• 3-minute read
  • 30th September 2015

Word Choice: Cord vs. Chord

The English language is full of words which sound the same but differ in meaning. This can be very confusing when learning the language, especially if the words are also spelled very similarly.

Two such words are ‘cord’ and ‘chord’: identical in pronunciation, separated by only one letter in spelling, yet confusing the two could have serious consequences for the quality of your writing.

This is especially in true in academic writing, where clarity is everything, as well as in the business world, where attention to detail is an important part of professional presentation. With word pairings like this, then, it’s important to learn the difference.

Cord (A String or Rope)

Broadly, a ‘cord’ is any strip of flexible material which is thicker than a string but thinner than a rope. Typically, a cord of this type will be made from several strands twisted together:

Wary that the sheep might escape, Derek tied the gate shut with a length of cord.

The word ‘cord’ is also used to refer to an insulated electrical wire or cable:

The first time Ava left her new puppy home alone, he chewed through the cord of her television.

Another common use of the word ‘cord’ is in an anatomical context:

After the baby had been delivered, the midwife invited the father to cut the umbilical cord.

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There are other uses of the word cord: it can be used to quantify firewood, for example, while a ‘cord’ is also the raised section on ribbed fabric (hence corduroy trousers sometimes being known as ‘cords’). These latter definitions are relatively obscure, but it’s still worth knowing them to avoid confusion.

Chord (The Musical Kind)

The word ‘chord’, meanwhile, is a musical term which describes two or more notes being played together harmoniously:

Tyler strummed his new guitar, enjoying the sound of the chords ringing out.

The harmonious quality of a chord means that the phrase ‘to strike a chord’ is sometimes used in a figurative sense to indicate an emotional connection with something:

Abby had never read Yeats before, but his poetry instantly struck a chord with her.

Cord or Chord?

This one is pretty simple once you know the definition of each term. If you’re using the word to describe a string, rope or an electrical wire, the word you are looking for will be ‘cord’. Likewise if you are discussing anatomy: e.g. ‘vocal cord’ or ‘spinal cord’.

If you’re writing about music, however, the word you should use is ‘chord’. As long as you remember that a chord is harmonious, the figurative meaning of ‘chord’ becomes much easier to recall, too.

Hopefully you now feel a bit more confident about using the words ‘cord’ and ‘chord’. But to make sure that you avoid this and similar mix ups in your writing, remember that it never hurts to have one of Proofed’s professional proofreaders check your work!

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