Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

material and materiel - the difference

The Quick Answer
Material is the matter from which a thing is made.
Materiel is the equipment or supplies in military or commercial supply-chain management.

Materiel or Material?

It is not uncommon to see the word material where materiel should have been used. It is also not uncommon for people to think the word materiel is a spelling mistake of material.

A Video Summary

Here is a 2-minute video summarizing the difference between material and materiel.

Materiel

The word materiel means the equipment and supplies in military or commercial supply-chain management. So, a forklift truck (which is equipment used in the supply chain) and a can of petrol (which is one of the supplies) would both be classified as materiel. In other words, materiel is the things a military force or a business needs to do its job.

Examples:
  • I need more men and materiel if I am to defeat the enemy. 
  • The Minister for Defence and the Minister for Defence Materiel announced that the Government will buy a fleet of new vehicles.
  • The fire in our distribution centre has damaged so much materiel, we will be unable to trade for at least six months.

Material

Material means matter, fabric, substance, or cloth. It is the matter from which a thing is made. As an adjective, material denotes that something is physical. (You might have material needs as opposed to physical needs or emotional needs, e.g., "I have material needs. I need a car not a hug."

Examples:
  • Her tablecloths were made of fine material such as silk or linen. 
  • Television is now so desperately hungry for material that they're scraping the top of the barrel. (Gore Vidal)
  • (In the two examples above, material is a noun.)
  • We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl. (Madonna)
  • (Here, material is an adjective.)
  • The quality of American life must keep pace with the quantity of American goods. This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor. (John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963)
  • (Here, materially is an adverb.)
Top Tip

Materiel = Equipment

Let the last e in materiel remind you that it means equipment.