Calvary vs. cavalry

In the Biblical New Testament, Calvary is the hill where Jesus was crucified. In modern usage, the word’s other definitions are (1) an artistic representation of Christ’s crucifixion, and (2) an ordeal involving great suffering. Cavalry is completely different. It refers to (1) the part of an army that fights on horseback, and (2) a highly mobile modern army unit. Because the only thing separating these two nouns is the placement of the l, they are easily confused.

Calvary is a proper noun (thus capitalized) when it denotes the hill or a work of art. When it denotes a difficult ordeal, it is a common noun and does not need to be capitalized. Ignore what your spell check says.


The use of calvary in place of cavalry is common—for example:

Wiseman was gone from the homestead after joining the Nebraska Calvary of the U.S. Army to fight Indians in Dakota Territory. [Yankton Daily Press]

Dr. Rival discovers an aortic tear and calls in the calvary. []

The reverse error is rare, mainly because the word calvary is rare.

These writers spell the words correctly: 

Nieve couldn’t imagine the calvary he was about to go through. [Cycling News]

The last time the British Army used horses in a cavalry charge was in the Second World War. [The Sun]

Within the pillar is a treasury in which is kept what is claimed to be the cloth with which a woman named Veronica wiped the face of Jesus on His way to Calvary. [The Record]

If you want to see the military do what it does best, then ride out on a mission with an armored cavalry squadron. [National Review Online]

5 thoughts on “Calvary vs. cavalry”

  1. It might be worth mentioning Calgary, a place in Canada where the Olympics were once held. This also serves as a mnemonic for those who get these Calvary and cavalry confused; the two place names differ only in swapping a ‘g’ and a ‘v’, while the thing involving horses has its consonants in the same order as the French for horse, ‘cheval’.

    • I have heard people in congregational singing at church, who substitute Calgary for Calvary!

      By the way, I LOVE Calgary, Alberta!

  2. I’m watching “Pawn Stars”, which is sometimes interesting and sometimes comical. Rick has been made to look like a genius, because he always seems to know what everything is and all about the uses and/or history behind it. I’m sure he HAS learned a lot of things along the way. However, I know, darned well, that they research many the items that are featured, BEFORE they record Rick giving historical background. In this one I’m watching, now, someone brought in an item from WWI, which had to do with a specific cavalry unit. Rick start talking about how the cavalry didn’t work very well, in WWI, for various reasons, and how that was, essentially, the end of the cavalry. The only problem is that he said “calvary”, ever single time! I even rewound it and listened, over again, to make sure I was hearing him correctly.

    Another thing he said, recently, is “They say a picture says a thousand words”. Not even our idioms are safe! I’m kind of glad I’m getting old! I hate to think what the language is going to have deteriorated to, twenty years from now!

  3. I have been listening to the audiobook of “Killing Lincoln” narrated by Bill O’Reilly and he talks a lot about the cavalry in the civil war, but he pronounces it calvary every time. It jars my ear every time he says it! I don’t have a printed copy of the book, so I don’t know how the word is spelt in the text. I hope he at least got that right…


Leave a Comment