chat·​tel ˈcha-tᵊl How to pronounce chattel (audio)
plural chattels
: an item of tangible movable or immovable property except real estate and things (such as buildings) connected with real property
These statutes do not apply to personal property; for chattels, an oral statement of donative intent plus delivery still suffices. William M. McGovern, Jr. et al.
sometimes used as a mass noun
The program takes advantage of a New Hampshire law that requires all manufactured homes … to be titled as real property instead of chattel, said Patrick McCarthy, Fannie Mae vice president for community lending. Brad Finkelstein
: an enslaved person held as the legal property of another : bondman
He had struck down my personality, had subjected me to his will, made property of my body and soul, reduced me to a chattel Frederick Douglass
Some, most notably the Quakers, hoped that moral suasion would convince slaveholders to free their chattels. Mary Beth Norton et al.
often used as a mass noun
… [George] Washington is tainted by our country's original sin: slavery. He owned other human beings as chattel. Robert SchlesingerUltimately, the book illuminates both the tragedy of holding human chattel and the corruption that flows from such inhumanity. Melba Newsome
see also chattel slavery

Example Sentences

an amendment to end the keeping of humans as chattel packed up all her chattels and moved to a new state
Recent Examples on the Web The federal government offered to pay slave owners close to market rates for each of their human chattel, thereby bring slavery to an end without a resort to armed conflict. William Darity, Rolling Stone, 19 June 2021 Silver coins found previously in the area have mostly been Arab dirhams, used by Muslim merchants to pay for human chattel. New York Times, 12 July 2021 And less acknowledged, two centuries of ships sailing from here, financed by the Boston elite, to move human chattel and goods around the Atlantic and Caribbean. New York Times, 2 July 2021 Vanessa Claire Stewart, who plays Dora, a rich Southern belle infatuated with George, and Ratts, the captain of a steamer open to buying some human chattel, works her costumes to funny effects. Los Angeles Times, 21 June 2021 This virtual event will feature a special storytelling-hour featuring Mr. Delbert Richardson about the resistance of his ancestors during the periods of American chattel slavery and Jim Crow. D'shonda Brown, Essence, 10 June 2021 While a site of a major chattel slavery market, Alexandria also was home to generations of free and proud Black Americans and continues to be an integrated—while gentrifying— source of community. Kristen Jeffers, House Beautiful, 4 June 2021 Other moments, it's devastatingly marked by the vicious anti-Black brutality that American chattel slavery is best known for. Ineye Komonibo,, 25 May 2021 Wouldn't Jenkins' next announced project being something involving American chattel slavery feel like a regression to some? Marcus Jones,, 14 May 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'chattel.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English chatel "movable possession," often in plural chateles, chateus, borrowed from Anglo-French chatel "property, goods, wealth" (also continental Old French), going back to Medieval Latin capitāle "movable property, riches," noun derivative from neuter of capitālis "of the head, chief, principal" — more at capital entry 1

Note: Compare cattle, and see also note at the etymology of capital entry 2.

First Known Use

1549, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of chattel was in 1549

Dictionary Entries Near chattel

Cite this Entry

“Chattel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



chat·​tel ˈchat-ᵊl How to pronounce chattel (audio)
: a piece of property (as animals, money, or goods) other than real estate

Legal Definition



chat·​tel ˈchat-ᵊl How to pronounce chattel (audio)
: an item of tangible or intangible personal property
especially : chattel personal in this entry

Note: In some jurisdictions the term chattel is restricted to items of tangible and movable personal property. Other jurisdictions also classify intangible assets and property items as chattels.

chattel personal plural chattels personal
: an item of tangible movable personal property (as livestock or an automobile) that is not permanently connected with real estate
chattel real plural chattels real
: an interest (as a leasehold or profit a prendre) in an item of immovable property (as land or a building) that is less than a freehold estate compare fixture

Note: Interests that are considered chattels real have been treated by the common law as personal property despite being interests in real property.

History and Etymology for chattel

Old French chatel goods, property, from Medieval Latin capitale, from neuter of capitalis chief, principal see capital

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