Though the word "bullet" is often used incorrectly in colloquial language to refer to a cartridge round, a bullet is not a cartridge but rather a component of one.[5] A round of ammunition cartridge is a combination package of the bullet (which is the projectile),[6] the case (which holds everything together), the propellant (which provide majority of the energy to launch the projectile) and the primer (which ignites the propellant). This use of the term "bullet" when intending to describe a cartridge often leads to confusion when the components of a cartridge are specifically referred to.

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According to this Wiki article, the word bullet only refers to part 1. The whole is called "a cartridge round" or "A round of ammunition cartridge". But those terms sound more technical and I guess they probably would not be used in day-to-day conversations.

So, what's the correct word to describe the whole thing(including part 1,2,3,4,5)? Is it just "bullet"?

  • 1
    The word bullet is used by the layman to refer to the entire thing--the casing, the payload, the gunpowder, the firing pin. He went to Walmart to buy some more bullets for the hunting trip.
    – TimR
    Sep 14, 2018 at 13:10
  • 2
    I would call the entire thing a bullet and part 1 a slug. (But I am a layman in this regard....)
    – Hellion
    Sep 14, 2018 at 13:12
  • "A round of ammunition" is idiomatic. I have never heard the phrase "a round of ammunition cartridge".
    – TimR
    Sep 14, 2018 at 13:16
  • 2
    A round of ammunition refers to one "unit" of ammunition, a "bullet" in layman's terms, and also to the bullet as fired from the gun, a "shot". Over five thousand rounds were fired in that confrontation between rival gangs.
    – TimR
    Sep 14, 2018 at 13:41
  • 1
    A spent round is the empty casing after the projectile has been shot out.
    – TimR
    Sep 14, 2018 at 14:34

1 Answer 1


The entire thing is called a cartridge or a round. For example,

The 1920s are long gone but the performance of the .38 Super still holds up, delivering more speed than other handgun cartridges...

Military 7.62 NATO ammo used to sell for $0.015 per round...

They are not particularly technical terms and are certainly used in day-to-day conversation by people who care about precision. They are definitely the correct, unambiguous terms to use. But other people have said, laypeople often use the term bullet to refer to the entire thing, although technically the bullet is only part 1 in the diagram, as you found.

Cartridge round seems to be mostly an older term and is not really used much anymore, and it sounds very "wordy". Round of ammunition cartridge just sounds plain wrong. The only place you might see that is in a technical description like "...the trainees were issued the one round of ammunition, Cartridge, Rifle, Cal. .30, AntiPersonnel, w/168 grain projectile...", but that's a very wordy, precise, military-style description that essentially says "a round of ammunition, of the style cartridge, of the caliber 0.30 inches, etc."

  • 1
    Nice answer. I think the full cartridge round might be useful when there's not enough context to understand the term otherwise. For example, if you say "I found a bullet in the street!" pretty much every English-speaking person would have a good idea what you meant (even if gun enthusiasts might wonder whether you meant the full cartridge or not), but if you just said "a cartridge" in that sentence I (as a non-expert in firearms) might expect to see a printer component or similar, and if you used "a round" I might ask "a round what?" But "cartridge round" would avoid those ambiguities.
    – 1006a
    Sep 14, 2018 at 18:44
  • Is "bullet casing" referring to part 2 in my attached picture?
    – dan
    Sep 14, 2018 at 23:06
  • 1
    No, part 2 would be called a shell case or cartridge case.
    – stangdon
    Sep 14, 2018 at 23:23
  • @stangdon what's the "bullet casing" referring to? I just saw it in a news article. If you search it on the web, it would pop up with pictures of part 2.
    – dan
    Sep 15, 2018 at 0:48
  • @dan - "Bullet casing" doesn't really make sense, but like we said, many people refer to the whole thing as a "bullet" even though that is technically wrong, so they probably just mean the cartridge case.
    – stangdon
    Sep 15, 2018 at 15:56

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