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After looking up examples and doing some research in dictionaries, the difference doesn't seem to be the material, function or thickness.

In particular I am interested in the usage of the word cable for cable driven robots. They exist in various sizes and materials. Typically the "cables"/"ropes" are made of metal or synthetic fibres. Could the "cables" be called "ropes" in this case?

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The Oxford Dictionary Online defines cable in various ways but the most fundamental is

A thick rope of wire or hemp used for construction, mooring ships, and towing vehicles.

so the main difference is that a "cable" is a particular type of "rope", that is one that is large in diameter and, by another, nautical definition, around 200 yards long. The material from which it is made has no significance, a cable is a long, thick rope.

There are other definitions of "cable" mostly relating to electrical cables of some sort or another but these are derived from early electrical wiring's visual similarity to braided hemp, linen and steel ropes known as "cables" by the original definition.

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Jonas, welcome to English Stackexchange.

I know you said the difference doesn't seem to be material, function or thickness, but it really comes down to material.

Cables are typically composed of metal, wire strands and rope is composed of natural fibres. I say 'typically' composed of as cable can be composed of natural fibres, but this is not typical. Rope can be comprised of metal, but is then referred to as 'wire rope'.

The usage of 'ropes' for your example of cable driven robots would not be suitable.

  • Thanks a lot. What about synthetic fibres? – Jonas Mar 4 '19 at 9:04
  • +1. Cables are typically made of metal and are far less elastic than rope. – TRomano Mar 4 '19 at 9:39
  • Synthetic fibres? Rope... – GoodJuJu Mar 4 '19 at 13:20
  • -1 Material has no significance on whether a rope is described as a "cable" or not. See this discussion of the potential use of hemp fibres in constuction in place of steel wires and this definition from the ODO. See also my answer which presents a more thorough discussion. – BoldBen Mar 4 '19 at 14:39

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