Clip vs magazine?

Magazines are containers with springs, followers, and a stored supply of cartridges that are fed into a gun’s receiver. A clip is a metal strip that fastens several cartridges together to be loaded into revolver chambers, notches, or magazines.

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What is the difference between clip vs magazine?

If you’re writing about guns for any reason, it’s important to learn the difference between clips and magazines. Writers that misuse the terms clip and magazine risk communicating to their audience that they are unknowledgeable about basic gun terminology. But in truth, information regarding magazines vs clips is a bit confusing. 

If you ask the National Rifle Association of America, they will tell you that clips and magazines are entirely different and should not be used interchangeably. But if you asked Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, for example, you’d read that a clip is a “magazine” in itself. Lexico also lists the words “magazine,” “cartridge,” and “cylinder” as synonyms for a clip, but this is technically inaccurate. 

As we will come to find out, these terms have specific meanings regarding firearms, and while they’re used for similar topics, they are not synonymous. Lexico also defined a clip as a cartridge holder for “automatic weapons,” but this is also an overgeneralization. While the differences between academic, government and expert terminology are speculative, The Word Counter has gathered the best of both worlds to define clip vs magazine as accurately as possible. 

Magazine vs clip: Know your firearm terminology

The first step to understanding the difference between clips and magazines is introducing yourself to basic gun types, how firearms function differently from one another, and the purpose that clips and magazines serve. The three basic firearm categories include rifles, shotguns, and handguns. Each gun category contains several different model types, but they’re typically distinguished by how they’re designed and used. 

What all guns have in common is that they contain an action, a stock, and a barrel. The “action” includes all moving parts of the firearm where cartridges are loaded, fired on, and where empty cases are ejected. The stock is simply the gun handle, and the barrel is the elongated metal tube that the projectiles travel through. 


Rifles are long-barrelled firearms that contain helical patterns on the internal barrel walls. The rifle’s unique barrel design allows for increased target accuracy, making it a popular gun option for hunters and professions that require long-distance aiming. 


Rifles and shotguns are both are fired from the shoulder, but where shotguns differ is that they’re designed to shoot from short distances and use cartridges or shells that fire several pellets (i.e., shot) or a slug. Furthermore, instead of measuring barrel diameter with “caliber,” shotguns are measured through a gauge number


Handguns are a bit easier to distinguish, as they’re short-barrelled and small enough to shoot with one hand. Most handguns fall under the pistol or revolver subset. While revolvers are distinguished by their ability to be loaded through a rotating chamber, a pistol is any handgun that doesn’t have a revolving cylinder. 

In addition to gun categories, all firearms provide certain “action” features. As we comb through various definitions regarding clips vs magazines, keep a lookout for terms such as “pump-action,” “bolt-action,” or “semi-automatic.” Amongst many other functions, these actions dictate how firearms are loaded with cartridges and dispense empty cartridges or cases. 

Clips and magazines store ammunition differently

Clips and magazines are used to store cartridges and load ammunition rounds into firearms. Cartridges are preassembled to contain an individual bullet and propellant powder. The cartridge base contains a primer that allows the internal powder to react and propel the bullet forward. 

The cartridge consists of a metal casing where, once the bullet is ejected, an empty case is left behind. Every time a gun is fired, an empty cartridge is either automatically dispensed or manually extracted before it’s capable of reloading. But where does the next round come from once the case is ejected? This is where magazines and clips come into play. 

A magazine essentially functions as an ammunition storage container and a feeding device for firearms. Most guns use a magazine to provide ammo, but not all guns require the use of clips. A clip also stores cartridges and feeds ammunition into a firearm, except that a clip more or less holds cartridges together through a metal strip. We can also use clips to load magazines themselves, which means that depending on your gun model, you’d use clips and magazines for separate purposes. 

What is a clip?

The word clip is a noun defined as a metal bracket that holds cartridges and inserted into a magazine or gun chamber. There are three types of ammunition clips, which are moon clips, en bloc clips, and stripper clips. There are a few colloquial exceptions to the definition of “clip” within the gun community. For example, a clip inserts cartridges into the magazine of an M1 Garand, but instead of pulling the clip out, it’s left inside the magazine. 

Another exception is the term “banana clip,” which is a curved magazine that takes the shape of a banana. The banana clip is not an actual clip, though. It’s a large-capacity magazine (LCMs) that’s capable of holding 30 or more rounds but typically found with a maximum of 10. You’re more likely to hear the phrase banana clip in reference rifles like an AK-47, a post-WWII rifle.

