“Historic” vs. “Historical:” Are They Synonyms?

Hillary Clinton was the first female nominee from a major party for the office of US president. Now, Kamala Harris—while she is the third woman to run for vice president—is the first woman of color on a major party’s ticket.

These strong women are setting important examples for the next generation of children, but have their candidacies been historic or historical? Or are these incredibly similar words simply synonyms that can be interchanged? Let’s take a closer look.

WATCH: How Do You Pronounce The Word "Candidate"?

What does historic mean?

Historic is an adjective that means “well-known or important in history.” For example: the Declaration of Independence is a historic document crucial to the United States’s history. Or: that building around the corner is a historic landmark and deserves to be renovated.

Historic was first recorded around 1605–15. It originates from the Greek historikós (“historical, scientific”) via the Latin historicus. Synonyms for historic include notable, renowned, famous, famed, and memorable.

What does historical mean?

Historical is an adjective that can be defined as “of, pertaining to, treating, or characteristic of history or past events.” For example: when he was going through the garage, he found some historical documents from World War II in what he thought were just boxes of junk.

Historical can also refer to something that is “based on or reconstructed from an event, custom, or style from history.” For example: the theater company invested a huge amount of time and money to ensure the historical costumes were as authentic as possible.

Lastly, historical can mean something that existed (“opposed to being part of legend or fiction or as distinguished from religious belief”). It can also mean “several” pertaining to analysis based on a comparison among several periods of development … as in language or economics.”

First recorded in 1375–1425, historical stems from late Middle English and is ultimately derived from the same Latin word as historic, “historic” usSynonyms for historical include documented, authentic, factual, and attested.

How to use each word

Words pairs like historic and historical originally had similar meanings. Over time, how we use them has changed. (See also economic vs economical.) Today, we use historic to describe something important from the past, while historical tends to refer to something from a previous time. So, they aren’t really synonyms after all.

For example: when Barack Obama was named president of the United States, it was a historic moment. Photos from his inauguration will become historical artifacts for future generations.

To help keep it straight, remember that something historic is more than just a relic of the past. It has an influential or a lasting impact on history.

Other examples include:

  • Although you may not read about it in a textbook, this spot right here is historic, as it’s where I met your mother and my life changed forever.
  • July 20, 1969 was a historic day for mankind because astronauts landed on the moon for the first time.
  • Although it wasn’t the biggest Civil War battle, the Battle of Gettysburg was historic as it marked a crucial failure for Robert E. Lee’s army.
  • Those shopping for a new home are in luck as interest rates are at a historic low.

On the other hand, historical is simply something from the past or related to history but not necessarily monumental.

Examples include:

  • They took a trip to Colonial Williamsburg to learn about life during that historical era.
  • Some have used historical data from the 1918 Spanish flu to predict what the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic might be.

Unfortunately historic and historical aren't really synonyms, but you may be surprised by some of the synonym pairs in this article.

Previous "Use To" vs. "Used To": What's The Difference? Next "Have" vs. "Has": When To Use Each One