Both “create” and “produce” have the meaning of making a new thing or bringing a new thing into the world. One might expect the words to be close synonyms, yet, surprisingly, they do not generally overlap in usage. The first important difference is that creating tends to require imagination, or something like a divine or magical spark, whereas producing tends to come about through a mechanical process or through natural processes that are part of the way plants and animals function biologically: Chickens produce eggs; they don’t create them. You produce a loud noise with your tuba; you don’t, in general, create one. You can, however, create a new and unique sound with your tuba if you’ve been working on it and exploring different possibilities.
The second difference is that creation tends to focus on a thing being made for the first time ever, while production often suggests making a new thing in just the same way as similar things have been made before, or it suggests multiple things being made at the same time and in the same way as each other. Consequently, “create” can sometimes have an inspired, even poetic, feeling to it whereas “produce” often has a more prosaic, mechanical feeling to it: The task of an artist is to create. The task of a manufacturer is to produce.
“Create” also tends to be used more often in combination with abstract words than “produce.” With abstract ideas, “create” is a slightly more formal or academic way of saying “make” or “cause,” as when we say “create a dilemma,” “create a disturbance,” “create an illusion,” “create a nurturing environment,” “create a relaxing atmosphere.” “Produce” can be used instead of “create” in combination with abstract words, but “create” tends to be the more frequent choice.
One final, and perhaps most important, difference between these words is that “produce” is rather narrowly focused on the sending out of something into the world, the delivery of a thing as a finished product. It is not very much concerned with the process of making or putting something together, even if a great deal of effort—even creativity– actually goes into a thing’s production. “Create” is more focused on the piece-by-piece crafting of something, especially when that process requires imagination or a unique set of actions, decisions, and materials. Looking at artists and manufacturers again, it should be noted that a very fast-working artist can produce more works of art than a slow-working one. In this example, “produce” is used because the focus is just on the putting out of finished products. On the other hand, a manufacturer can create a design for a new product. In this example, “create” is used to focus on the process of putting together a new and unique thing and to suggest the use of thought and imagination going into that process.
The artist created a magnificent work of art for the town hall.
Genesis tells that God created the heavens and the earth.
The chef has created three new dishes.
A new division of the police department was created to deal with this problem.
The new government pledged to create more jobs.
Cows produce milk.
Chickens produce eggs.
Apple trees produce apples.
The factory produced more cars this year than last.
The new plant will produce electricity for the entire valley.
Decaying of organic matter produces methane.