Looking at the free definitions online, and not including too much history, it seems to me that at one point the Navy was not directly associated as ”military”. Or rather, that the Navy included not only military ships, but all ships of a nation.

Today the terms at top seem synonymous. Only perhaps that the word military carries more weight, and can be used for either a more powerful sentiment, or more pejorative, depending on the context.

Likewise ”armed forces”, and even more so ”armed services” seem to be softer representations of otherwise exactly the same thing.

(..not unlike ”dead” vs. ”deceased”? [Sorry, couldn't resist.])

Is there any technical difference, or situations today, where these are NOT interchangeable?

  • The Navy never has been all the ships in a nation. Private fishing smacks and trade vessels have always been excluded. And I can't think of a time when the Navy has not been considered military. Nations without a true navy might commandeer private ships to use at need.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 8 '14 at 23:50

According to Wikipedia, the difference between Armed Forces and 'military' is the former's inclusion in the former definition of the paramilitary forces:

  • The Armed Forces of a country are its government-sponsored defence, fighting forces, and organizations. They exist to further the foreign and domestic policies of their governing body and to defend that body and the nation it represents from external and internal aggressors.

  • In broad usage, the terms "armed forces" and "military" are often treated synonymously, although in technical usage, a distinction is sometimes made, in which a country's armed forces may include both its military and other paramilitary forces. Armed force is then the use of armed forces to achieve political objectives.

    • Under the Law of Armed Conflict, a state may incorporate a paramilitary organisation or armed agency (such as a national police or a private volunteer militia) into its armed forces. The other parties to a conflict have to be notified thereof.



In terms of the United States, there is a distinction, at least in my understanding as a former US Marine.

The United States Armed Forces are the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

The Unites States Senate Committee on Armed Services encompasses Legislative oversight of the Department of Defense (which oversees most of the US Armed Forces), but other areas of military interest or national security.

Therefore, I would suggest that, in terms of moving from more general to more specific, the order of the three phrases would be:

  1. Armed Services (all organizations dealing with military interests or national security)
  2. Military (all organizations dealing with military interests)
  3. Armed Forces (the five organizations: Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard)

So, I was a US Marine, part of the Department of the Navy, and therefore was a member of the Armed Forces. As a member of the Armed Forces, I was part of the US military. As a member of the US military, I was also a member of the Armed Services.

From the other direction, a TSA agent could be considered part of the Armed Services of the US, but is not military, and is certainly not a member of the Armed Forces.

Cross-over occurs with the Coast Guard, which is part of the Armed Forces, but not part of the Department of Defense (they are under the Department of Homeland Security, which also oversees TSA).

The word "military" probably gets misused the most, since it also can be an adjective, as in "military action," "military assets," "military interests," and so on. In those usages, it is very generic, so it's not surprising that "military" as a noun also gets used more generically than perhaps it should.

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