Cord vs. Chord: What’s the Difference?

English homophones are some of the most difficult words to differentiate from one another. Even if you use a word on a regular basis in speech, you might not know how to spell it with the meaning you are thinking.

That’s what makes homophones tricky. They sound exactly alike, but they are spelled differently and have different meanings. You might use the word cord all the time, but when you go to write it, you’re not sure if you should use cord or chord.

No worries. We’re here to help.

What is the Difference Between Cord and Chord?

In this post, I want to discuss the differences between cord and chord. I will cover their definitions and their functions in a sentence. Plus, I will show you a trick to remember the difference between both words.

After reading this post, you shouldn’t have any trouble with cord vs. chord again.

When to Use Cord

cord versus chord rules and definitionsCord functions primarily as a noun and is defined as a slender length of flexible material usually made of twisted strands or fibers and used to bind, tie, connect, or support.

  • The parachute is connected by a heavy-duty synthetic cord that can hold over 1,000 pounds.
  • The traitor was hanged by a length of cord.
  • I graduated with three cords because of my high GPA.
  • Take this cord and tie a knot around the cleat.

Cord is also the spelling for all anatomical meanings.

  • My vocal cords hurt from yelling.
  • The father cut the umbilical cord.
  • Your spinal cord is out of alignment.

Cord can also function as a verb, but it does so rarely. When it does, it means to fasten or bind with a cord.

  • He corded a stack of old newspapers to throw away.
  • The team corded the available lumber and drove it into town.

When to Use Chord

chord versus cord english grammar rulesChord also functions primarily as a noun and is defined as a combination of three or more pitches sounded simultaneously.

  • Those two chords together sound beautiful.
  • The opening chords to the symphony are iconic.
  • Hold that chord for five notes.

Its verb form simply means to play chords on; to produce by playing musical melody.

  • He chorded the piano.
  • Hey, chord me a melody.

There is also a second word that is spelled chord. It is a homograph of the musical meaning and has a different origin.

In addition to its musical sense, chord is a technical word in mathematics, aeronautics, and engineering meaning a straight line joining the ends of an arc, the wings of an airplane, each of two principal members of a truss, etc.

Origins of Cord and Chord

These three words have a delightfully messy history behind them and all ultimately, albeit in a very roundabout way, stem from the Latin chorda. For those interested, here is a brief outline.

Cord comes from the Greek khordē, which entered Latin as chorda, which then entered Old French as corde, which then finally made its way to Middle English as cord. The original Greek khordē meant catgut, string of a musical instrument. It was used to refer to the strings, fibered and rope like, on musical instruments. This is the sense we use when we speak of ropes, electric cords, or anatomical structures, vocal cords, spinal cords, umbilical cords, etc.

The musical chord comes from a shortening of the Middle English word accord and was originally spelled cord. This was logical since the word accord meant (and still means) “agreement, reconciliation.” Notes that were in accord were in agreement; therefore they were part of a cord (now read chord). The spelling changed, however, sometime in the 18th century due to confusion with the mathematical use of the word.

The mathematical chord was originally spelled cord as well, which created confusion between the mathematical and musical senses. To avoid confusion, the musical cord changed its spelling to musical chord in the 18th century. However, the mathematical cord at some point was also refashioned to more closely resemble its Latin ancestor chorda, which made the mathematical sense and the musical sense (the latter of which was originally changed to avoid confusion with the former) both spelled the same way again: chord.

So, the original spelling of both words that are now spelled chord (mathematical and musical) was cord; both of these spellings come from the Latin chorda. The modern use of cord, referring to rope like fibers or anatomical parts, comes from the Greek khordē.

As I said, a quite messy, confusing, but, ultimately, delightful history.

Popular Phrases Using Chord

strike a chord meaningThe popular phrase to strike a chord, also to touch a chord, is spelled as such: chord. The meaning is to create an emotional response, appeal to or arouse a particular emotion.

  • This book really strikes a chord with me.
  • The author knows how to strike a chord with his readers.
  • The issue of quality education strikes a chord with all parents.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Still not sure you will be able to remember when to use chord or cord? Here’s an easy trick to remember the difference.

You can remember that chord deals with musical notes that are in harmony. Harmony and chord both have an “H” in them.

Cord refers to a rope, both of which are four letter words.


Although they have a long, strange history, chord vs. cord words have different meanings and different uses.

Cord refers to a rope.

Chord refers to musical notes and has specialized meanings in mathematics.