Material vs. Materiel – What’s the Difference?

English, like any written language, has countless words that changing even one letter will spell an entirely different word. No writer is immune from these mistakes, and their presence has the potential to alter the meaning of your sentence to something other than what you intend.

Material and materiel, both of which have related meanings and similar spellings, are two words that cannot be freely interchanged.

While most readers will interpret your error as a simple misspelling and move on—after silently judging you—there are contexts where using material in place of materiel could have serious consequences.

What is the Difference Between Material and Materiel?

In this article, I will compare material vs. materiel. I will use each spelling in a set of example sentences, so you can see it in its proper context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that will aid you in choosing either material or materiel for your own writing.

When to Use Material

material versus materielWhat does material mean? Material word is a noun. It means the substance used to make or build something.

For example,

  • The nucleus of the cell contains all of its genetic material.
  • “Please cut me six yards of that black sheer material,” said Stacey.
  • The building was constructed of cheap materials, and no one was surprised when it fell into early disrepair.
  • “You aren’t Broadway material,” the professional singer said to one of her childhood rivals.
  • If a border tax happens, Mr. Zambrano said his firm would likely shift some of its Mexican production to its five U.S. plants and buy more raw materials from U.S. producers, which would result in job losses in Mexico. –The Wall Street Journal

In most everyday writing, the spelling for which you are looking is material.

When to Use Materiel

Definition of materiel definition of material definitionWhat does materiel mean? Materiel, also a noun, refers to supplies or equipment used by the military. If the military’s people are its personnel, the equipment that these people use is its materiel.

The sentences below are examples,

  • “We must clean and maintain our war materiel,” said the general.
  • The Japanese forces easily outclassed the Chinese forces in terms of materiel.
  • Where the Japanese had a materiel edge, however, the Chinese territory was vast, and its natural resources abundant.
  • Part of a team clearing a battlefield of unexploded matériel near South Ossetia, Mr. Kojayev was sent to collect a small, yellow-painted surveillance drone that had fluttered to earth in an apple orchard — a seemingly harmless object. –The New York Times

Some speakers will distinguish material from materiel by stressing the latter’s final syllable, much in the same way that many speakers differentiate personal and personnel.

Also, as the above New York Times example shows, materiel is sometimes spelled in its French form matériel.

Materiel vs. Material: Remember the Difference

Define materiel and define materialBoth of these words refer to physical resources. For most contexts, especially those concerned with creation or construction, material is the appropriate choice. For equipment used by a military force, choose materiel instead.

Remember that personnel and materiel, two words that refer to, respectively, human and inanimate resources used by the military, both end in -el. This shared spelling is a useful memory tool that can help you remember this word’s usage case.

Raw goods used for military construction projects could be a case where materials are used to make materiel.

Summary

Is it material or materiel? Material and materiel are nouns that refer to resources.

  • Material refers to goods and substances used to make something, or something’s constituent substances.
  • Materiel refers to military equipment.

If you can’t remember when to choose materiel or material, use this trick. Since materiel and personnel each end in ­-el, you can remember that materiel has a military context. Material should be your choice in most other situations.

If you still need help, check this article to refresh your memory.