Difference Between Memoir and Autobiography

Memoir vs Autobiography

The difference between memoir and autobiography stems from the time frame concerned and the way the narration moves forward. Memoir and Autobiography are two words that are often confused when it comes to their usage and inner meanings. Strictly speaking, the two words have to be understood with some sort of difference between them. However, the confusion people have arises due to the fact that some books are called autobiographies by some while some refer to the same book as a memoir. That makes us think that there is no difference between the two words, the autobiography and memoir. There are actually some differences and they are very simple to understand.

What is an Autobiography?

If we just consider the word autobiography, you will see that the word autobiography is used in the sense of ‘description of one’s own life history.’ It is exactly what an autobiography does. A person thinks his or her story is worth telling to the world. So, he or she writes that story like a novelist creates a novel. An autobiography consists of information about the author’s life in a chronological order. It begins from his or her birth and ends when the story reaches the present stage of the author’s life. In other words, an autobiography deals with the birth, the childhood, the youth, and the old age of the writer, together with various incidents and events connected with his or her life. Autobiography never ends with the death of the writer and hence, it is understood that it is written only at the time of his living. Moreover, autobiography pays more importance to the events in one’s life in his own words.

Autobiographies are more factual in nature as all the above said information has to be included. Most of the time, when writing an autobiography, the author, or the autobiographer, has to double check information to get everything right. It is important to note that an autobiography is written by a person in the first person. This is because of the fact that the person describes his own story. This is exactly opposite to a biography, which is written in the third person.

Difference Between Memoir and Autobiography

What is a Memoir?

The word memoir is used in the sense of ‘reminiscence’ or ‘remembrance.’ For a start, you can say a memoir is a type of an autobiography. It is also written by the author himself or herself. However, unlike an autobiography, which grasps the whole of an author’s life, a memoir only focuses on a part or a particular period of the author’s life. Also, a memoir is more emotional in nature than factual. This is because, the author is describing a period of his or her life he or she believes stands out from the rest. So, that importance should be even delivered to the reader. Now, let us see how the word memoir can be used in a sentence too as it carries the meanings ‘reminiscence’ and ‘remembrance.’ Observe the two sentences:

He wrote the memoirs of his European travel.

He narrated his memoirs to the audience.

In both the sentences, you can find that the word memoirs is used in the sense of ‘reminiscences’ or ‘remembrances.’ Hence, the meaning of the first sentence would be ‘he wrote the remembrances of his European travel.’ European travels were only a part of his life. So the use of the word memoir to describe the records is correct. The meaning of the second sentence would be ‘he narrated his reminiscences to the audience.’

 Memoir vs  Autobiography

What is the difference between Memoir and Autobiography?

• Definition of Memoir and Autobiography:

• Autobiography is a book an author writes about his own life by himself.

• Memoir is also written by the author, but it only takes into account a part of his life story; not the whole.

• Meaning:

• Autobiography means description of one’s own life history.

• Memoir means reminiscence or remembrances.

• Order of events:

• Autobiography presents the author’s story in a chronological manner.

• Memoirs are more concerned only with the remembrances of a particular period of a person’s life.

• Factual or emotional:

• An autobiography is more factual.

• A memoir is more emotional.

Now, that you know the difference between memoir and autobiography you will be able differentiate one from the other in the future.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Autobiography by raulbarraltamayo (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  2. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure via Wikicommons (Public Domain)