Cattle vs chattel

Photo of author


Cattle and chattel are two words that are close in spelling and pronunciation and are often confused. We will look at the difference between the definitions of cattle and chattel, the etymology for these two words, and some examples of their use in sentences.

Cattle is a plural noun for cows, bulls, steers, yearlings or calves. Cattle are farm animals that are domesticated ruminants and herbivores with cloven hooves and horns that are bred for meat production or dairy production. The Department of Agriculture regulates animal agriculture and the livestock industry. Ranching raises cattle for meat production, the beef cattle spend most of their lives at pasture and are finished at the feedlot. Dairy cattle raised on dairy farms for milk production spend time outside and in barns. Cattle are often shown by exhibitors at a stock show to display animal husbandry. Cattle sales often take place at a livestock auction. The word cattle is derived from the Latin word capitale, which means property.

Chattel is any property except real estate or buildings associated with real estate. However, most people use the word chattel to mean slave or serf. The word chattel is often used figuratively to mean someone who is submissive to another or is trapped into serving another. For instance, if a lender has been given personal property such as family jewelry as collateral from the borrower or debtor, the borrower may feel like chattel because a cherished possession is in another’s control. Until he can pay back his debt, he is under the control of the lender. The word chattel is also derived from the Latin word capitale.


The tightness of animal numbers and the decline of placements in the March Cattle on Feed report could potentially mean that when things return to normal later in the year, cattle prices could be moving into more bullish territory. (Farm Bureau News)

As hundreds of millions of Indians remain locked down to stem the spread of coronavirus, some of their cattle are getting treated to strawberries and broccoli that farmers are struggling to transport and sell in cities amid the three-week lockdown. (Reuters)

The NCAA and its member schools, so often derided for allegedly treating student-athletes as chattel, took care of the ones most affected by this extraordinary crisis. (Sports Illustrated)

Before crossing, he was the chattel of another man, subject to the whims of his master. (The Federalist)