[ kahr-goh ]
/ ˈkɑr goʊ /
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noun, plural car·goes, car·gos.
the lading or freight of a ship, airplane, etc.
cargos, pants or shorts having several cargo pockets to hold bulky gear and small items.
of or denoting a style of pants or shorts with cargo pockets.
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Origin of cargo

1640–50; from Spanish: “a load,” noun derivative of cargar “to load,” from Late Latin carricāre; see charge

synonym study for cargo

1. See freight.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does cargo mean?

Cargo is the load of materials being transported by a vehicle like a ship, airplane, train, or truck, especially for commercial or professional purposes.

The word cargo is used collectively—it’s a singular noun that refers to a group of items. For example, all of the shipping containers being transported by a ship are its cargo.

Such a ship can be called a cargo ship or a cargo liner. A plane primarily carrying cargo can be called a cargo plane. Such a train is typically called a freight train (freight is a close synonym of cargo). Cargo is often distinguished from other things that the vehicle might be carrying, such as passengers—the distinction is often made between a cargo ship or a cargo plane and a passenger ship or passenger plane.

Cargo is also used as a modifier (adjective) in a lot of terms related to cargo and its transport and storage. The place in a ship or plane where cargo is stored is called the cargo hold. On the space shuttle, the place where equipment is stored is called the cargo bay.

Cargo is sometimes used more casually in nonprofessional contexts. When packing up your car to move or go on vacation, you might say that it’s fully loaded with your cargo, but this is usually intended as a kind of joke. The word can even be used in this way to refer to people, as in A lot of parents like to alert other drivers to their precious cargo with those “baby on board” signs. 

The word cargo is also used in the terms cargo pants and cargo shorts, which have large side pockets (called cargo pockets) designed to be able to carry a lot of stuff. Such pants or shorts are sometimes called cargoes (or cargos), as in I think it’s time for a new pair or cargoes—these have holes in both of the pockets.  

Example: We’re set to pull out of port as soon as the cargo is secured.

Where does cargo come from?

The first records of the word cargo come from the 1600s. It comes from the Spanish cargo, meaning “load,” from the Spanish verb cargar, meaning “to load.” It ultimately comes from the Late Latin verb carricāre, meaning “to load a vehicle.”

This brings up an important point about cargo. A load of items is usually only called cargo when it’s in a vehicle or when it’s being loaded onto or unloaded from a vehicle. Once it’s in a warehouse, for example, it’s not commonly called cargo. Instead, it’s typically referred to as goods or merchandise or other terms, depending on what it is and what it’s for.

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What are some other forms related to cargo?

  • cargoes (plural
  • cargos (plural)

What are some synonyms for cargo?

What are some words that share a root or word element with cargo

What are some words that often get used in discussing cargo?

How is cargo used in real life?

Cargo is most commonly used in contexts involving the transport of goods, especially commercial goods being transported in a professional capacity.


Try using cargo!

Which of the following words is NOT a synonym of cargo?

A. vehicle
B. load
C. goods
D. payload

How to use cargo in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for cargo

/ (ˈkɑːɡəʊ) /

noun plural -goes or -gos
  1. goods carried by a ship, aircraft, or other vehicle; freight
  2. (as modifier)a cargo vessel
any loadthe train pulled in with its cargo of new arrivals

Word Origin for cargo

C17: from Spanish: from cargar to load, from Late Latin carricāre to load a vehicle, from carrus car
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012