Exoteric vs Esoteric – Explain The Difference

It is far too common for writers to confuse the words exoteric and esoteric. The truth is that these two words have similar but opposite meanings, just like the phrases take roll or take role. Using the word is distracting to your audience and can cause confusion. This post is dedicated to explaining the difference between exoteric vs esoteric and when you should use these words in your writing.

Which Is Correct: Exoteric vs Esoteric?

woman thinking about the difference between exoteric vs esoteric knowledge

Exoteric & esoteric are both adjectives that describe a certain knowledge or belief system. Both words can be correct depending on the context of the sentence. Just like in the terms in regard to or in regards to, small spelling changes make a big difference!

  • Exoteric – refers to commonly taught knowledge or practices. In other words, it’s the stuff that everyone knows. For example, things thought in grammar school or high school.
  • Esoteric – used to describe things that are obscure or not widely known. In some cases, it can simply refer to knowledge that is not public. However, it can also be used to describe concepts that are only understood by a small group of people.

Takeaway: Esoteric knowledge is rare or uncommon. Whereas Exoteric knowledge is common & broadly understood.

When To Use Exoteric

Exoteric is an adjective that refers to things that are common knowledge. It can be used to describe ideas, beliefs, or practices that are widely accepted by most people in the general public.

Exoteric is often used in reference to popular religious traditions. For example, in exoteric Christianity, we accept the bible as a form of history.

However, exoteric does not always have religious connotations. Think about it in terms of grammar rules we all adhere to in our writing. Specifically, prescriptive vs descriptive grammar.

In this example, exoteric would refer to the traditional prescriptive grammar rules that we are all taught in school.

When To Use Esoteric

Esoteric knowledge or beliefs are not mainstream or understood by large groups of people. In fact, esoteric teachings are usually only understood by an enlightened inner circle.

Both exoteric and esoteric doctrine can be used in reference to mystical or religious connotations. However, esoteric truths will not be understood by the average person as it is a piece of more specialized knowledge.

Esoteric does NOT have to be used in reference to religion. There are esoteric aspects to just about anything. For example, in the sport of basketball, the rules are common knowledge. But there are advanced techniques and knowledge that a small number of people can only teach.

Examples of Esoteric

  1. The esoteric teachings of the ancient Egyptians have long been a source of fascination for historians and archaeologists.
  2. Many people find quantum mechanics to be an esoteric branch of physics.
  3. Some religious texts contain esoteric messages that can only be understood by those with special knowledge or insight.

Examples of Exoteric

  1. This website is exoteric – it’s designed for everyone, not just experts.
  2. His exoteric style of writing makes his books best-sellers. Everyone can easily understand the books message.
  3. His ideas might be brilliant, but if he can’t explain them in exoteric terms then nobody will ever understand them.

Memory Trick

Many subjects have both exoteric and esoteric sides. So it can be exceptionally trick to memorize the difference. Try this trick.

The easiest way to remember the difference between esoteric vs exoteric is by examining the prefixes.

  • Ex” – Means ‘out’
  • Es” – Means ‘separation’

There is a few ways you can think about this. You can remember that ‘Ex-‘ refers to outside, or knowledge taught to the outside public. Or you can remember that ‘Es-‘ means separation, or knowledge separated from what is common.


Who is an esoteric person?

Esoteric people are those who have deep knowledge in a specific area. They are the people who know about the hidden and deeper meanings of things. They are usually experts in their field and can provide insights that others cannot.

What is a esoteric thinker?

Esoteric thinkers are people who think about things that most other people don’t think about. They’re usually interested in the meanings and implications of things that most other people take for granted.

When did esoteric become a word?

Esoteric has been around for a long time, dating back to the early 17th century. It comes from the Latin esotericus, meaning “belonging to an inner circle” or “intended for or understood by only a select few.”

Does esoteric mean secret?

Esoteric means understood or meant by a select few. It could be used to refer to a secret meaning. It comes from the Greek language, meaning inner or private. Esoteric knowledge is known by only a few people.

The Bottom Line

Now you know the difference between these two commonly confused words. If you are referring to knowledge or beliefs that are lesser known by a select few people use esoteric. However, if you are referring to common knowledge understood by many, use exoteric. And if you can’t wrap your head around this grammar rule then use our FREE online grammar checker. Use these quick tips to improve your writing.