Let's not get too pedantic on the exact difference. What I'll stick with is this:

  • If it is still in the air, falling, it's a meteor.
  • If it has hit the ground, it's a meteorite.

In this case, which of the following is correct?

  1. The meteor fell over there.
  2. The meteorite fell over there.

This sets up a scenario where the object is now a meteorite, but was previously a meteor. The action we give to it, i.e., falling, corresponds to its state as a meteor, but it is a meteorite now; it is no longer a meteor.

If we're talking about an action of something that changes state, do we use the current state, or the state it was in at the time it was performing the action? Could it be that the verb form we pick affects this, i.e., that using "was falling" would cause "meteor" to be the correct choice, as falling in the present tense is something only a meteor can do, and that using "fell" would cause "meteorite" to be the correct choice, as only a meteorite can be done falling, mandating a past tense form?

  • 4
    Pretty much the same issue as Can one “marry one's wife”?. Basically, you say "The meteorite fell over there" because it is a meteorite now, just like you say "I married my wife in 1985" because she is your wife now.
    – alcas
    Jun 27, 2012 at 4:28
  • @alcas, Thanks for the link. It is a rather difficult question to look for duplicates of, but you've found one. It does become easier to think of other cases of the same thing after seeing that.
    – chris
    Jun 27, 2012 at 4:31
  • And technically, if we're getting very picky, it's not a "meteor" at all when it's in the air, but a meteoroid. A meteor is the visual effect of the re-entry burnup, so meteors don't fall, they streak across the sky.
    – Spencer
    Jul 7, 2018 at 22:52

3 Answers 3


"The meteorite fell over there" is correct because you're talking about a thing present-tense thing.

Another example:

  • The man grew up in the countryside.

He's a man now, even though he was a boy when growing up.

However, if you're talking about something in the past-tense, i.e. describing the night it fell, you would use meteor:

  • The sky was dark and the moon was bright as the meteor fell to earth.


  • He used to go fishing when he was a boy growing up in the country.

Meteorite is correct.

Now if someone can explain the origin of the astronomically nonsensical phrase "meteoric rise"…

  • 1
    How is it astronomically nonsensical? In open space, anything that is falling in one frame of reference is at the same time rising in another. At any rate, it has nothing to do with the question at hand.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jun 27, 2012 at 8:48
  • 1
    Well played, sir Jun 27, 2012 at 15:17

A Greek is responsible to give the best explanation on this topic!
First things first, I'm Greek and the word "meteor" & "meteorite" are Greek words!

  • "Meteor" comes from the Greek word "Μετέωρος" and denotes a state! "Μετέωρος" is someone ("Μετέωρο" is something) that is hanging in the air without changing its height relative to a reference surface. It may be either motionless OR not (i.e a pendulum that is hanging - it moves but it does not change its height). It also emphasizes the great possibility for something to start falling into the reference surface. Let's say it could be a "pendulum" that is considered a "meteor" because if we cut the rope it will start falling into a reference surface (for example a table).
  • "Meteorite" , on the other hand, comes from the Greek word "Μετεωρίτης" and denotes something that is falling either it was a "meteor" before or not (i.e it was thrown by someone from outter space towards the earth for example)! Thus, "Μετεωρίτης" is someone or something that is falling into a reference surface (changing its height relative to a given reference surface).

Both a "Meteor" and a "Meteorite" words are meaningless without their reference surface. That is, we say that a "meteorite" for the earth is something that is falling into the earth's surface. The earth is the reference surface. Otherwise it is MEANINGLESS to call something a "meteorite" that is travelling through space.

Thus if we cut the rope that holds the pendulum we can say that instantly the pendulum becomes a "meteorite" FOR THE TABLE. The table removes its ability to be called as "meteor" any more. It is "safe" the is no possibility to start falling again. To get an even better understanding..assume that you could stabilize a ping-pong ball on a needle's edge. That is also considered a "meteor" because there is a great possibility to loose its stability and start falling towards the table (and become a "meteorite" for the table).

  • "Meteoric rise" ("Μετεωρική ανύψωση" in Greek) it means that something moves or being move upwards relative to a reference surface that could possibly be stabilized at some final point so that it can be definitely called a "meteor".
  • Meteorology--I am a meteorologist--is the study of things in the air, from Greek roots meaning, more or less, "amid", and "the atmosphere", plus "ology", the study of. To meteorologists in the weather business, "meteors" are things in the air, such as hydrometeors = forms of precipitation like rain or snow; lithometeors = dust; optical meteor or photometeor = something seen in the air, e.g., a rainbow or a mirage.
    – tautophile
    Jul 7, 2018 at 23:13
  • Definitely correct.. "Μετεωρο-λογία" "Meteoro-logy" "logy" from "λόγος" Occupied/study/talk about meteors (things in the air). It is a generic reference to anything in the air. Meteorite on the other hand "contains" the "action/movement/falling" to the reference surface. Also "air" exists in reference to the earth. It is meaningless for any other planet (cause no other planet has an atmosphere). The atmosphere works as a "closed system" with the earth. A meteorite is something that is out of that system..It is a mass coming towards the earth..In other words if you where about to research..
    – javase
    Jul 7, 2018 at 23:29
  • ..anything beyond earth's atmosphere you're not a meteorologist..;) You are an "Astronomist" :)
    – javase
    Jul 7, 2018 at 23:31
  • Javase, other planets have atmospheres, and there are meteorologists who study the weather and atmospheres of other planets. I've never seen the word "astronomist"--though I know it does exist; the usual word for someone who studies the things in space--the sun, stars, other planets, etc.--is "astronomer".
    – tautophile
    Jul 8, 2018 at 17:09

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