Difference Between Bucket and Pail

Main Difference – Bucket vs Pail

Bucket and pail both refer to a cylindrical open container with a handle, made of metal or plastic. Many dictionaries provide similar definitions for these words. The difference between bucket and pail is mostly semantic variations and people’s perceptions. We use pail with certain words and bucket with certain words although both of them refer to the same type of container. The main difference between bucket and pail is that bucket is more common in usage than pail.

What is Bucket

Bucket refers to an open, cylindrical container that is made of metal or plastic. It is usually used to transport water or other fluids. Although pail is a synonym for bucket, these two are often used in fixed phrases. Therefore, it cannot be replaced with pail. For example, the use of bucket in the following phrases and sentences have unique, often idiomatic meanings. The same meaning cannot be obtained by using the pail.

We had buckets of fun.

She wept buckets.

The paint bucket fell all over him.

The cleaning lady forgot her mop and bucket.

Tom took his bucket and spade to the beach.

He inherited the house when his old man kicked the bucket.

Difference Between Bucket and Pail

Bucket and Spade

What is Pail

Pail also refers to an open, cylindrical container with a handle. However, this word is not as common as bucket. For example, the phrase bucket of water is more commonly used than pail of water. But words like milk pail, garbage pail are more common in usage. There are no grammatical rules that define the usage of these words, but their meaning and use are dictated by usage and semantics. For example, we cannot replace bucket with pail in the phrase, ‘kick the bucket'; this would completely change the meaning of the phrase since it has an idiomatic meaning.Main Difference - Bucket vs Pail

Difference Between Bucket and Pail

  • Both bucket and pail refer to an open, cylindrical container made of wood, metal or plastic and used to keep or carry water or other liquids.
  • These words are often used with fixed words; therefore, they cannot always be replaced.
  • Some words and phrases are specifically used with bucket, not pail.
  • Bucket is the more commonly used word when compared to pail.

Image Courtesy:

“Bucket And Spade On The Beach” by Henry Burrrows  via

“Wooden Bucket” by Timothy Takemoto via  

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.


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