< Goal and Aim
By Dr. Jill Robbins
17 December 2021

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from Paul in the Czech Republic.


Could you tell me the difference between the words aim, target, objective and goal? When should I use each one?

Paul, Czech Republic.


Dear Paul,

Thank you for writing to us. These words are similar. As nouns they all mean something you are trying to do or make happen. But we often use two of them to describe an object we can touch.

Goal and target

Both "target" and "goal" can be used in sports. In soccer, players try to get a ball into the other side's goal, an area at the end of the playing field marked by a net. We say a player "scored a goal," as in this example:

Abby Wambach broke the women's soccer record by scoring 184 goals.

In the sport of archery, you try to make an arrow hit a "target." We use the word this way to describe archery:

To get a high score, your arrow has to hit close to the center of the target.

When we use "target" to talk about what we want to do in the near term, it is often an exact number, as in this example:

Our sales target for the coming month is $1000 a day.

Compare that with the use of "goal" to talk about a more general thing you want to make happen further in the future, as in:

It is her goal to become the president of the company.

Objective and aim

We use those two words as well as "objective" and "aim" to talk about our purposes. Often people decide on their "objectives" as a group or organization. For example:

The Senator said, "Our objective today is to pass this bill."

Finally, we can use "aim" as a verb meaning to direct effort toward a goal in this way:

I aim to plant ten trees today.

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com

And that's Ask a Teacher.

I'm Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

netn. a device that is used for catching or holding things or for keeping things out of a space and that is made of pieces of string, rope, wire, etc., woven together with spaces in between

score v. to get points, goals, runs, etc., in a game or contes

archeryn. the sport or skill of shooting with a bow and arrow

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