Your mom's favorite white china plates are probably made out of porcelain. Porcelain is a nearly translucent ceramic material used to make plates, bowls, and cups.
The dishes at a fancy restaurant are often porcelain, a fine, delicate kind of china. Sometimes knickknacks, dolls, and art objects are also made from porcelain. The word comes from the Italian word for "cowrie shell," porcellana, which compares the shiny look of porcelain to the polished inside of a shell. Porcelain has a tricky spelling — although it ends with ain, it rhymes with ten, not rain.
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