Finally, there’s a third way that we can misunderstand the word clip in regards to guns: weapon holsters. People who own handguns may carry their firearm through a “belt clip,” which fastens a gun to a belt. Just remember: a belt gun clip is nowhere near similar to an ammunition clip.

Stripper clips

Stripper clips are fairly self-explanatory, as they consist of a strip of metal with side slits that hold 5-10 rimmed cartridges in place. Stripper clips (also called a charger clip) are often used for rifles and semi-automatic pistols. We use the term “stripper clip” because when the clip is placed into a bolt or receiver, the clip is stripped of its ammo one-by-one. 

Stripper clips are most useful for rifles that have a specific channel built into them. In this case, the stripper clip is placed into a “stripper clip notch,” where it can place ammunition rounds into an external or fixed magazine. Once cartridges are inserted into the rifle’s internal magazine, the clip is removed, and the bolt is closed. 

Certain detachable magazines are capable of reloading via stripper clips, such as a magazine for an M14 or M16 rifle, for example. There are also non-metal stripper clips, such as the speed strips used to load revolvers. In this case, speed strips are sometimes made out of a flexible, hard rubber material and carry 5-6 rounds. 

Example gun models for stripper clips:

  • Mauser C96, semi-automatic pistol
  • Mosin-Nagant, bolt-action rifle 
  • SKS, semi-automatic carbine

En bloc clips

En bloc clips are box-like clips that are inserted into the bottom of firearms and must be extracted from the gun if they cannot auto-eject. There are certain guns designed for en bloc clips, such as the M1 Garand rifle. The M1 Garand is a semi-automatic rifle, and its en bloc clip holds eight rounds of ammunition. This particular firearm is an example of a gun that ejects its en bloc clip after firing the last round. 

Example gun models for en bloc clips:

  • Mondragón M1893, straight-pull, bolt-action rifle
  • Mannlicher M1895, straight-pull, bolt-action rifle
  • M1 Garand, semi-automatic rifle

Moon clips

Moon clips are circular, metal clips that contain cutouts to hold rimless rounds for a gun cylinder. Whole or full moon clips contain six cutouts while the semi-circle or half-moon clips contain three cutouts. 

People who use revolvers can benefit from moon clips because, while revolvers use rimmed cartridges, moon clips allow revolvers to shoot rimless cartridges instead. Also similar to moon clip designs are circular speedloaders, which are either circular latches or rubber rings used to load chambers with the twist of a knob. 

Example gun models for moon clips:

  • Ruger SP101, double-action revolver
  • Smith & Wesson Model 610, double-action revolver

What is a magazine?

The word magazine is a noun defined as a cartridge receptacle containing a spring and a follower for a gun. The gun’s cartridges contain bullets, and the magazine’s spring and follower are what feeds the cartridges into the breech. 

Magazines are sometimes built into guns (e.g., most bolt-action rifles), but they’re often removable and placed externally or internally. Magazines are necessary for specific gun models to position cartridges so they can be loaded into a barrel chamber. 

There are seven types of magazines, but the most common types are tubular and box magazines. The full list of magazine types include: 

  • Tubular magazine
  • Box magazine
  • Rotary magazine
  • Drum magazine
  • Pan magazine
  • Helical magazine
  • NATO magazine

Tubular magazines

Gun owners use tubular magazines with most shotguns and lever-action rifles to store several rounds at a time. Many shotguns and rifles are “pump-action,” which means the guns have a sliding mechanism. The pump-action sliding feature allows users to extract and eject empty cartridge cases, reset the hammer or action (the mechanism that propels the bullet from the gun), and reload. 

Example gun models for tubular magazines:

  • Remington model 870, pump-action shotgun 
  • Marlin model XT-22TR/XT-22M, bolt-action rifle

“Bolt-action” firearms are similar to pump-action, but instead of using a sliding mechanism, users must extract shells by retracting a “bolt handle” before firing again. Bolt-action rifles often include internal box magazines, which means it’s located inside the gun, but external or detachable box magazines are also common. 

Box magazines

If you haven’t guessed already, box magazines are box-shaped and positioned to feed ammo into the chamber of a firearm. Internal or detachable box magazines are inserted into the chamber, while some gun models already contain a fixed magazine that feeds into the chamber itself. And unlike tubular magazines, box magazines sit on top of a follower and above the spring, not below. 

