Ordinance - ordnance - ordonnance

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These three words look very similar, and the spell-checker will allow you to confuse them. So it is up to you to make sure you know the right one.

  • Ordinance means a kind of order or regulation; "An authoritative direction, decree, or command" (OED, 2004)
  • Ordnance is an old word for what is now called 'artillery' - i.e. the 'great guns' of an army. In current military use, its principal meaning is as a non-count noun for 'ammunition', 'explosive material'.
    • British civilians probably know 'ordnance' best in Ordnance Survey - the name for the series of official maps of the United Kingdom which were originally drawn up by the artillery to assist with the defence of the country. Ordnance Survey maps, in a variety of scales, are generally regarded as the best maps available here.
      • Don't refer to 'an ordnance': 'a piece [or item] of ordnance' is a better way of referring to a singular.
  • The rather rarer word ordonnance, the French spelling of the same root. Apart from its use by historians and others for older French phenomena (it is used for ordinances of the French government, and for companies of soldiers), it now means "[s]ystematic arrangement, esp[ecially] of literary material, architectural parts or features, or the details of any work of art; a plan or method of literary or artistic composition" (OED 2004).