Ordinance or Ordnance? That ‘I’ Does Make a Difference!

Every time there’s a story about someone digging up a possible cannonball or other war “souvenir,” there’s a battle over ordinance or ordnance.

So how do you know whether to choose ordinance or ordnance?

You probably have heard about one of the two a good bit since the pandemic began back in March. But it’s that other one that you hear about less often.

I suspect it’s the fact that you don’t hear one of them regularly that leads to the confusion.


You probably guessed this one turns out to be the more common of the two. In fact, you’ll find two definitions that are closely related. (You’d also find others, but those are less commonly-used.)

Merriam-Webster defines ordinance as a noun meaning an “authoritative decree or direction” or a “law set forth by a governmental authority,” specifically “a municipal regulation.” 

Many of us live in areas where mayors or other local officials passed an ordinance or two during the pandemic. In some cases, the ordinance requires everyone to wear a face covering to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In others, you might find an ordinance requiring some businesses to temporarily close. You may even hear of an ordinance that limits the number of people who can gather.

It would be nice if people would do on their own what ordinances require. But that would require the general populace to behave responsibly and I’m afraid that’s too tall an order.


Ordnance, which does not include that little I, carries a very different meaning. Again, we go to our friends at Merriam-Webster. Here’s what they say about this one: “military supplies including weapons, ammunition, combat vehicles, and maintenance tools and equipment.”

Because Charleston, my home base, is such an old city, construction crews stumble upon ordnance from time to time. In some cases, it dates back to the Civil War. Because there is always the chance such antique ammunition could actually explode, a bomb squad is called in. Picture the guy in the image above. Guys like him must determine the relative danger and how best to dispose of whatever gets dug up.

Ordinance or Ordnance?

The first means a set of rules and regulations. The other refers to ammunition or weapons. You could remember the I in ordinance as standing for “instruction.”

A more humorous way to remember the difference, however, might be to remember the classic film A Christmas Story. Remember little Ralphie’s mother warning that the BB gun Ralphie wanted could “shoot his eye out?” Associate the weaponry and ammunition with “shooting out the I” and that might help you remember what ordnance means!

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.