The Difference Between Herbicides, Fungicides & Pesticides


Some Definitions

Herbicides and fungicides are kinds of pesticides. In other words, pesticide is an umbrella term, while herbicides and fungicides are two categories of pesticide. The suffix _-_cide refers to killing or to something that kills, while the prefixes herbi-, fungi- and pesti- indicate the target that is to be killed or controlled. Here are two pesticide targets:

  • In the case of an herbicide, the target is a plant pest, or weed.
  • In the case of a fungicide, the target is a fungus.
With care, pesticides can be helpful in the yard and garden.
With care, pesticides can be helpful in the yard and garden. (Image: Iakov Filimonov/iStock/Getty Images)

Herbicides and fungicides are kinds of pesticides.

So what is a pesticide?

Pesticides are chemical agents, either natural or synthetic, that serve to kill or control pests. There are many pesticide targets. They include:

  • plants
  • fungi
  • insects
  • rodents
  • mites
  • slugs

There may even be other target categories for pesticides, and each target tends to have its own prefix. So a pesticide for insects is an insecticide, and one for slugs is a molluscicide, since a slug is a mollusc. One exception is the term rodenticide; _e_ven though the prefix refers to rodents, for regulatory reasons the term rodenticide might even be applied to agents used to control or kill birds or fish.


  • Although strong chemical or synthetic pesticides may have their place, one fitting cliche might be that there's no need to use a sledgehammer when a tack hammer will do. So the rule of thumb should be to try simpler and milder measures first. If it works, so much the better; if it doesn't, then consider stronger options.


  • Some pesticides are toxic to humans, pets and wildlife. Take all precautions and read labels carefully before use.

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