Historic or Historical

Historic and historical are similar yet very different at the same time.

This is in one of the most common hangups in the English language, and even native speakers often don’t understand the difference.

Do you use historic or historical? It’s not a simple question to answer if you haven’t done your research.

Both words are adjectives.

Historic refers to something that was famous or important in history.

Napoleon was a historic figure; that was a historic event; August was a historic milestone; it was a historic night; Lisbon is a historic city; that was a historic occasion; beating Spain was a historic moment for the U.S.A.; Emma Watson’s speech at the United Nation was historic.

And so on.

Historical, on the other hand, is concerned with the past, and can be used in much the same way.

You can certainly write a historical event; a historical night; a historical figure; a historical novel; a historical film; a historical subject; a historical place, etc.

Understand? To use historic, something must be important or famouswhereas historical does not have this requirement.

The words overlap, but they’re slightly different.

If you want to know about the use of an historic or a historic, head here: A historic or An historic.

That’s it!

Hope that cleared things up.


Oxford Dictionary of English. 3rd ed. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010