Systemic vs. Systematic – What’s the Difference?

As the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. When you don’t use words carefully, you might get close enough to coherence that someone could interpret what you meant with only minimal difficulty, but it still makes for poor writing.

Two common adjectives, systemic and systematic, are often used interchangeably. These words actually have different meanings, though, and while it is possible for something to be both systemic and systematic, in most cases only one of these words is correct.

When should you use each of these adjectives for maximum precision and clarity? Continue reading to find out.

What is the Difference Between Systemic and Systematic?

In this post, I will compare systemic vs. systematic. I will use each of these words in various example sentences, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a mnemonic that you can use to decide whether to use systematic or systemic in your own writing.

When to Use Systemic

systemic versus systematicWhat does systemic mean? Systemic is an adjective. It describes something that affects an entire process or organization.

In best usage, systemic is reserved for contexts involving body systems, where it might describe a disease that affects all the tissues in a given system. In common practice, it is often used to describe all sorts of things, like dry rot, racism, or inefficiency.

Here are a few sentences in which you might be likely to see systemic,

  • For centuries, government has been a tool for systemic oppression.
  • Jake has developed a systemic condition that hinders the function of his digestive tract.
  • “This body’s inaction represents a systemic failure to cooperate on policy initiatives!” accused the politician.
  • The city settled in federal court in 2015 after a yearslong federal investigation found that civil-rights violations, corruption, and violence and excessive force were among the jail’s systemic problems. –Business Insider

As you can see from these examples, when something is systemic, it affects the entire system. When you are sick, you entire body feels affected.

When to Use Systematic

Definition of systematic definition of systemic definitionWhat does systematic mean? Systematic is also an adjective. It refers to something that is carried out in a methodical, organized manner, like a records audit or a police investigation.

Here are a few examples,

  • The power plant had planned a systematic transition to offline status, but that was before the tsunami.
  • The hacker’s new script ran a systematic process that was designed to take down the target’s servers.
  • This espionage represents a systematic attack on every facet of our monarchy.
  • Meals on Wheels has been the subject of many peer-reviewed studies in the medical literature. So many have been done that there are several systematic reviews gathering these studies into various domains. –The New York Times

When something is done systematically, it is done in a methodical way, according to a plan. When police arrive at a crime scene, they will examine the area with a systematic approach.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define systematic and define systemicSystemic and systematic are both adjectives, but their uses are different.

  • Systemic refers to something that affects an entire system. In this sense it is complete.
  • Systematic refers to something done according to process or plan.

You can make remembering systematic vs. systemic a bit easier on yourself if you use a mnemonic device.

Systematic rhymes with automatic. Something that is systematic can sometimes appear to run so smoothly that it is almost automatic. By remembering these two rhyming words, you should always be able to remember when to use systematic and systemic.

Summary

Is it systemic or systematic? Systemic and systematic and are two words that describe systems and processes, respectively.

  • Systemic refers to something that affects an entire system, like lack of transparency in a governing body.
  • Systematic refers to an attribute of a process itself, specifically, that it is machine-like in its efficiency and organization.

Systematic rhymes with automatic, and something that is performed systematically may appear to be almost automatic in its smoothness.

English has many confusing words, but with hard work and great resources, you can avoid simple mistakes and improve the quality of your writing. Be sure to check this site any time you have questions about difficult words or other writing topics.