What Does The Word “Summer” Mean?

Summer is the season for basking in the warm sun and rejoicing in the freedom of vacation. Summer officially starts in late June—but try telling that to the students who’ve been enjoying their school break for weeks by that point!

So let’s take a look at the name summer and what it actually means, while answering that age-old question: when exactly does summer begin and end?

Where did the word summer come from?

The word summer is quite old. It’s recorded before the year 900 and comes from the Old English word for the season, sumor. It’s related to the Dutch zomer, the German Sommer, and the Sanskrit samā (which means “year”). Summer became an adjective around 1300, and terms like summer camp, summer school, and summer resort are all first recorded in the 1800s.

When does summer begin?

Summer begins June 21 in 2023, to coincide with the summer solstice—one of the longest days of the year—in the Northern Hemisphere. The date of the solstice varies between June 20 and 22 each year.

Summer ends September 23, 2023. Many consider Labor Day the final hurrah of summer, but we still have a few weeks of the summer season after that celebratory first Monday of September. Summer officially ends at the autumnal equinox, when the sun is at its zenith at, or directly above, the equator. After the autumnal equinox, the sun moves south of the equator, leaving behind a chilly autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and beckoning in spring to the Southern Hemisphere.

Don’t let the summer heat dry out your vocabulary. Check out our blazing collection of summery words here.

What is the difference between equinox and solstice?

Each year is divided into the four seasons based on the two equinoxes and the two solstices. The summer and winter solstices, which typically land around June 21 and December 22, mark the longest and the shortest days of the year, respectively. The autumnal and vernal equinoxes, which fall around September 23 and March 21, mark the points in the year when the day and the night are equal lengths. The word equinox is ultimately derived from the Latin word aequinoctium meaning “equal days and nights.”

As you may have noticed, there are two ways to define seasons: astronomical seasons (based on Earth’s rotation) and meteorological seasons (based on temperature cycles). The equinoxes and solstices do not correspond with the beginning of these meteorological seasons. Rather, they occur within the meteorological seasons. For example, in the Northern Hemisphere, spring is a period of March, April, and May (based on temperature cycles), but the vernal equinox falls around March 21.

Just as the summer solstice tends to fall a little ways into summer vacation, the autumnal equinox typically occurs at the end of September, a few weeks into the school year and well after the Dog Days, the hottest period of the summer.

Do you have your summer plans lined up? Or, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, have you been looking forward to the chilly, winter weather?

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We’ve shed light on some of the terms mentioned above on astronomical days of the year, including:


summer solstice


autumnal equinox

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