Historic vs. Historical: What’s the Difference?

If you were referring to some event in the past, would you call it a historic event or a historical event?

Similarly, if the Supreme Court hands down a landmark decision, is this a historic or historical decision?

What is the Difference Between Historic and Historical?

In today’s post, I want to clear up any confusion you might have on the uses of historic vs. historical.

I will outline their uses and their definitions; I will provide example sentences using each word; and I will give you a handy trick to remember the difference between the two.

When to Use Historic

historic versus historical grammar differenceWhat does historic mean? Historic is an adjective that means famous or important in history, or potentially so.

  • The signing of the Declaration of Independence was a historic moment for all of mankind.
  • We are standing on a historic site; this is where the battle of Gettysburg took place.
  • Authorities say a fire that destroyed a historic New Jersey synagogue appears to be accidental. –The Washington Post

In other words, a historic event is an event that has great significance. A historic building is a building that has great significance and so on and so forth.

Now that we know this, if we reexamine our example from the very beginning about the Supreme Court, we can clearly see that a landmark decision would properly be called a historic decision, since both indicate a decision of great importance and significance.

When to Use Historical

historical versus historic examplesWhat does historical mean? Historical is also an adjective and is defined as of or relating to history; concerned with past events.

  • The new law removed historical protections that were given to small businesses.
  • Countless historical documents and artifacts were destroyed during the bombing of Berlin
  • BBC America’s powerful new historical drama “The Last Kingdom” tells the story that made England possible, and with it the flourishing of Anglo-Saxon culture and law that underpin America as well. –The Wall Street Journal

Something that is historical is simply something that happened in the past, regardless of its significance.

As William Safire once said, “Any past event is historical, but only the most memorable ones are historic.” This is a good way to think about the difference between these two words.

Common Mistakes When Using Historic and Historical

The usual mistake involving these two words is to use historic when the writer actually means to use historical.

  • There are good historic correlations between high interest rates and low rates of inflation. (Incorrect)
  • There are good historical correlations between high interest rates and low rates of inflation. (Correct)

The opposite mistake is much more uncommon.

  • No one expected such a historical ruling from the Supreme Court Justices. (Incorrect)
  • No one expected such a historic ruling from the Supreme Court Justices. (Correct)

A Historic Event vs. An Historic Event

same meaning different spelling historic There is some conflict as to which indefinite article should precede historic/historical in a sentence. Is it a historical event or an historical event?

To answer this, we need to understand the rule regarding a vs. an, which is as follows,

  • Use the article “a” when followed by a word with a consonant sound.
  • Use the article “an” when followed by a word with a vowel sound.

This means that for words like hour and honor, the correct choice is “an.”

  • An hour.
  • An honor.

The “h” is silent in both of these words, so “an” is the appropriate choice.

This is not the case with the words historic and historical, however. Both of these words have a clear “h” sound at their beginning, so the appropriate choice is “a historic,” not “an historic.”

For a more in depth discussion on these two words, visit the full page on A vs. An.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Here’s a trick I came up with to remember historical vs. historic. Let me know what you think.

Historical ends in an “L.” Think of this “L” as standing for a “Long time ago.” Historical events are simply events that took place in the past, regardless of their significance.

Summary

Is it historical or historic? This all depends on your subject matter.

Historic refers to something that is very important or significant in history.

Historical refers to something that took place in the past, regardless of importance

[i]
[i]