Material and Materiel

Commonly Confused Words

material and materiel
In 2014, the U.S. provided military personnel and materiel as part of Operation United Assistance, the humanitarian mission to aid Liberia in West Africa's Ebola outbreak. John Moore/Getty Images

The words material and materiel are near-homophones: they look and sound similar but have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun material (pronounced muh-TEER-ee-ul) refers to a substance out of which something is — or can be — made. Material can also refer to information used in writing something, as in "research materials."

As an adjective, material means relevant and consequential. In American law, a material witness is a person whose evidence is likely to be important enough to influence the outcome of a trial.

Material can also refer broadly to the physical rather than to the spiritual or intellectual.

The noun materiel (pronounced muh-TEER-ee-EL and also spelled matériel) refers to supplies and equipment used by an organization, especially a military unit.

Examples

  • "Please note that academic learning is much more than merely memorizing. Reciting extracts from books, articles, lecture notes, or material on the web does not demonstrate that you have learned to think in the way that your teachers think, and may not even get you a pass mark."
    (Peter Levin, Write Great Essays! 2nd ed. Open University Press, 2009)
  • "Martha sat in her bedroom in the mountain house she had made her own — no trace left of her traitor husband or her bitter black wind of a mother, not so much as a photograph of either of them — a plain, tall woman in a sleeveless blouse and a full skirt made of a coarse woven material like burlap."
    (Pam Durban, "Soon." The Southern Review, 1997)
  • "Evidence is material when it plays a significant part in proving a case. Examples of material evidence might be fingerprints of the accused that were found on the murder weapon, an eyewitness account of how the accused committed the crime, or stolen property found in the possession of the accused."
    (John J. Fay, Encyclopedia of Security Management, 2nd ed. Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007) 
  • The withdrawal from Iraq is a feat of logistics that has been called the biggest movement of military matériel since World War II.
  • "Many historians see the world wars chiefly as struggles of industrial production or technological innovation or both. None of these views, however, is sound. Real battle outcomes cannot be explained by materiel alone; in fact, material factors are only weakly related to historical patterns of victory and defeat."
    (Stephen Biddle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle. Princeton University Press, 2004)

Usage Notes

  • "Material is derived from the Latin materia, matter. It means the substance out of which something can be fashioned; the elements, constituents, or substances of which something is composed or can be made.

    "Materiel is the French word matériel.  It means equipment, apparatus, supplies used by an institution or an organization, such as the military."
    (Robert Oliver Shipman, A Pun My Word: A Humorously Enlightened Path to English Usage. Littlefield Adams, 1991)
     

Practice

(a) Officials insisted that the naval blockade had to remain in place to prevent the smuggling of weapons and other war _____.

(b) "Some of the workers would leave their sacks at the Store to be picked up the following morning, but a few had to take them home for repairs.

I winced to picture them sewing the coarse _____ under a coal-oil lamp with fingers stiffening from the day's work."
(Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)

Answers to Practice Exercises:

(a) Officials insisted that the naval blockade had to remain in place to prevent the smuggling of weapons and other war matériel.

(b) "Some of the workers would leave their sacks at the Store to be picked up the following morning, but a few had to take them home for repairs. I winced to picture them sewing the coarse material under a coal-oil lamp with fingers stiffening from the day's work."
(Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Material and Materiel." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2018, thoughtco.com/material-and-materiel-1689440. Nordquist, Richard. (2018, February 16). Material and Materiel. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/material-and-materiel-1689440 Nordquist, Richard. "Material and Materiel." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/material-and-materiel-1689440 (accessed May 26, 2018).