Moral and Morale

Commonly Confused Words

The look-alike words moral and morale are pronounced differently and have different meanings.

The adjective moral (with the stress on the first syllable) means ethical or virtuous. As a noun moral refers to the lesson or principle taught by a story or event.

The noun morale (stress on the second syllable) means spirit or attitude.

Examples

  • "She had no fear of hellfire. She was a decent, moral person but she did not believe."
    (Thom Jones, "I Want to Live!" 1993)
     
  • "I admire things with a beginning, a middle, an end--and whenever possible, a moral, too."
    (Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night, 1961)
     
  • "'It seems to me that the only way to strengthen the morale of the people whose morale is worth strengthening, is to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, even if the truth is horrible."
    (BBC news editor R.T. Clark, qtd. by Justin Phillips in C.S. Lewis in a Time of War, 2002) 

Usage Notes

  • "As a noun, moral means 'ethical lesson': Each of Aesop's fables has a clear moral. Morale means 'state of mind' or 'spirit': Her morale was lifted by her colleague's good wishes."
    (Random House Webster's Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. Random House, 2008)
  • "We have on hand a good number of handbooks and schoolbooks that try to distinguish these words on the most simplistic of lines. However, if you look up these two nouns in a good dictionary, you will see that they are intimately intertwined. The chief problem seems to be the sense 'espirit de corps.' In present-day English morale is the usual spelling for this sense; moral is likely to be considered a misspelling. But it is not; the OED shows that moral was the original spelling for this sense. It was the spelling in French, and the sense was taken over from the French. And current dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, still recognizes this sense as one of the meanings of moral.
     

    "We recommend, however, that you use morale for the 'espirit de corps' sense--most people do. Few, if any, use morale instead of moral for the lesson in a story."
    (Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage, 2002)

    Practice

    (a) " _____ courage lets you face down the challenges arising from fear, cowardice, or ambiguity. It helps you overcome a desire to flee, duck, waffle, or appease. It gives you the confidence to confront and stand firm."
    (Rushworth M. Kidder, Good Kids, Tough Choices. Jossey-Bass, 2010)

    (b) "The next few days were filled unloading stores and equipment in the continuing rain, which did nothing to improve the _____ of the men."
    (Russ A.

    Pritchard, The Irish Brigade. Running Press, 2004)

    Answers

    (a) "Moral courage lets you face down the challenges arising from fear, cowardice, or ambiguity. It helps you overcome a desire to flee, duck, waffle, or appease. It gives you the confidence to confront and stand firm."
    (Rushworth M. Kidder, Good Kids, Tough Choices. Jossey-Bass, 2010)

    (b) "The next few days were filled unloading stores and equipment in the continuing rain, which did nothing to improve the morale of the men."
    (Russ A. Pritchard, The Irish Brigade. Running Press, 2004)

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Moral and Morale." ThoughtCo, Apr. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/moral-and-morale-1689584. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 12). Moral and Morale. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/moral-and-morale-1689584 Nordquist, Richard. "Moral and Morale." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/moral-and-morale-1689584 (accessed May 21, 2018).