“Chord” is the correct word for describing instruments or musical notes. For all non-musical strings, use the word “cord.”
What is the difference between cord and chord?
The confusion between cord and chord is another classic example of homophones: words that share an identical pronunciation or spelling but have very different meanings:
- The word chord references musicians, singing, or musical notes in any capacity.
- The word cord references any long flexible string, cable, or rope, whether it’s made of fabric or an anatomical body part.
Reconciling the confusing etymology of chord and cord
Musical “chord” stems from Middle English cord, where English speakers used “cord” as a shortened form of the verb “accord” (meaning ‘in agreement’). Thus, the verb accord, along with its alteration, originates from Latin by way of Old French acorde, acorder (“to reconcile, be one of mind”).
Middle English speakers would have stuck with the shortened spelling of “cord,” but Middle English cord already had an original definition: string. Yes, string. Integrating the -h- was supposed to be a 16th-century solution to avoid confusing the two words.
However, string “cord” entered Middle English vocabularies from Latin chorda via Greek khordē or “catgut,” which originally meant ‘the string of a musical instrument’ — so, that plan backfired.
At the end of the day, the important lesson to remember is that “chord” and “cord” have distinct meanings now. Don’t think too hard about what “catgut” was in Ancient Greece or how we now use it to mean “a tough cord made usually from sheep intestines.” Just use “chord” for music and “cord” for strings.
What is the definition of cord?
The noun cord references a long string, rope, or cable made from several twisted strands. For example,
- “The chair is tied to the truck with a cord.”
- “We made a larger rope with three tiny cords.”
- “She held a length of red cord between two hands.”
In some cases, the noun specifically references insulated electric wires used to plug into electric devices or sources. For example,
- “Sports fans are ready to cut the cord on cable providers.”
As a count noun, cord also references the length of rope (fabric or wired) or an anatomical structure resembling a cord. For example,
- “Have you seen the power cord anywhere?”
- “Let’s tie the chair down with a cord.”
- “Scientists are cloning stem cells from umbilical cords.”
- “Our doctor focuses on patients with spinal cord injuries.”
Less common uses of cord include:
- A type of ribbed fabric (such as corduroy or “cords”).
- A rope used for hanging (during an execution).
- A unit of quantity for cut fuelwood (equal to 128 cubic feet).
- An influence or emotional binding force.
Bungee cord, cable, guy, halyard, lace, lacing, lanyard, line, rope, string, whipcord, wire.
Cord as a verb
The word cord also occurs as a verb when it means ‘to fasten, bind, or furnish with a cord’ or ‘to pile wood into cords.’ For example,
- “You’ll need to cord the bags down first.”
- “We have a corded stack of wood outside.”
- “He spent the day cording down shipments of cookies.”
Band, bind, cinch, intertwine, knot, rope, strap, thread, tie, truss, wire.
What is the definition of chord?
The noun chord primarily references three or more musical notes played together in harmony, but it may also mean “an emotional feeling or response” (‘to strike a chord’). For example,
- “Actors will enter the stage after the opening chords.”
- “The song is filled with bold chords and daunting harmonies.”
- “If the major chord makes you sad, the minor chord will break your heart.”
- “His voice really struck a chord with me, you know?”
Less common definitions of the noun chord include:
- (Mathematics) A line segment that joins two points of a curve.
- (Aeronautics) A straight line connecting the leading and trailing edges of an airfoil/wing; measured in the direction of the normal airflow.
- (Engineering) The two principal members of a truss.
- Music, tone, note.
- Emotion, feeling, impression, passion, sense, sentiment.
Cord as a verb
The verb form of chord means “to play, sing, or arrange notes in chords” or “to harmonize” (as in ‘to agree on every level’).
- “From afar, the trumpet corded like a murmur.”
- “Her signature jazz cording spoke volumes on the illusion of control.”
- “We corded well enough.”
Accord, agree, answer, check, cohere, fit, harmonize, jibe, rhyme, square.
Published examples of cord
- “Upstairs, a makeshift second kitchen was being powered by a single extension cord, including its range.” — Philadelphia Magazine
- “The cable company, like its peers, has been losing customers as consumers cut the cord in favor of streaming services such as Netflix Inc..” — The Wall Street Journal
- “Unlike other people who can hop into a car, though, she has ruptured discs that could slice her spinal cord if she hits a pothole or her wheelchair bumps floor molding.” — AP News
Published examples of chord
- “And for its ability to strike that particular chord, Legally Blonde is loved by people who don’t necessarily look like Reese or behave like Elle.” — Vogue
- “There’s dissonance in the A/B/C chord progression, too, Santiago increasing the sense of tension by adding a G to the A chord and a B to the C.” — Guitar.com
- “The chords and notes used in 2016’s biggest hits aren’t unique; they’re the same exact ones we’ve been hearing since the invention of modern music around 1750.” — Vox
Additional reading for cord vs. chord
Speaking of “catgut,” if you’re looking for more animal-inspired grammar lessons, check out similar content by The Word Counter, such as:
- Bear vs. bare?
- Bunny vs. rabbit?
- Cat’s in the cradle: What does it mean?
- Flys or flies?
- Possum vs. opossum?
Test how well you understand the difference between chord and cord with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false: Cord and chord both derive from the word accord.
- The noun cord can reference a _________________.
a. Chord progression
b. Slender length of flexible material
c. Musical instrument string
d. Classical music
- The shortened form of ‘accord’ changed from __________ to __________ in the 16th century.
a. Cord, chord
b. Chorde, chord
c. Chord, cord
d. Corde, chorde
- The noun chord does not reference ______________.
a. A thick string
b. The edge of a wing
c. A line connecting the ends of an arc
d. All of the above
- Which of the following is not synonymous with the word chord?
- “Accord.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Catgut.”The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
- “Cord.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021.
- “Cord.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Cord.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
- “Chord.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021.
- “Chord.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- Har, J. “Nurses, nonprofits, others take vaccine to homebound people.” AP News, apnews.com, 13 May 2021.
- Khan, A. “Elle Woods Has Shaped Fashion for 20 Years.” Vogue, vogue.com, 13 Jul 2021.
- McKinney, K. “The music theory principle that unifies 2016’s radio hits.” Vox, vox.com, 26 Dec 2016.
- Rizzo, L. “Comcast’s Profit Soars Amid Broadband, Wireless Growth.” The Wall Street Journal, wsj.com, 6 Aug 2021.
- Smith, S. “Philly Houses Are Selling Faster — and for More Money — Than Ever. How Long Can That Last?” Philadelphia Magazine, phillymag.com, 31 Jul 2021.
- Walker, G. “Pixies’ 20 Greatest Guitar Moments, Ranked.” Guitar.com, BandLab Technologies, 21 Jul 2021.