphological, physiological, or behavioral feature of an organism.


A feature that helps to identify, tell apart, or describe recognizably; a distinguishing mark or trait.


Is a trait specific to one person?

While traits can be unique to an individual, many are shared among family or populations.

Are traits always genetic?

Traits are often genetic but can also include learned behaviors and skills.

Do characteristics define personality?

Characteristics can pertain to personality but also to physical attributes or general qualities.

Can an object have a trait?

Typically, trait refers to living beings, but it can be used metaphorically for objects.

Do traits affect behavior?

Certain traits, particularly personality traits, can influence an individual's behavior.

What does characteristic mean?

A characteristic is a distinguishing quality or feature that is typical of a person, group, or thing.

Can characteristics be changed?

Yes, characteristics can change over time due to external influences or personal development.

Is characteristic a general term?

Yes, characteristic is a more general term than trait and can be used in various contexts.

Can animals have characteristics?

Yes, animals have characteristics that can describe physical appearance, behavior, and species-specific qualities.

What is a trait?

A trait is a specific feature or quality, often inherited, that distinguishes an individual.

Are traits observable?

Some traits are observable, like eye color, while others, like intelligence, are more abstract.

Are traits limited to physical attributes?

No, traits include both physical and psychological attributes.

Can a group have a trait?

Typically, groups are described with characteristics, while traits are more individual.

Do traits have degrees or are they absolute?

Some traits can be expressed in degrees, while others are binary (e.g., blood type).

How does one identify a characteristic?

Characteristics are identified through observation, interaction, and sometimes scientific measurement.

Can traits be developed over time?

Some traits, especially behavioral ones, can be developed or changed over time through experience and choice.

Can characteristics be unique?

Characteristics can be unique, especially when combined to form a distinct pattern in an individual or thing.

Is a trait synonymous with a habit?

No, a trait is a distinguishing quality, while a habit is a regular practice or tendency.

Are characteristics always visible?

Not always; some characteristics, like resilience, are behaviors or responses that are observed in certain situations.

Are characteristics measurable?

Many characteristics, such as height or speed, are measurable, while others may be more qualitative.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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