What Is the Difference Between a Myth, a Legend and a Folktale?

A myth is a traditional story that usually describes the origin of a person or place; folklore is a collection of fictional stories involving people or animals; and a legend is a story that claims to be rooted in history, but it does not have any legitimate verification. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they are each unique in subtle ways.

Myths are commonly used to explain the unknown. In addition to being used to explain origins, myths can be used to demystify a supernatural or unresolved event. Myths present reality in a sensational way, often using creatures and gods. Many cultural traditions are rooted in myths.

Folktales often involve some sort of conflict that has to do with events that happen in everyday life. Unsubstantiated beliefs and superstitions play a prominent role in folklore. Folktales are often told in the form of a song or proverb.

Legends are stories that seem realistic and historic in nature, but they are not verified. Some common examples of legends include William Tell, Robin Hood, Atlantis and King Arthur. Some legends are based on real characters, although the actual stories may not be true. Legends tend to evolve and become exaggerated as they are passed down over time.