'Historic' vs 'Historical': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on July 26, 2023

‘Historic’ vs ‘Historical’: What’s the Difference? At first glance, these words may look interchangeable, but knowing the distinction between when to use them is crucial. This article will not only clear up the difference between these words but also serve as a good review of suffixes that affect the meaning of words. 

In a rush? Here’s a short overview of what’s to come: 

  • ‘Historic’ refers to something that was famous or important. 
  • ‘Historical’ refers to something that happened in the past. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Historic’ vs ‘Historical’?

So what does separate these two very similar words? Well, the first thing is their effect on a sentence. 

As you may have guessed, something ‘Historic’ or ‘Historical’ refers to something that happened in the past or is very old. But, the connotation of the two words is different. If something is simply ‘Historic’ that means it was a significant past event, not just something that happened. 

  • For example, the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a ‘Historic’ event. 

Need another trick to remember this distinction? Think of the rule of rectangles: every rectangle is a square but not every square is a rectangle. 

  • So, every ‘Historic’ event is indeed ‘Historical,’ but not every ‘Historical’ event has enough importance to be considered ‘Historic.’

One other main distinction between ‘Historic’ vs ‘Historical’ is the addition of the suffix “-al” at the end of the latter. The suffix “-al” generally means “of the kind of, like, pertaining to, etc.”

  • Therefore, something that is ‘Historical’ is something that pertains to history. Some other words with this suffix include autumnal, natural, pastoral, and congenital. 

Now that you’ve taken a closer look at how these words differ from each other let’s dive a bit deeper into the individual meanings of ‘Historic’ vs ‘Historical’.

Definition of ‘Historic’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Historic’ is an adjective which means: 

  • Famous or important in history, or potentially so
    • “We are standing on a historic battlefield.”
  • (grammar) of a tense, used in the narration of past events, especially Latin and Greek imperfect and pluperfect

The word originates from the Greek ‘historia’ which means “narrative” or “knowing by enquiry.”

Synonyms of ‘Historic’

  • Monumentous
  • Remarkable
  • Consequential
  • Famous
  • Extraordinary
  • Memorable 
  • Significant
  • Notable

Antonyms of ‘Historic’

  • Insignificant
  • Trivial
  • Unimportant
  • Unknown
  • Unremarkable

Phrases with ‘Historic’

  • Historic building
  • Historic document
  • Historic day
  • Historic site
  • To be historic

Definition of ‘Historical’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Historical’ is an adjective which means:

  • Of or concerning history; concerning past events
    • “The historical background to his studies.”
  • Belonging to the past, not the present
    • “Famous historical figures.”
  • (especially in a novel or movie) set in the past
  • (of the study of a subject) based on an analysis of its development over a period
    • “For the Darwinians, biogeography became a historical science.”

Synonyms for ‘Historical’

  • Ancient
  • Archival
  • Actual
  • Factual
  • Classical
  • Real
  • Authentic
  • Chronicled
  • Documented

Antonyms of ‘Historical’

  • False
  • Imaginary
  • Modern
  • Fictional
  • New
  • Recent

Phrases with ‘Historical’

  • Historical fiction
  • Historical events
  • Historical context
  • Historically accurate
  • Historical figures

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Historic’ vs ‘Historical’

Writing is not the only occasion that requires us to use language. In fact, more often than not, we are having conversations. Knowing how to pronounce your newly learned words properly is just as important as being able to define them — especially with words like ‘Historic’ vs ‘Historical,’ which you may use in academic writing or presentations. Let’s make sure you’ve got these pronunciations down pat. 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Historic’ as a guide:

  • ‘Hi-storr-ik’ (with both “i” sounds being short, as in “pick”)

Use this phonetic spelling of 'Historical’ ‘as a guide:

  • ‘Hi-storr-ik-uhl’ (notice the last syllable is not a tall “a” sound, but more flat)

How to Use ‘Historic’ vs ‘Historical’ in a Sentence

Given these words are so similar but do, in fact, have distinct uses, it is important to learn the proper contexts in which they appear. Learning the definitions can help you do this, but nothing is better than seeing new vocabulary words in action. Context clues are everything, so see if you can spot them in the sample sentences below, then keep practicing by writing your own. 

‘Historic’ Example Sentences

  • It was a historic moment when the first man set foot on the moon. 
  • For her senior thesis as a History major, the student decided to visit every historic site connected to women’s rights in her state. 
  • Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech is perhaps one of the most historic to ever be written. 
  • Many museums contain historic artifacts that people from all over the world go to see

‘Historical’ Example Sentences

  • Authors who write historical fiction often face criticism for not being accurate to their chosen time and setting. 
  • The students had to research and present a historical figure for a social studies project. 
  • The students had to memorize hundreds of historical events for their final exam. 
  • They took a tour of a historically accurate replica of the city of Pompeii before the volcano destroyed it. 

Final Advice on ‘Historic’ vs ‘Historical’

Words that are subtly altered by suffixes can be tricky to sort out at first, but once you learn their root and how they change, you will master them quickly. Also, with words like ‘Historic’ vs ‘Historical’ it’s important to remember how they can appear in different contexts and that the rectangle rule is a good reminder of that. 

Want a review? Here’s a recap of what we covered: 

  • ‘Historic’ is an adjective that means something important in history, 
  • While ‘Historical’ is an adjective that refers to something that is old or happened in the past. 
  • The suffix “-al” is added to words to signify that they are “of the kind of, like, or pertaining to.”

Want to master other confusing words like these? Be sure to check out our other articles to help expand your vocabulary and boost your confidence in your speaking and writing. Knowing academically geared words like ‘Historic’ vs ‘Historical’ are the key to being clear and precise in your work, so be sure to practice your sample sentences and remember your pronunciations.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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