Do we say “historic” or “historical”?

Two words we often see used incorrectly – even among native English speakers – are historic and historical. And with good reason: they don’t have the same meaning and the difference is quite tricky to understand.

It may well be that in your native language there is only one equivalent for historic and historical. I’ll have a go at explaining the difference.

Historic – ‘full of history’

First, think of things from the past which are ‘full of history’. These are often traditions, buildings, locations, ruins, etc. We say they’re historic:

  • Stamford Bridge is a historic location – it is where one of the last Viking battles was fought.
  • Sadly, many historic buildings were destroyed during the war.

Historic – making history

Things which make history, such as agreements and events, are also historic:

  • The old man claimed to remember many historic events, such as the sinking of Titanic, and the outbreak of the First World War.

Historical – studying history

Historical means that something is connected to the study of history:

  • The team carried out historical research during their two-month stay in Jordan.
  • Historical documents were found during the excavations.
  • There are many historical sources to prove what happened.

Historical – existed in history

We talk about historical figures, i.e. people who were important and have great significance in history:

  • Is Robin Hood a historical figure or just an imaginary character?


historic historical difference


Talking of historical people; according to Time Magazine, Jesus Christ and Napoleon top the list of the The 100 most significant historical figures. Shakespeare and Aristotle are up there, too.

As I said, I think historic versus historical is quite tricky. What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.

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