English has a number of parallel adjectives with -ic and
-ical endings. They are similar in their forms and origins but
somewhat different in their meanings and uses. Here are some pairs
Historic means unique, important in history, famous,
something that happened for the first time. It also implies that the
event itself made history:
The first trip to the moon was a historic event.
(Some people might say AN historic event.)
Historical usually refers to history in general; it
means that the event was part of a long story about the past:
"War and Peace" is a historical novel (a novel based on
real events in history).
Napoleon's historical importance is enormous (his
importance in the history of Europe).
Economic refers to the area of financial activities:
Spending by consumers is one indicator of economic
Economical means good value, inexpensive, not wasteful:
Buying a kilo of oranges is usually more economical
than paying the price for each orange.
Comic refers to comedy or humor in phrases like comic
book, comic strip (newspaper cartoon), or comic
actor. It can describe a type, like something or someone that makes
you laugh, as in a comedy; it's intended to make you laugh.
He was often described as a brilliant comic actor,
but Alec Guinness actually played many serious roles, too.
Comical (somewhat formal in use) means humorous, funny,
amusing; something that makes you want to laugh because it strikes you
as funny or silly at the moment, not necessarily because it was intended
The dog had a comical face.
The lawyer's outrageous defense of his client was so far-fetched that
it was comical.
Classic means memorable, an outstanding model or example
of a class. The representation is good all by itself, and does not have
distracting or trendy features:
The Ford Model T is a classic car.
Classical refers to a historically important form
in music, art, or architecture based on ancient Roman or Greek models:
Beethoven composed symphonies in the classical
Electric means operated by electricity (and is sometimes
used interchangeably with electrical).
My grandmother didn't have an electric washing machine; the one
she had was operated manually.
Electric also means very vibrant, giving a pleasant
The actor's performance was electric.
Electrical (used less often) refers to a circuit of
The storm damaged the electrical connection to
Politic means tactful, shrewd, clever; acting in one's
own interest in an group or community:
Leaving the business was the only politic thing
he could do after his mistake.
Political refers to the politics of running a government:
There are two major political parties in the United States.
Problematic is preferred more than problematical
although they are both used in the same way with the same meaning of
puzzling, difficult to solve, uncertain:
The scientist's interpretation of the research data was problematic.
Because parallel pairs of adjectives like these are often problematical,
it is helpful for students to have a good dictionary.