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Historic and Historical

Commonly Confused Words

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Historic and Historical

Historic means "important," "momentous," or "historically significant."

Historical means "relating to the past."

Examples:

  • "America has entered one of its periods of historic madness, but this is the worst I can remember." (John Le Carre)

  • "The Sixties are now considered a historical period, just like the Roman Empire." (Dave Barry)

Usage Notes:

  • "How to avoid: Historic is a word which implies judgment, since by definition it describes something significant. But . . . historical is an essentially neutral term, describing anything which occurred in the (distant) past."
    (Philip Gooden, Who's Whose: A No-Nonsense Guide to Easily Confused Words. Walker & Company, 2004)


  • "Do we say that the President's visit to this small town was a historic or historical event?
    The event was historic. Use historic (Greek histor, 'learned man') when the thing referred to is important, memorable, or famous. True, it may figure in history and may, in fact, be historical. But historical is a broad term meaning concerned with or relating to history. In other words, historical has to do with history; historic usually pertains to the event or thing itself. Armstrong's walk on the moon was a historic event. It was history-making. The Alamo is a historic building; Gone with the Wind is a historical novel.

    "Use the article a, not an, before historic, historical, and history."
    (Morton S. Freeman, The Wordwatcher's Guide to Good Writing & Grammar. Writer's Digest Books, 1990)

Practice:
(a) The first appearance of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show was a truly _____ moment in American pop culture.

(b) "Most people's _____ perspective begins with the day of their birth." (Rush Limbaugh)

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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