Example gun models for box magazines:

  • 308 Winchester, semi-automatic rifle
  • Glock 17M, semi-automatic pistol
  • Ruger AR-556, semi-automatic rifle

Box magazines work for common types of rifles and semi-automatic pistols, and they are capable of holding more ammo than a tubular magazine. Along with drum magazines, detachable box magazines are used for semi-automatic and automatic firearms to load cartridges at a much higher capacity and rate. 

The round capacity of a box magazine varies by gun model and gun regulations, although certain magazines are capable of storing over 100 rounds at a time. Semi-automatic firearms auto-eject spent shells with the energy used to propel the bullet from its case. The same mechanical energy is used to recock and reload, which allows users to shoot multiple rounds quickly and, depending on the model, with less recoil. 

Box magazines: semi-automatic vs assault rifles

A common misconception about semi-automatics is that they are all “assault rifles,” but this is not technically true. To be fair, there are characteristics of an assault rifle that many semi-automatic rifles share. For example, certain semi-automatic rifles and assault rifles use high-capacity, detachable box magazines, which can give them a similar appearance. 

We can also identify an assault rifle by its power capacity and shooting range (300 meters or more), but it’s not uncommon for semi-automatics to shoot at similar distances. The primary difference is that an assault rifle must have the ability to fire automatically, which means that it can rapid-fire while holding down the trigger. 

While they are still capable of dispensing bullets quickly, semi-automatic firearms only fire once for every time the trigger is pulled. Assault rifles are capable of “selective fire,” which means it can switch between operating as semi-automatic to fully automatic. Semi-automatic firearms should not have this capacity (not legally, anyway).

Assault rifles, like the AK-47, emerged to replace submachine guns, bolt-action rifles, and semi-automatic rifles during and after World War II. And so, it goes without saying that assault rifles are relatively uncommon outside of the military or police force in comparison to semi-automatics. 

Why do we use the words magazine and clip?

The term magazine entered the English Language around the late 16th century to mean “storehouse” or “store.” The word magazine originated from the Arabic term maḵzin or maḵzan, which was subsequently borrowed by Italian and French languages. It wasn’t until the mid 18th century when people began using the word magazine to define a “store” for military weaponry. 

The latter use of magazine gave way to the contemporary sense of today: a container that stores and feeds cartridges into a gun’s breech. The first guns to coin and use the term magazine utilized tubular magazines between 1779 and 1865. The earliest notion of “box magazine” was used by James Paris Lee, who invented the first modern box magazine in 1879. 

Lee’s internal magazine design was integrated into the Mannlicher M1886 in 1886, which used an en bloc clip to load ammunition. It’s not clear when the term clip is first used in regards to ammo since the term was already called a “charger” by the British military. However, the phrase “shot charger” is noted in American newspapers as early as 1840. 

We use the noun clip and its verb form “clips” to describe common items like hair ties or money folds, or when we need to fasten several objects together. So, it’s no surprise that the term clip also defines the metal container holding cartridges for a gun. The word clip stems from the Old English verb clyppan, which originated from West Germanic dialects. The noun form of clip entered the English Language around the 15th century. 

How to use magazine vs clip in a sentence?

Learning how to write the nouns clip or magazine is simple once you have the terminology down. Here are a few example sentences that use the terms magazine and clip within the correct context.

Example sentences for magazine

“He loaded the rifle’s four-round magazine and waited for the intruder to arrive.” 
“We saw her place a loaded magazine into the Glock.” 
“The Springfield 1911 model comes with three nine-round magazines.” 

Example sentences for clip

“The police found a 30-round clip stowed away in the dresser.”
“If I can’t find the clip, how am I supposed to fire the next round?” 
“The trailer patio is littered with empty Dorito bags, ammo boxes, clips, and cases.” 

Test Yourself!

Think you’re ready to write about guns? See how well you understand the difference between magazine vs clip with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. A _________ functions an ammunition storage container and a feeding device.
    a. Clip
    b. Magazine
    c. Banana clip
    d. B and C
  2. A _________ consists of a metal casing that’s ejected from the gun after firing. 
    a. Stripper clip
    b. Cartridge
    c. En bloc clip
    d. Moon clip
  3. A _________ holds cartridges together through a metal strip. 
    a. Stripper clip
    b. En bloc clip
    c. Moon clip
    d. All of the above 
  4. True or false: all box magazines are large-capacity magazines.
    a. True
    b. False
  5. Which type of gun does not use fixed or detachable magazines?
    a. M1 Garand, semi-automatic rifle
    b. Remington model 870, pump-action shotgun 
    c. Ruger SP101, double-action revolver
    d. Glock 17M, semi-automatic pistol


  1. D
  2. B
  3. D
  4. B
  5. C


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