Made of wood or made from wood?
Those of you lucky enough to know me are likely to have heard me talk about all the lovely lights and lamps I have had the pleasure of translating in 2017. Many of the German descriptions of these lamps include the phrase “aus Holz”. For the non-German-speakers amongst you, “Holz” means wood and “aus” is a German preposition, which in this case means “made of”, or is it “made from”?
And there we have it, the crux of this whole piece. Is the correct translation “made of wood” or “made from wood”?
Well, little did I know, one of these is most definitely right and the other one, well, not so much. So which do you think is correct: “made of wood” or “made from wood”?
“Made of” meaning
Those of you who said “made of” are correct. Despite my personal belief that “made from” sounds better in all instances, it is actually grammatically incorrect in most. That is because, according to the Cambridge Dictionary:
We use made of when we talk about the basic material or qualities of something. It has a meaning similar to ‘composed of’.
As a general rule of thumb, if you can replace it with “composed of”, you want to write “made of”. Thus, for example, we talk of tables being made of wood, houses being made of bricks and books being made of paper.
“Made from” meaning
So when do we use “made from”, I hear you ask. “Made from” is used when talking about a material that has been changed. In the “made of” examples, the wood used to make the tables is still wood; the bricks still bricks; and the paper in the books still paper.
But now imagine you are talking about the fact that plastic is destroying our planet. You may discuss all of the disposable items made of plastic and then start to wonder where plastic comes from. The answer is that it is “made from oil”. Just as paper is made from trees and wine is made from grapes.
In all of these cases, the original material has been changed into something else or processed, hence the use of “made from”.
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Made can also be combined with “out of” and “with”.
“Made out of” is similar to “made from” in that it refers to something that has been changed to produce something else. The difference lies in the fact that “made out of” is normally used when talking about a finished product that has then been transformed into something else.
Think five-year-old daughters rummaging through your recycling bins so they can make a rocket out of old cereal boxes and bottle tops. Or, imagine you are sitting in a jazz bar, listening to some amazing music, a large glass of red in hand, staring at the candle holder on the table. It is, of course, made out of an empty wine bottle. “Maybe I should try that” you think, before your mind drifts onto something else and ten years later you find yourself writing a blog, realising you never did try it…
Finally to “made with”: This is generally used when you are talking about food and drink (two topics that lie very close to my heart). Examples include: “I made that vat of soup with all the random vegetables I could find in the bottom of the fridge” and “It might be worth pointing out that, although the label on the nuggets says ‘made with 100% chicken’, it doesn’t say which bits of the chicken”…
So on that happy note, I hope that has clarified things a little. If in doubt, remember:
- made of = composed of
- made from = processed material
- made out of = five-year-old kids & recycling bins
- made with = chicken nuggets
For more fascinating grammar tips and tricks, check out the other blogs from the Grammaticals series, including: The Art of the Apostrophe.