Difference between “alien”, “foreigner” and “stranger”


Meaning and differences between: “Alien,” “Foreigner,” and “Stranger” in English

Learning English reveals many intriguing aspects, one of which is understanding the differences between similar words. Today, we will explore three terms: “alien” [ˈeɪ.li.ən], “foreigner” [ˈfɒr.ə.nər], and “stranger” [ˈstreɪn.dʒər]. Each of these words has its unique nuances and is used in different contexts.

  • Alien – often used as a legal term to refer to foreigners, people living in a country of which they are not a citizen. It also means a being from another planet or person. For example: “The movie is about an alien who lands on Earth”.
  • Foreigner – a person from another country. For example: “When I travel abroad, I am a foreigner in the countries I visit”.
  • Stranger – someone you don’t know, an unfamiliar person. For example: “Don’t talk to strangers when you are alone”.

Let’s look at each of these words in more detail and examples of their usage.


The term “alien” is most commonly used in legal contexts to refer to individuals who are not citizens or permanent residents of a particular country. It designates someone who is living in a country where they do not hold citizenship. This word can also imply something entirely foreign or unfamiliar to a specific environment. Beyond the legal sphere, “alien” is widely used in science fiction to describe beings from other planets or extraterrestrial life forms.

Usage in Sentences:

  1. Legal Context: “He is an illegal alien in the country, meaning he resides here without the necessary documentation or authorization.”
  2. Science Fiction Context: “The plot of the movie revolves around an alien from another galaxy who lands on Earth and tries to blend in with human society.”

Cultural and Emotional Connotations: The term “alien” can sometimes carry a negative or dehumanizing connotation, particularly when referring to individuals who are undocumented or perceived as outsiders. It emphasizes a sense of otherness and can be used to stress the unfamiliarity or foreignness of an individual or entity. In contrast, in the context of science fiction, “alien” often evokes curiosity and the excitement of encountering beings from other worlds.


“Foreigner” describes a person who comes from a different country than the one they are currently in. This term is used to highlight someone’s foreign origin, emphasizing cultural or national differences. It is a more neutral term compared to “alien,” and it focuses on the distinction between natives and those from abroad. The word “foreigner” is often used in contexts such as travel, tourism, and discussions about cultural diversity.

Usage in Sentences:

  1. “During her travels in Europe, she often felt like a foreigner in each new country she visited.”
  2. “The city has a large community of foreigners who have come to study and work.”

Cultural and Emotional Connotations: “Foreigner” typically carries a neutral or even positive connotation, often suggesting a sense of adventure or novelty associated with different cultures and experiences. It is a term that emphasizes cultural exchange and the presence of diverse communities. Unlike “alien,” it does not inherently suggest any legal implications or a sense of exclusion.


“Stranger” refers to a person who is unknown or unfamiliar to another individual or group. This term is not tied to nationality or citizenship; instead, it simply indicates a lack of acquaintance or personal connection. “Stranger” is commonly used in everyday contexts to describe someone you do not know personally, whether they are from your own country or another. It is often used in the context of safety and caution, particularly when advising children.

Usage in Sentences:

  1. “She was warned not to speak to strangers while traveling alone.”
  2. “He moved to a new town and felt like a stranger among the locals.”

Cultural and Emotional Connotations: The word “stranger” typically carries a sense of unfamiliarity and potential caution. It implies that the person is unknown and that interactions with them should be approached carefully. In social contexts, calling someone a “stranger” might suggest that there is no existing relationship or trust. It is a term that can convey both a neutral sense of unfamiliarity and a potential warning about interacting with unknown individuals.

Comparative table of the meanings of “Alien,” “Foreigner,” and “Stranger”

alienA person who is not a citizen of a country or a being from another planetLegal, science fiction
foreignerA person from another countryTravel, cultural differences
strangerA person who is unknown or unfamiliarGeneral, everyday

Understanding the nuances of “alien,” “foreigner,” and “stranger” helps you better grasp the English language and correctly use these terms in different contexts.

  • Alien emphasizes legal status or complete foreignness.
  • Foreigner focuses on cultural and national differences.
  • Stranger describes a person who is unknown, regardless of their origin.

Each of these words has its place in the language and reflects different aspects of interaction with others. To improve your comprehension and hear how these words are used in context, consider watching the series “Resident Alien,” which provides a practical example of the term “alien” in a unique setting.

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