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What is the difference between words like: Electric-Electrical ? For example is it correct to say Electric engineer rather than Electrical ?

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Economic usually refers to application while economical usually refers to the quality

"Economic, which usually refers to economics or an economy, has a wider range of application than economical, which usually refers to the quality of economy and means 'thrifty' or 'not wasteful.'"

Webster's Dictionary of English Usage


Electric and electrical is normally synonymous; but the latter is more common in a compound naming devices

"Both can refer to anything involving electricity, be it a thunderstorm... All that is required for something to be electric or electrical is that it involve forces created by the presence of charged particles, such as electrons... and molecules made from them. Chemical bonds are ultimately electric in nature, and even the magnetic field of a bar magnet can be considered an electrical phenomenon, since it results from the motion of electrons in the atoms of the magnet. The word electric is somewhat more common in compounds naming devices such as electric motor..."

American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Styles


Historic refers to a significant event in history while historical refers to something that happened in the past

"Historic refers to that which is associated with significant events in history... Thus, a historic house is likely to be of interest not just because it is relatively old, but because an important person lived in it or was otherwise associated with it. In contrast, historical refers more generally to that which happened in the past, regardless of significance."

American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Styles

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The use is context dependent. That means you need to follow common usage in each case.

An Electrical engineer is a person skilled in the construction and maintenance of electric devices.

An Electric engineer is an engineer who is powered by electricity. (this doesn't exist)

The -al suffix forms an adjective meaning "pertaining to". So while "Electric X" means that "X is electric" (for example it may be powered by electricity"), an "electrical X" means that "X is concerned with electricty" (for example they are interested in it).

Using "Electric" with an living being is jarring. It goes against our expectations. The author Phillip K. Dick used this in the title of his novel Do androids dream of electric sheep?

In other situations the words are close synonyms: "an electric circuit" or "an electrical circuit" mean the same.

  • "Electric" is sometimes used in connection with a person to mean "exciting". In that sense, an "electric engineer" might be unusual. :-) – fixer1234 May 24 '17 at 5:30

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