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Moral and Morale

Commonly Confused Words

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Moral and Morale

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:

  • "It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare." (Mark Twain)

  • "Morale is the greatest single factor in successful wars." (Dwight Eisenhower)

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) A _____ decision is one that a person makes according to what he or she believes is right or wrong.

(b) High _____ often results from a sense of shared sacrifice.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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