Chord vs. Cord: How to Choose the Right Word

It's likely either music related or ropelike

A photograph of piano sheet music

Public Domain /  Pixabay

The words "chord" and "cord" are homophones: They sound alike but have different meanings. They're among the word pairs in English that are commonly confused, and their spellings have even flip-flopped throughout the centuries. For our purposes in this millennium, though, a "chord" with an "h" is a simultaneous playing of notes or a math term, and a "cord" is a rope or cable—among other meanings, detailed below.

How to Use "Chord"

The noun "chord" is a musical term and refers to three or more notes sounded together (some musicians might argue for two notes sounded together also being labeled a "chord"). People play a "chord progression," and hard rock guitarists string together some "power chords" in their riffs. It can also be used as a gerund (nouns formed from verbs), referring to the playing of chords, as in "Her transposed chording sounded lovely."

The word comes from the Greek term khordē, which originally referred to the catgut strings on an instrument.

"Chord" also refers to an emotion or disposition ("to strike a chord"). In mathematics, a "chord" is a line that joins two points on a curve or circle. It originally came from the Latin term chorda.

How to Use "Cord"

The noun "cord" refers to a rope or a bond, an insulated electrical cable, or an anatomical structure (e.g., vocal cords or umbilical cord). A "cord" of wood is a rectangular pile of wood 4 feet wide, 4 feet high, and 8 feet long. (Originally it was a quantity that could be tied with a cord.)

It can be used as a verb meaning to stack wood in a cord or to tie something with a cord, though not all dictionaries have usage of this word as a verb.

Examples

Here are some examples that show the words' differences in meaning:

  • One of the most iconic and instantly recognizable chords in rock 'n' roll is the opening to the Beatles' song, "A Hard Day's Night."
  • The candidate's policy on health care struck a chord with voters. It especially resonated with middle-class moms.
  • Her chording sounded sublime.
  • The singer took lessons to learn how to perform professionally and not strain his vocal cords.
  • Has anyone seen my phone charger's cord?
  • He corded that wood.
  • She corded the roman shade after she was done sewing it.

How to Remember the Difference

If you need a trick to remember the difference between the two words, think of the fact that musical chords are played in harmony, and both of these words contain the letter "h." A "cord" is a rope, and both "cord" and "rope" have only four letters.

Practice

  1. A wireless mouse operates without a _____ by transmitting radio frequency signals.
  2. Jackson sat down at the grand piano and played a major _____.

Answers

  1. A wireless mouse operates without a cord by transmitting radio frequency signals.
  2. Jackson sat down at the grand piano and played a major chord.

Sources

  • "Chord." English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Oxford University Press.
  • "Cord." English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Oxford University Press.
  • "Cord vs. Chord: What’s the Difference?" Writing Explained.
  • "Strike a Chord." Cambridge Dictionary.