Moral vs. Morale: Feeling Good About the Difference

Updated November 16, 2021
Moral - Senior Man Walking With Walker and His Son vs Morale - Football Fans Leading Crowd in Cheer
    Moral - Senior Man Walking With Walker and His Son vs Morale - Football Fans Leading Crowd in Cheer
    Moral: kampee patisena / Moment / Getty Images / Morale: Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

Moral and morale don't share the same spelling, pronunciation, etymology, or definition. So why do people mix them up so often? The source of this common error lies in their traditional usage, as well as their modern parts of speech.

How Moral and Morale Differ

The words moral and morale look similar enough to be commonly confused. However, they're not used or pronounced in the same way.

moralMOR-ulla principle of right and wrong
moralemor-ALa person or group's attitude

If you're a moral person, you follow a value system that determines right from wrong. When you're talking about a company's morale, you're discussing how the people in that company feel at a given time.

Similar Origins, Different Etymologies

Both moral and morale come from the same Latin root (moralis — "proper social behavior"). But why are they spelled and pronounced differently? In English, morale is spelled with an -e to reflect the French pronunciation of moral. Morale expresses the French sentiment of esprit de corps, which reflects the shared pride of soldiers fighting for a common good. Today, morale can describe an attitude of camaraderie in any group, as well as someone's personal positive (or negative) feelings of confidence.


Meaning of Moral: An Ethical Standard or Lesson

When you use the word moral, you're talking about knowing the difference between right and wrong. A person may be guided by a personal moral code, or they may operate from an understanding of a shared set of social morals. You can use moral as an adjective (a moral person) or as a noun (the moral of the story).

How to Use Moral as an Adjective

Typically, you'll see the adjective form of moral describing a person who acts in an honorable way or the code by which they live their life. For example:

  • Everyone follows a certain moral code based on their values.
  • Jeremy is a moral man who always follows his heart.
  • She showed moral strength when she argued her position.
  • If we all follow high moral standards, everyone will feel respected.
  • Mike leads a moral life by helping others.

Usage of Moral in Common Expressions

You may also see moral in common expressions or idioms, including:

  • a moral obligation (having an ethical responsibility)
  • being a moral paragon (modeling high moral behavior)
  • claiming or taking the moral high ground (a position of high ethics or values)
  • following a moral compass (one's internal sense of right and wrong)
  • having moral fiber (being able to stand up for one's beliefs)
  • providing moral support (giving someone emotional support)

How to Use Moral as a Plural Noun

When used as a plural noun, morals has the same value-based connotation as its adjective usage. In this form, it is usually synonymous with the noun morality. For example:

  • Melissa's morals kept her from joining in with her friends.
  • My community shares a strict set of morals.
  • Mr. Kiefer's new book reflects the old-fashioned morals of his time.
  • We pass down our morals when we correct our children's behavior.
  • Older people often say that younger generations have no morals.

How to Use Moral as a Singular Noun

Moral as a singular noun means "lesson or principle." You'll commonly see this usage in the phrase "the moral of the story," especially when discussing Aesop's Fables. For example:

  • The moral of "The Hare and the Tortoise" is that the slow and steady person is most likely to succeed.
  • What's the moral of the tale about the shoemaker and his wife?
  • The moral of the story is to always ask for help when you need it.
  • Many children's books include a moral at the end.
  • When you finish reading, please summarize the moral of the story.

Meaning of Morale: The Attitude of a Person or Group

Morale only has one usage. It's a noun that belongs to a person or group and is typically expressed in degrees ("high morale" or "low morale"). For example:

  • Office morale is low after the company laid off an entire department.
  • Having a class party can raise student morale after a stressful testing period.
  • Losing three games in a row was bad for team morale.
  • How was troop morale after deployment?
  • Morale was sky-high in our town after the local team won the championship.

A Trick to Tell the Difference Between Morale and Moral

Understanding their definitions and uses is helpful, but how do you actually pick the right word when you're writing? Think about the word morality. It sounds like morale, but there's no -e at the end, just like the word moral. When you're discussing morality, use moral.

Raise Reader Morale With Proper Word Choice

It can feel embarrassing to make a simple mistake like mixing up moral and morale. But understanding the difference between these words can not only improve your writing, it can also provide you with a better understanding of morality in general. Learn about the nuanced differences between morals, ethics and values with a straightforward set of examples. Then discover the difference between amoral and immoral.