Historic or Historical?

What Is the Difference between "Historic" and "Historical"?

"Historic" and "historical" are easy to confuse because they both relate to the past. However, there is a difference between the two words.
  • Historic means "having importance in history."
    • Landing on the Moon was a historic moment. correct tick
  • Historical means "from the past" or "relating to history."
    • I have found some historical records about my hamster. correct tick
historic or historical?

More about "Historic" and "Historical"

The words "historic" and "historical" are close in meaning, but their uses are quite different.

Examples with "Historic" and "Historical"

The adjective "historic" means "having importance in history" or "having influence on history." The adjective "historical" means "having taken place in history," "from the past," or "pertaining to history."

Below are three pairs of similar-looking sentences to help highlight the difference:
  • This is a historical event. correct tick
  • (one that happened in the past)
  • This is a historic event. correct tick
  • (one that is important in history, e.g., the Moon landing)
  • He was a historical scholar. correct tick
  • (A scholar who studied history)
  • He was a historic scholar. correct tick
  • (A scholar who was important in history, e.g., Homer)
  • The bones were of historical significance. correct tick
  • (significant from a perspective of history, i.e., possibly worthless but important to study history)
  • The bones were of historic significance. correct tick
  • (very significant, i.e., important in history)

An Historical or a Historical?

Letters and sounds do not always correlate in English.

When pronouncing the words "historic" and "historical," the accent falls on the second syllable, and many pronounce them as starting with a vowel. For those people, it is appropriate to use "an" before "historic" and "historical." Therefore, you have a choice depending on what sounds better for you. There is a lot of leniency on this issue. If you're still unsure, opt for "a historical" and "a historic" as these remain preferable - especially in formal writing.
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.