A weekly grammar tip created by Academic Center Peer Writing Tutors.
University of Houston-Victoria
3007 N. Ben Wilson
Victoria, TX 77901
|When to Use Moral, Morals and Morale
by Candice Chovanec Melzow
“Moral,” “morals,” and “morale” are nouns that are often confused, especially in business writing. However, as this issue of Grammatically Correct will explain, it’s quite easy to remember the differences existing among the three words by recalling these simple definitions: “moral” is the message in a story, “morals” are standards of behavior, and “morale” is a level of confidence or goodwill.
The most common mistake with these words is to use the word “moral” or “morals” when the writer intends to use “morale.” Let’s look at some examples:
Incorrect Ex: Miguel wanted to boost his employees’ moral, so he initiated a rewards system for additional time off.
Incorrect Ex: Miguel wanted to boost his employees’ morals, so he initiated a rewards system for additional time off.
Correct Ex: Miguel wanted to boost his employees’ morale, so he initiated a rewards system for additional time off.
In the last example sentence above, the word “morale” is correct because “morale” refers to the level of confidence that exists among people working together in a situation.
The first example sentence is incorrect because “moral,” when used as a noun, refers to a practical lesson that is learned from a story or fable. The second example sentence is incorrect because when used in its plural form, the word “morals” refers to standards of behavior that people are expected to hold. Below are some examples of these two words being used correctly:
Correct Ex: The moral of the story of the “Three Little Pigs” is that hard work often triumphs over laziness.
Correct Ex: Because of Karen’s nontraditional beliefs regarding marriage and childbearing, her family felt that her morals were questionable.
Tip: As a side note, “moral” has a number of additional meanings when it is used as an adjective. Most often it is used when relating to principles of right and wrong: Claudia is a moral person. However, “moral” may also be used to describe the situation of providing someone with emotional support or approval: Although the Smiths couldn’t donate money toward Patty’s medical expenses, they were there to provide moral support when she needed them most.
moral (n) a practical lesson about how to behave, that you learn from a story or from something that happens to you.
morals (n) principles or standards of good behavior
morale (n) the level of confidence and positive feelings a person or group has, especially a group that works together, belongs to the same team, etc.
Definitions adapted from Longman Dictionary of American English.
|Recommended Grammar Website of the Week
by Candice Chovanec Melzow
|Test Your Knowledge
Test your understanding of moral, morals, and morale by choosing the correct word in each of the sentences below.
1. Stephanie hoped to boost her employees’ (moral, morals, morale) by offering several promotions.
2. Due to his mother’s constant criticism, John and his siblings had low (moral, morals, morale).
3. After reading “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” the teacher asked the children to describe the (moral, morals, morale) of the story.
4. Patrick knew that (moral, morals, morale) would decline drastically after the next series of layoffs.
5. Most people choose a partner with (moral, morals, morale) that are similar to their own.
1. Stephanie hoped to boost her employees’ morale by offering several promotions.
2. Due to his mother’s constant criticism, John and his siblings had low morale.
3. After reading “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” the teacher asked the children to describe the moral of the story.
4. Patrick knew that morale would decline drastically after the next series of layoffs.
5. Most people choose a partner with morals that are similar to their own.
Comments about this newsletter should be directed to Summer Leibensperger, email@example.com.