Historic & Historical: Another Tricky Pair of Words

By | September 2, 2020

Pyramids.jpg

In the last three posts, I looked at tricky pairs of verbs: to irritate/aggravate, to lend/borrow, and to imply/infer. Now, I will do this again, but with some adjectives. Here’s a very tricky pair:

historic   &     historical.

There IS a difference, but (again) even native speakers of English might not know it. Which adjective – historic or historical – goes in the following gaps.

1. To know more about my dead grandfather, I need to do some _______ research.

2. If President Trump visits Taiwan, it will be a _______ visit.

3. The day the President arrives will be a _______ occasion.

4. Maybe I need to check the _______ records in the museum.

5. That castle is a _______ site.

6. My mother liked reading _______-romance novels.

7. If Taiwan beats China in table tennis, it will be a _______ victory.

8. Which _______ period interests you the most?

The answers are:

…. historic goes in 2, 3, 5, 7. This word means ‘is important in history; will be remembered’.

…. historical goes in 1, 4, 6, 8. This words just means ‘about history; related to history’.

So, look at the picture at the top. It shows a famous construction from the past, but is it a historic site, or a historical site? Well, following the above rules, you would probably say historic, but it is also a site related to history, meaning you could say historical. But historic is the best answer.

By the way, recently I was at a train station, and I saw a big sign for the tourists, which said, ‘Visit the historical Lai Family Residence‘, and I thought, ‘A ha, that’s not correct.’ Now you know why, right?

Author: Andrew

Andrew Guilfoyle Cambridge CELTA, Cambridge DELTA, Cambridge CELTA teacher-trainer, M.Ed