The Difference between Cargo and Freight

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The Difference between Cargo and Freight
Freight Train

Cargo and freight are words used to describe goods to be carried from place to place.  In that perspective they are the same, but there are some subtle differences.  These differences are common knowledge to people in the transportation industry but the average ‘man in the street’ may not know the differences between the two terms.  It is the common elements that make the two words seem very similar. Freight is more versatile in its terminology and more readily used.  Freight can be transported on cargo containers but cargo remains the load of goods using cargo ships and planes.  The nature of cargo being a heavy load makes it the type of merchandise used on the bigger carriers like planes and ships.  There are cargo planes and cargo ships but only freight trains and trucks so there is the one difference between the two forms of transporting goods.  Cargo generally goes on ships and planes.  Freight generally travels on trains and trucks.

There are popular songs about freight trains but none about cargo trains so the word association helps to remember the different transport types and difference between the two words from that point of view.  Cargo can be used synomously with freight and that adds to the confusion in terms of the type of delivery expected if one was to say ‘The freight delivery included large cargoes of machinery and steel.’  Freight can also mean the cost of transport with freight charges called freightage.   Cargo the heavier load is not transported on a train or a truck but always in a ship in containers and aircraft modified to be a cargo carrier.  Both the words cargo and freight can be used as noun modifiers hence the word cargo plane with cargo modifying plane or freight train and freight modifies train.

Investigating the deeper meaning behind these two words will definitely help to understand them especially if you are not in the moving of large goods line of work.

Finding out about ……cargo:

Dictionary meaning:

  1. Cargo – (noun) goods transported by plane or ship.
  2. Cargo – also known as a ‘mass noun’ as it is a quantity but not a specified amount. There are occasions when the plural could be used to describe many cargoes but that would mean there was more than one cargo which is already a number of items in the mass quantity of cargo.

Cargo only refers to the goods transported and not to any costs or bills.

Parts of speech – using the word cargo in a sentence:

Cargo as a noun. The cargo transported by ship has to journey across the ocean and it took several days to reach their destination.

Cargoes as a plural of the’ mass noun’. The cargoes of many ships were damaged in the violent storm during the night.

Cargo as a noun modifiercargo ship, cargo plane, cargo pants.

Synonyms:  Synonyms for cargo meaning goods could be freight, goods, merchandise, payload, shipment.

Origins of the word:

Cargo originates from the Latin word carricare meaning load on a cart or wagon.

Other language uses of cargo in the movement of goods industry.

  1. Dense cargo, also known as ‘dead weight’ cargo is a long ton (2240 pounds).  Dense cargo takes up 70 cubic feet of space when packaged.
  2. Bale cargo is any merchandise shipped in bales.
  3. Break bulk cargo is merchandise that is not loaded into the intermodal of the container or in bulk packaging. It is loaded in on pallets and can be pulled out without disturbing the other goods on board.
  4. Neo-bulk cargo is packed in individual units and each unit is counted as it is loaded or unloaded.
  5. Containerised cargo is used for heavy duty items like car parts as well as machinery and smaller merchandise like shoes, toys, and other retail items. When these containers are transported empty they are referred to as cargo and when they are full they become containerised cargo.
  6. Project cargo is heavy duty cargo like manufacturing equipment, air conditioners, factory turbines and other oversized and overweight items.
  7. Air cargo, aircraft was originally designed for mail-airmail. Nowadays special air cargo planes can carry cargo like the Boeing 747-400F the cargo lux.  The goods are loaded into the nose cone of the plane.
  8. Cargo pants, adapted from the army and used for travelling due to the useful pockets with larger size pockets and zips to carry extra items. Made of durable fabric and often oversized to accommodate bending and stretching.
The Difference between Cargo and Freight-1
Cargo Ship

Finding out about ….. freight:

Dictionary meaning:

  1. Freight (noun) Goods loaded onto a train and trailer or truck and trailer to carry from place to place for delivery. The train in this case is known as a freight train.  Freight can also be loaded onto a truck and trailer to be carried from one place to another.
  2. Freight (noun) is known as a mass noun like cargo as it denotes quantity but not a defined amount
  3. Freights as a plural is very rarely used due to the fact that freight is already a plural however it can be used if there are a number of freight loads travelling together. It would therefore be correct to say: “The freight train was carrying several freights with 220 tons of steel machinery, iron ore and motor vehicle parts.”
  4. Freight also refers to payments made for the delivery of goods, freightage
  5. Freight can also have slang connotations meaning something is too expensive.        

Parts of speech using the word in a sentence:

Freight as a noun – The shipping of freight requires careful planning and reliable workmen.

Freight as a verb – The dockyard took all night to freight the train ready for the next day.

Freightless as an adjective – The freightless truck drove away to the next warehouse.

Freight as a slang word – John wanted to buy the extra -large television set but he told his friend that he can’t afford the freight!


Cargo, shipment, goods, merchandise.

Origins of the word:

Freight has its origins in the German word vracht or vrecht meaning cost of transport.

Other uses and terms using the word freight in the movement of goods industry:

  1. Freight trains are the trains used to transport containers coming from shipping ports. They transport water, cement, grain, steel wood and coal.  Freight trains are used because they can carry large loads efficiently and economically along a direct route following the rail tracks.
  2. Freight trucks carry all sorts of goods between cities and towns especially food and produce needed by supermarkets on a daily basis.
  3. Freight manifest is a shipping document that lists all freight or cargo items for a specific voyage.
  4. Cost and freight the C+F is a sale term meaning all charges are included except insurance to a named port of destination.
  5. A Freight forwarder processes all the paperwork and international trade regulations to do with freight including freight consolidation, freight collection.
  6. Freight forwarders utilise relationships with air freighters, rail freighters, and act as shipping agents for all types of packaging palletizing loading and all the other tasks associated with freight transportation.
  7. Freight yard is a rail yard where freight wagons are organised ready for the trains.

A daring trend – Freight hopping or riding freight trains is an illegal activity in many countries.  If you are caught ‘catching on the fly’ that means you have been found freight hopping.  The railroad police who look out for these train catching daredevils are known as bulls.

Dare devils and desperadoes also ride cargo ships illegally and they are known as stowaways. Stowaways ride the cargo ships hidden in containers and the hold of the ship.  The Deadly Voyage is a true story of nine African stowaways on the cargo ship Mc Ruby.  It was made into a film and is a tragic testimony to desperate men and their difficult circumstances.  The story does not end well for the stowaways or the sailors who tried to take the law into their own hands.

In conclusion……. What is the real difference between freight and cargo?

Freight is a common element because everything carried by road, rail, air or sea can be called freight. Cargo stands alone as the term referring to large containers of goods transported over the sea or by air.  Freight trains and trucks may then carry the cargo once it is off loaded to inland destinations.  The transport then defines the word as it is  used in conjunction with the vehicle that carries it to its destination.  Both words are used in connection with various transport related jobs and activities. Freight can be cargo but can cargo be freight?  When it is unloaded and takes off on another part of its journey then cargo gets to be freighted to the next destination its name changes as its transport is different but it may still be the same type of goods.

The cargo of car parts docked at the sea port.  The freightage was paid and the goods were loaded onto a freight train.  Travelling south to the factory, the freight was delivered safely. This could explain it all.

Author: Christina Wither

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