• 3-minute read
  • 31st August 2019

Word Choice: Naval vs. Navel

Are you at sea? Or are you in the center of someone’s belly?

You’d have thought it’d be easy to tell these situations apart, but then we have the words “naval” and “navel.” Despite sounding exactly the same – and being close in spelling – these terms are entirely unrelated.

As such, you’ll need to be careful when you use them in your writing. And to prevent unfortunate naval/navel mix-ups, we’ve prepared this quick guide.

Naval (Related to the Navy)

The word “naval” is an adjective meaning “related to the navy.” We use it when discussing ships or shipping, particularly military ships:

He served as a naval officer aboard the USS Victory.

The coastal town hosted a naval base until 1953.

Sadly, they didn’t have space on the deck for the “A,” “V,” or “Y.”
(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Josue L. Escobosa)

Any time you use “naval,” then, it should be related to seafaring or maritime forces. In other situations, you’ll need our next word instead…

Navel (Belly Button)

“Navel” is a noun that refers to the small, round bump or depression on the abdomen of placental mammals that remains after the umbilical cord is cut at birth. Or, to simplify that description somewhat, it’s your belly button:

She first had her navel pierced as a teenager.

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He wore a cropped top, his navel exposed.

This isn’t a hugely common term, but you might hear it in the phrase “navel-gazing.” This concept began as a meditation aid, though it now usually suggests self-absorbed contemplation:

You’ll never get ahead in life if you spend all day navel-gazing.

This is usually figurative, so “navel-gazing” can apply regardless of whether the navel-gazer is actively staring at their own belly button.

Another place you sometimes see this word is in the name “navel orange,” which is the name of a type of orange that looks like it has a belly button.

Just think of the oranges themselves as fruit bellies.
(Photo by Allentchang/wikimedia)

In either case, though, this word is not related to shipping or the navy.

Summary: Naval or Navel?

There aren’t many situations in which “naval” and “navel” are interchangeable, so it’s vital to know the difference between these terms:

  • Naval is an adjective meaning “related to a country’s navy,” so we only use this when discussing ships or shipping (especially military ships).
  • Navel is a noun meaning “the small round part of the abdomen left after the umbilical cord has been removed.” In other words, it’s a belly button.

If you struggle to tell these terms apart, though, remember that ‘navel’ is spelled with an “e,” and that your navel is at the center of your belly, both of which also feature the letter “e.” And if you need any more help with word choice in a document, don’t forget to have it proofread.

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