What is the difference between the adjectives "genetic" and "hereditary"?

  • $\begingroup$ I suppose, that "hereditary" means something that comes from your parents (captain obvious yeah), but "genetic" also means mutations, SNP's etc. that can appear occasionally. But sorry, i should tell you that homework questions are not appreciated. $\endgroup$ – dshulgin May 24 '16 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ We usually use the word hereditary when we refer to ones lineage and by genetic we refer to the genes, something that is carried by the genes. Hope it helps. $\endgroup$ – Tyto alba May 24 '16 at 10:41
  • $\begingroup$ Genetic information/changes are heritable. Not everything that is inherited is genetic (for example the money that you inherit from your parents or even in biological context, the cellular resources and organelles). I think this is just an issue of semantics and is therefore off-topic. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG May 24 '16 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ Semantic is essential to any science and, when used in the scientific literature, it is the role of scientist (and not philosophers) to define them properly. Some authors have made an entire career by clarifying semantics used in some field. I think it is a good question and should not get be closed. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b May 24 '16 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Why is a heritability coefficient not an index of "how genetic" something is? $\endgroup$ – James Jun 1 '16 at 1:31

From dictionnary.com

Genetic: pertaining or according to genetics

Hereditary: passing, or capable of passing, naturally from parent to offspring through the genes:

Note: I selected the pieces of definitions that I found most relevant to the current discussion.

Genetic information can be passed on to offspring. As such, I understand the confusion you may have.

When the adjective "hereditary" does not apply

By its definition the adjective "genetic" can be used in multiple situations where the adjective "hereditary" could not. It is specifically obvious when the term "genetic" is used in the context of a whole population. Indeed, not all genetic patterns are inherited especially when referring to population-wide patterns. Also, the adjective "genetic" focuses on genetics and not necessarily on its characteristic of being inherited.


Consider for example the concept of "Genetic signature of selection". A genetic signature of selection is any pattern in the genetics of a population that can be used to infer past selection invent. These patterns include - high population divergence around the specific site - loss of heterozygosity (and polymorphism) around the selected site - modification of the site-frequency spectrum - genetic - environment covariance

Further information

Please note that the concept of heritability might have an unexpected definition for some layman. You might want to read Why is a heritability coefficient not an index of “how genetic” something is?.

When the adjective "genetic" does not apply

There are non-genetic information that can be transmitted from parents to offspring (or even between unrelated individuals).


Niche construction inheritance or epigenetic (esp. in the broad sense) modifications are examples of non-genetic inheritance.

Further information

You will get more information about non-genetic inheritance (and its role in evolution) in this answer.


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