Friday, January 11, 2013

Word Choices (Part 4 of 6)

What makes it historical?

"Going to the concert last night was one of those historical occasions," Mattie enthused.

Really? I'd hardly call last night historical. When you use historical, you are referring to something significant in the past. If you use historic (as Mattie should have), you mean important to Mattie; it may not be important to you.

Read the following two sentences.

1. To be old enough to vote for the first time was a historic moment for me. This is correct because it refers to an important moment in my life. Your first opportunity to vote may not have been of great consequence to you.

2. It was a boring lecture about the historical romance of Napoleon and Josephine. This is correct because the romance was an important event in the past. It's a recorded romance, so it's not just one person's perspective.

How can you remember the difference? This is one of the terms I've struggled with, so I'll tell you how I distinguish them. When I use the word historic, it's a subjective term. That is, I make a judgment or decision about the importance of an event. Historical refers to the past and is a neutral word.

If it's historic, it's important to me; 

if it's historical, it means an important event in the past.


  1. Great post, Cec.
    "To be old enough to vote for the first time was an historic moment for me." If the word "historic" begins with a consonant, why does it take the article "an"? I've always wondered.

  2. Lynn asks a good question. The answer is that we don't say "an historic" (even though some people do). The rule is simple. If the word begins with a vowel sound, we say "an" as in "an hour" (the "h" is silent and the word starts with the dipthong sound "ou"). Unless you pronounce it "istoric," you don't use an.


What are your thoughts?