Historic vs Historical

Monday’s Mishmash: Historic vs Historical

We all love historic costuming. . . . Or do we?

I always thought the words “historic” and “historical” were interchangeable, but as a writer, I should have known better! Here’s what the words actually mean.

A momentous event. Something that will go down in history.

Relating to the past, whether it’s noteworthy or not.


So, as you can see, the phrase we want to use is “historical costuming.”


Fashion Plate

Historical Fashion Plate (La Mode Illustree, 1883)

While we’re on the topic, what about A vs An? A lot of people write, “An historical costume,” or “An historic occasion.” But is this correct?

Technically, it depends on how you pronounce “history.” Of course, you don’t usually pronounce words aloud when you’re reading online, which is where some of the confusion comes in.

The rule for A vs An is simple: Regardless of how it’s spelled, if the word sounds like it begins with a consonant, use “a.” If it sounds like it begins with a vowel, use “an.”

It doesn’t matter whether the word starts with a vowel or not—it’s how it’s pronounced that determines the article used. (Somehow, I didn’t realize this until recently, so my older articles and blog posts may contain grammatical errors. Oops!)

In the United States, most people don’t drop their H’s, so “historical” and “historic” are pronounced “his-torical” and “his-toric.” Therefore, we should use “a” before these words. In other countries, however, people often use silent H’s, which means these words are pronounced “ist-orical,” and “ist-oric.” In these cases, “an” would be more appropriate, since the words sound like they begin with a vowel.


And that’s your grammar lesson for the day!

About Lisha Vidler

I am a sewing instructor living near Memphis, Tennessee.
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2 Responses to Historic vs Historical

  1. I learned that in 19th century literature the ‘an’ use went further. Pronunciation wasn’t the deciding factor. All the upper-classes learned French, and everywhere a silent ‘h’ existed in that language, ‘an’ was used. So they still pronounced the ‘h’ when they used ‘an’ for words like hospital, historic, hotel, &c. It was an indicator of education. This lasted at least up until my childhood in the 1960s. By coincidence, I discussed this with my father recently (he is in his 80s). Interesting development in the English language.

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