Magazine vs. Clip: What’s the Difference?

Magazine or clip? Many writers, and people in general, trip up on this area. They almost always reference the wrong one – “clip” – to describe that detachable rectangle that holds ammunition.

It’s OK. I even made that mistake myself in one of the earlier versions of Cleansing Eden, my crime thriller novel. Correcting that mistake was part of the catalyst for my Writer’s Digest guide to firearms and knives.

Here’s the rule of thumb: 99 percent of the time, the correct term is “magazine,” not “clip.” Whenever you get the itch to write “clip,” use “mag” or “magazine” instead.

What’s the difference? Let’s start with appearances. A magazine looks like this. (image courtesy of GunDigestStore.com)

Ammunition Magazine

A magazine feeds ammunition into the firearm. Keep that in mind, because it’s an important distinction.

A clip is different in that it inserts ammunition into a magazine, usually an internal one built into the firearm but sometimes a detachable one. The clip feeds the magazine, and the magazine feeds the firearm. That’s the major difference. Here’s what a clip looks like. (Wikimedia image)

320px-6.5x55mm_Swedish_surplus_ammunition,_produced_in_1976

Clips are relatively uncommon today. Most modern pistols and rifles use magazines – either internal or detachable – without the need for clips. By the way, revolvers don’t use magazines or clips. They have chambers inside cylinders that are loaded either by hand, a speed loader or a speed strip. There are, confusingly enough, moon clips that cluster cartridges together for insertion into a cylinder, but these distinctions are a post for another day.

Maybe a writer is looking at a particular firearm and wondering if it uses the exception – clips – or the rule – magazines. Here’s an easy way to remember. If the ammunition is exposed, it’s probably a clip. If the ammunition is hidden, it’s probably a magazine.


Get the Book

The Writers Guide to WeaponsThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:

2 thoughts on “Magazine vs. Clip: What’s the Difference?

  1. Excellent information – I have always used the two as interchangeable but obviously wrong. I can only guess the confusion stemmed from the clips used in WWII in the M-1 rifle and as new technology brought th magazine into play, the old term stuck. I’ll be doing it correctly in the future!

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Henry, and I think there’s some truth to what you’re saying. The Garand is one of the most famous examples of a rifle that uses a clip, and its popularity may have bled over into pop culture. “Clip” sounds cooler than “magazine” or “mag,” too. But if you’re going for accuracy, it’s worth a little extra effort to stand out from the crowd.

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