As far as I know, a cable and a cord are both constructed from wires and some kind of housing, and the words are used interchangeably by most people (in my experience). Are they interchangeable, do either have more specific connotations that the other does not, and is there consensus?

This post on reddit suggests they're similar, and includes links to definitions that suggest a cable is bigger / stronger etc.

  • A cord is always flexible and intended to be used where flexibility is needed. Cords are not considered a wiring method under NEC. "Flexible cords. The first thing you need to understand about flexible cords is that the NEC doesn't consider them “a wiring method.” Article 400 applies to the cords and cables in Table 400.4, but it doesn't apply to the various types of cables in Chapter 3, such as NM, AC, or MC cable." linky So to anyone dealing with code requirements, cords and cables are practically mutually exclusive.
    – Phil Sweet
    May 15 '16 at 1:50
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    I was glad to see that the English SE had some info on this. I expested to find an amswer here, and I found a good one. However, the question is closed, which makes no sense to me. The reason makes no sense either, though admittedly I don't ask or answer much here, I mostly lurk. Dec 18 '17 at 12:49
  • What is puzzling about these two words is that, by their standard definitions, one would expect them to be interchangeable, and yet, treating them as interchangeable would result in rather unidiomatic English. It is not unreasonable to wonder whether there is an explanation of that.
    – jsw29
    Nov 28 '20 at 22:59

Both terms are non-specific and the two overlap quite a bit.

A braided steel cable (with no insulation) is used to pull cable cars up hills in San Francisco, while a braided chord (with no wires) is used to pull down the window shade next to me in this room.

One definition of cable is that it consists of multiple strands. By this definition a single strand of drawn or extruded wire is not a "cable", but if you twist or braid together two or more strands (with or without insulation) then you have a "cable". Some would even extend this definition to cover non-metallic strings/threads -- a single strand is not a "cable" but multiple strands together creates one.

The standard electrician's definition is that a single wire is not a "cable", but multiple wires, separately insulated and somehow bound together does comprise a "cable".

Cord is less well defined than cable, as the word is not used in a technical sense very much (except in medicine). But basically it means (in the general sense of this answer) multiple strands twisted or braided together.

With regard to electrical cables vs cords, the tendency is to use "cord" for a collection of insulated wires intended to be handled frequently (as a lamp cord or the cord for your earphones), and to use "cable" for a relatively fixed connection (as the wires in your walls or the cable connecting your TV to "cable").

But it's not writ in stone.


In forty years working in IT when referring to hardware we always used the word cable when referring to something that carried data from one device to another: ethernet cables, printer cables, monitor cables, never a cord. The connection that supplied power was a power cord, never a cable.
But that was in the context of people who worked with hardware. Outside of that you hear (or heard) such things as power cable and telephone cord.


A wire is its own object, while a cable consists of 2 or more wires (or some other materials) that are wrapped in some sort of coating.

For example, your laptop charger cord contains conductive metallic wires inside it. A wire hanger has no protective coating outside of the wire.

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