Aim, Purpose, Goal or Target?

Consider the sentences below:

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. (Aristotle)

Set you goals high, and don’t stop till you get there. (B.Jackson)

If you don’t really have a dream, you can’t really push yourself; you don’t really know what the target is. (M.S.Dhoni)

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction. (J.F.Kennedy)

All the words in bold in the sentences above have something to do with things we want to achieve, something desired. But are they always interchangeable? This article will shed light on it, so go on reading…

AIM

The aim of something that you do is the purpose for which you do it, or the result that you want to achieve:

  • The aim of the festival is to increase awareness of Jewish culture and traditions.
  • The principle aim of the research is to prove the theory in question.
  • Her main aim in life is to be rich and famous.
  • My short-term aim is to deal with the current difficulties.
  • The aim of writing this article is to help English learners understand the differences between the English synonyms.

In other words, an aim is a point of doing something.

PURPOSE

The purpose of something is the reason for which it is made or done. It’s also the thing you want to achieve. In fact, the distinction between “aim” and “purpose” is very thing. But “aim” conveys the meaning of intention to a larger extent than “purpose” does. “Purpose” is first of all the reason for doing something:

  • The purpose of the event is to raise money for a good cause.
  • This organization exists for a few purposes.
  • A military satellite is an artificial satellite used for a military purpose.
  • It would serve no purpose to oblige people to take part in the survey.
  • It’s possible that the leader plans to destroy an older facility that has served its purpose.

But since “purpose” is also something we want to achieve, it can be used just like “aim” in some contexts:

  • Our purpose (= aim) is to expand our client base.
  • My life’s purpose (= aim) is to be happy.

In addition, purpose is the feeling of having a definite aim and of being determined to achieve it. Note that in this case “purpose” is an uncountable noun:

  • When you have a sense of purpose, work is so much easier.
  • I’ve always respected you for you strength of purpose.

Note that “purpose” is never a verb, unlike “aim” (We always aim to give our customers personal attention).

GOAL

A goal is an aim/purpose. In other words, it is something that you hope to achieve, especially when much time and effort will be needed. But goals are more likely to be specific than aims/purposes are:

  • I have set a specific goal and now I’m following it.
  • In this paper, we provide a description of our most recent step toward these goals.
  • Many of these goals have been met and others continue as work in progress.

TARGET

A target is something at which someone is aiming a weapon or some other object. It is also a result you are trying to achieve, but it is likely to be a numerical goal:

  • Our target for the sales team is 12 million.
  • He’s won back his place too late to achieve his target of 20 goals this season.
  • He failed to reach his target grade.
  • My goal is to lose some weight and my weight-loss target is 10 kilos. (as you can see, “goal” is a bit broader and more general)

Note that “target” can also be a verb:

  • The daily brutal military attacks against the country deliberately target innocent civilians. (to target sb. = to attack sb.) 
  • The company has targeted adults as its primary customers. (to target a group of people = to try to appeal to those people or affect them)
  • The company had been targeted by environmentalists. (to target = to criticize)
  • We are targeting assistance towards people on low incomes. (to target = to direct money or help to a particular group of people)

IDIOMS

Idiom Meaning Example
On target to be making good progress and be likely to achieve the result that is wanted; completely accurate I’m happy to say we’re on target. I’m sorry my prediction wasn’t on target.
On-target exactly appropriate Thanks for the on-taregt advice.
Dead on target precisely aimed; exactly correct Your shot was dead on target. I think your speech was dead on target about how to reach the goal.
To be shooting for the same target to be working toward the same goal with someone else Let’s agree to disagree. After all, we are shooting for the same target.
Sitting target/duck sb. or sth. that is very easy to criticize/attack I don’t want to be a sitting target. So, I’ll do my job properly.
Squad goals the aspirations, desires, or values of one’s group of close friends Check out this selfie of Annie and her friends at the library. She hashtagged it with “squad goals”.
To fall short of one’s goal(s) to fail to achieve a goal or goals We have fallen short of our goal of winning first prize.
Accidentally on purpose seemingly unintentionally but actually deliberately (humorous) I know you hate dish washing. So, I think you forgot to wash the dishes accidentally on purpose.
To aim for the stars/to reach for the sky to set one’s goal high Don’t be afraid to aim for the stars!
To take aim at sb./sth. to direct severe criticism or scorn at someone or something Make sure you are right before taking aim.
We aim to please we try hard to please you (usually a commercial slogan) Tank you for great service. – We aim to please.
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Aim for the stars!