A RyR member was asking me about these two words recently. In particular, she was wondering whether we say ‘a society’s collective remembrance of events’, or ‘collective memory’ (the answer is memory).
Here are some more thoughts about memory vs remembrance.
The first and most important distinction to remember is that remembrance describes an act or behaviour.
Remembrance and commemoration
Remembrance is the act of remembering and showing respect for someone who has died, or a past event.
A church service was held in remembrance of the victims of the arena bombing.
Here are some examples from the press:
Every year, walkers from all over the north join members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club on a trek up Great Gable in remembrance of those who have lost their lives in conflict.
If you wear a red poppy this year, it will mean something different. The Royal British Legion has said that the symbol that has long represented remembrance of the UK’s armed forces will also stand for civilian victims, not just of war, but terrorism too.
The 11th November is called Remembrance Day in the UK.
If you want to talk about a ceremony or ritual to honour and remember someone, use the verb commemorate. Commemorations are often held on the anniversary of someone’s birth or death; or they can honour an event, like a war, in which case they are often held on the anniversary of the event (or its beginning or end).
A tangible way to honour a famous individual or remember an important event is to erect a memorial.
A memorial is a large object, often made of stone, dedicated to the person or event you wish to remember.
Many villages in the UK have a war memorial, for example.
Here are a few adjectives that are often paired with the word memorial:
- a lasting memorial
- a permanent memorial
- a fitting memorial to…
We talk about building a memorial to the fallen/those who have disappeared etc.
The word memorial is also used as a shortcut for ‘memorial service’, i.e. a ceremony to remember someone who has died, usually taking place after the burial.
Memory means two things:
- the ability to remember
- something you remember from the past
Let’s talk first about the ability to remember. We use memory, in this sense, with the preposition for:
I have a terrible memory for names.
Here are a few typical adjectives that go with memory. Some of them are clearly more colloquial than others:
Let’s say you take your children to a fair, and you suddenly pass a truck selling candyfloss. This reminds you of all the times your parents took you to fairgrounds as a child.
Do you have a pen and paper? You have two minutes to write down all the verbs and phrases you can think of that carry this meaning of ‘reminding you’ of the past.
Now let’s look at a memory as something you remember from the past.
Can you think of four adjectives that go with the word memory and that mean the opposite of ‘transient’?
How many other adjectives can you list that go with the word memory (meaning ‘something you remember’)?
Recollection is a more formal word than memory, but it has the same two meanings.
- something you remember:
I have many pleasant recollections (=memories).
The following example illustrates the difference in register:
I have no recollection of the incident.
A less formal version would simply be ‘I don’t remember what happened.’
- 2. the ability to remember
His powers of recollection are second to none.
Note that when we mean someone’s ability to recall information, we talk about their powers of recollection and not simply their ‘recollection’. So where we would say ‘He has an excellent memory’, we don’t say ‘he has
an excellent recollection’, but rather ‘he has excellent powers of recollection’.
You can use the same adjectives with recollection as with memory: clear, distinct, vivid, dim, hazy, vague, faint…
Finally, a useful idiom: ‘to the best of my recollection’.
Exercise 4 – idioms
This exercise has two versions, one easier than the other.
For the harder version, I will give you definitions/explanations/paraphrases of several idioms. You have to try to come up with the idiom. Hint: they all contain the word memory.
- if I remember correctly
- let’s talk about something that took place in the past, let’s go back in time
- to have an excellent memory
- an event that has taken place recently or within someone’s lifetime
- I will never forget this event
- to have a terrible memory
Easier version of exercise 4
Match the idiom to the explanation or paraphrase.
Can you rewrite this short text in a more formal register?
I have lots of happy memories of Blackpool, but last time I went there something awful happened. A car ran me over. I don’t remember what happened at all, but everything that happened afterwards, including my long hospital stay, will stay with me forever. Now every time I smell fish and chips, it brings everything back.