Calvary vs. Cavalry: What’s the Difference?

As with so many other similar sounding English words, calvary vs. cavalry often get mixed up in people’s writing. While they aren’t a true set of homophones, they still sound similar enough to confuse people. Each word also contains the same seven letters, just in different orders, which adds to the confusion.

That said, their meanings are wholly unrelated, and, in order to avoid any embarrassing mistakes in your writing, it’s important to use the correct word.

What is the Difference Between Calvary and Cavalry?

In this post, I want to discuss the differences between these two words. I will go over their definitions, their functions in a sentence, and their pronunciations. Plus, I will give you a tip to remember the difference between them at the end.

After reading this post, you shouldn’t ever struggle answering the question, “Should I use calvary or cavalry?”

When to Use Calvary

calvary versus cavalry english differenceCalvary (pronounced kal-va-ree)is used as a proper noun to refer to the hillside outside of ancient Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.

  • In John’s Gospel, Mary is only mentioned twice, at Cana and at Calvary.

This is the primary use of Calvary, and, since it is a proper noun, it should be capitalized when used in this sense. A Calvary can also refer to a sculpted depiction of the crucifixion; this usage is sometimes capitalized and sometimes not.

Calvary can be used figuratively to refer to an experience of intense suffering; an ordeal. This use clearly comes again from the crucifixion of Jesus but is not capitalized, as the proper noun would be.

When to Use Cavalry

cavalry versus calvary grammar rulesThe word cavalry (pronounced kav-el-ree) is a word that ordinary writers and speakers seem to relearn every time a new war breaks out.

A cavalry is a highly mobile army unit using vehicular transport, such as light armor and helicopters.

  • The French enjoyed a clear advantage in artillery and in cavalry, Mr. Muir observes, but were less impressive in line infantry. –The Wall Street Journal
  • It sends a very strong message to citizens that when they see soldiers coming in Humvees, the cavalry has arrived. –The Washington Post
  • They were an anti-Bolshevik force in the civil war, suffered repression under Stalin, and then fought as cavalry on both sides, with the Nazis and the Soviets, during World War II. –The New York Times

The word cavalry was originally used to refer to trained troops able to fight on horseback.

With modern developments in weapons technology, however, the word came to mean what it now means, which is any highly mobile army unit that uses vehicular transport.

Remember the Difference

As we said above, cavalry vs. Calvary are commonly confused with each other. The most common mistake is when people mean to use cavalry but they use Calvary instead.

  • The battle was all but won when the calvary rode in. (Wrong)
  • The battle was all but won when the cavalry rode in. (Correct)

The opposite mistake doesn’t usually happen, however. Since Calvary is a proper noun, it is usually not mistaken for cavalry.

So, is there an easy way to make sure you’re not using the wrong word? Here is a good mnemonic trick.

A cavalry is a group of valiant solider. The cavalry is valiant, both of which have the letters “VAL” in them. If you’re writing about soldiers and you don’t see a “VAL,” then you’re using Calvary, which is a proper noun and the wrong word choice.

Summary

Do I use cavalry or Calvary? That depends on your sentence, of course. These two words are wholly unrelated, but they often get confused.

Calvary is a proper noun that refers to the hillside on which Jesus was crucified.

Cavalry is a group of highly mobile army troops.

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