This post looks at the differences between medal, meddle, metal, and mettle with Grammar Rules from the Writer’s Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Let’s kick off 2022 with a combination of words that can trip up anyone if they’re not paying attention: medal, meddle, metal, and mettle. In this grouping we have a pair of homophones and some slant rhymes to face that also have related, though definitely not the same, meanings.

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So let’s look at the differences between medal, meddle, metal, and mettle and when to use each.

Medal vs. Meddle vs. Metal vs. Mettle

Medal is usually used as a noun to indicate an object that usually is made with metal to commemorate an event or achievement. It can also be used as a verb to refer to the act of someone receiving a medal through achievement, such as medaling in an Olympic event.

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Meddle is a verb that means to intrude or interest oneself in something that is not their business. One of the more popular pop culture uses of this verb is in the Scooby-Doo cartoons in which the protagonists are accused of being “meddling kids.”

Metal is a noun that refers to a substance that conducts electricity and heat that includes (but is definitely not limited to) elements like silver, gold, and iron and alloys like brass, steel, and bronze. Also can refer to glass in its molten state.

Meanwhile, mettle can be used as a noun or adjective to refer to someone or something with staying power or stamina and/or a strong temperament.

Make sense?

Here are a couple examples of medal, meddle, metal, and mettle:

Correct: He received the medal for winning the mile run.
Incorrect: He received the meddle for winning the mile run.
Incorrect: He received the metal for winning the mile run.
Incorrect: He received the mettle for winning the mile run.

Correct: I know I shouldn’t meddle, but what are you doing with that body?
Incorrect: I know I shouldn’t medal, but what are you doing with that body?
Incorrect: I know I shouldn’t metal, but what are you doing with that body?
Incorrect: I know I shouldn’t mettle, but what are you doing with that body?

Correct: She wants a post made of metal, not plastic.
Incorrect: She wants a post made of medal, not plastic.
Incorrect: She wants a post made of meddle, not plastic.
Incorrect: She wants a post made of mettle, not plastic.

Correct: Your mettle was revealed when you finished writing that novel.
Incorrect: Your medal was revealed when you finished writing that novel.
Incorrect: Your meddle was revealed when you finished writing that novel.
Incorrect: Your metal was revealed when you finished writing that novel.

So what tricks are available to keep these terms straight in our heads? Feel free to share some suggestions in the comments below. After all, medals can be made with metal, and even those meddling kids mentioned earlier showed their mettle by solving spooky mysteries.

Maybe first we can look at the suffixes. Those words with an -al tend to refer to objects, while the two with -le refer to qualities of peop”le.” So then, a medal can be made with metal, while those who meddle are often busybodies and those with mettle often busy themselves with their stamina and/or fortitude.

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No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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