What is the basic difference between "made of" and "made from." Both expressions are used in English. For instance, "This chair is made of wood," and "Cream is made from milk." Though the question is quite simple, I often confuse the two expressions. How do we differentiate them and what is the rule or logic behind their use?
I've heard a radio program on this topic.
Made of is used when the material the subject consists of doesn't change during the process of making the subject. As in the example by Armen elsewhere on this page:
Chairs are made of wood.
Here, wood is still wood. It doesn't transform into something else.
On the other hand, made from is used when the material changed its nature. Again, another Armen example:
Paper is made from wood.
Now, wood disappeared — it was transformed into paper.
Some more examples:
- The house is made of bricks. [They are still bricks.]
- Wine is made from grapes. [Grapes turn into wine.]
‘Made from’ is often used to describe manufacturing processes . . . ‘Made of’ emphasises the inherent material or qualities of something, and has a meaning similar to ‘composed of’.
‘Cambridge Grammar of English’ by Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy
In the context you are speaking of, the meanings are identical. Its more of an idiosyncrasy. My grandmother would say "its made of wood" and I would say "its made from wood". I would prefer to use the more common expression. It would seem more foreign to say the former.
The best answer is that if you can't reverse the thing that is made, you have to use made from, but if you can reverse it, it's better to use made of.
For example, "the table is made of wood" as the wood is still seen at its nature, but "the cheese is made from milk" because cheese is solid and milk is liquid and you can't reverse it.