A Moral vs. Amoral vs. Immoral (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use a moral vs. amoral vs. immoral with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including examples of each.
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Often, I'll hear people refer to their moral compass or moral code. And sometimes, I'll hear people discuss how "others" don't have either a moral compass or code. Then, those people will say the "others" are immoral or amoral.

(Empathy vs. Sympathy vs. Apathy.)

So, let's consider our morals this week and the differences between a moral, amoral, and immoral.


A Moral vs. Amoral vs. Immoral

A moral can be an adjective or noun. For the noun version, a moral is a lesson—usually tied to story or experience—that concerns right or wrong behavior, or morals can also mean the standards of behavior or beliefs that are acceptable for a group or society. As an adjective, moral describes principles of right or wrong behavior, and—in some cases—moral is used to define the good side of the argument. As such, someone with a good moral compass would be someone who knows the difference between right and wrong behavior and chooses to do the right thing.

Amoral is an adjective used to describe someone or something that is neither moral nor immoral. That is, something that's amoral operates outside the confines of morality. A good example of this would be to think of a robot that is programmed to demolish buildings. This hypothetical robot has amoral coding that could be useful for demolishing buildings for construction projects, but it could also be horrifying if used in warfare. However, the robot and its coding is not concerned with morality; the amoral robot just does as it is told.

(Analogy vs. metaphor vs. simile.)

Immoral is an adjective used to describe someone or something that does not conform to the recognized standards of right and wrong. That is, an immoral person knows the difference between right and wrong but does the wrong thing anyway (regardless of their reasoning). Jumping back to the robot analogy above, the robot is amoral, and it could've been created a very moral person with the objective of helping fellow citizens. But then, an immoral person could come along and see the potential for using demolition robots to rob banks or even murder others. In this case, the amoral robot invented by a moral person is used to commit immoral acts at the direction of an immoral leader.

Here are a couple examples:

Correct: A moral person knows lying is bad.
Incorrect: An amoral person knows lying is bad. (Even if an amoral person knows others say "lying is bad," they may not personally recognize lying as bad.)
Correct: An immoral person knows lying is bad.

Correct: Math is an amoral subject.
Incorrect: Math is a moral subject.
Incorrect: Math is an immoral subject.

Correct: Murder is an immoral act against humanity.
Incorrect: Murder is a moral act against humanity.
Incorrect: Murder is amoral act against humanity.

Regardless of social norms, an amoral person could be very moral or immoral quite by accident. Remember: The moral of the story is that an amoral robot can be created for a moral reason, yet still be used to commit evil by an immoral antagonist.


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