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Historic and Historical

Historic and Historical
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Hello! Our question for today on Ask a Teacher comes from a reader in China.


Dear VOA team,

I happened to find a question that I'm confused about. When I was surfing the web, I found "historic" and "historical" are both adjectives. Are there any differences between them? Can you explain how to use them? Thanks.

Best regards,

Albert, China

Dear Albert,

This is an interesting question. The differences between these two words have grown over the years not based on their grammatical form, but on how people have used them. So, let’s start by taking a look at what the Merriam-Webster online dictionary says about the ways people use the words.


The word “historic” is used for important and famous events in history. Here are two examples of that use.

The weather reporter warned of a big storm coming that will be of historic proportions.

Will you come to Washington, D.C. and be part of this historic event?

In these two examples, we see “historic” used for a storm and for a gathering. The word “historic” might also appear when people talk about sports.

You can also see the word used to describe places. In the United States, we have an organization that has information on important places, for example, the home of a former president. Here is a statement using that phrase, “historic places.”

That home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

And many local organizations fix up old buildings that are part of their town’s history. This process is called “historic preservation.”

In this neighborhood, homeowners care a lot about historic preservation.


Moving on to the word “historical,” we find it used to describe history, as in “the historical record.” It appears more often than the word “historic” and also appears with words like perspective, literature, and analysis. Here are some examples.

Historical evidence suggests wolves are both man’s best friend and his worst enemy.

Isabel Allende wrote many works of historical fiction.

To sum up, if the thing itself is important or famous, you would probably use “historic” with it. If the thing you are talking about relates to history, something real in the past, use the word “historical.”

I hope this clarifies the use of these two words for you, Albert. And that’s Ask a Teacher for this week. Do you have a question for the teacher? Write to us at

I’m Jill Robbins.

Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for Learning English.


Words in This Story

surf –v. to look through information in search of something interesting or useful

proportion n. the relationship between the qualities of at least two things, for example, in size

perspective – n. a way of thinking about something, especially one that is influenced by your beliefs or experiences

analysisn. the process of considering something carefully or using statistical methods in order to understand it or explain it

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