in a Persian to English translation exam, I wrote "a fictional tale" but the answer was "a fanciful tale".

I searched the meaning of "fictional" and "fanciful". I couldn't find the difference between them. So, do "a fanciful tale" and "a fictional tale" have the same meaning? If they have not, what is the difference?


'Fictional' and 'fanciful' have quite different meanings. 'Fictional' simply means something was made-up—it has a neutral connotation. 'Fanciful' is a less common word that means 'over-imaginative and unrealistic' (OED); it has a negative connotation. For example, if I say something was a 'fanciful proposal', then I am suggesting that it is unfeasible, and perhaps that someone was being over-optimistic or naive when they made it.

Edit: 'fanciful' has another meaning, which probably applies to your question. It can mean an 'imaginative take on something' and does not necessarily have a negative connotation. In this case, 'fictional' and 'fanciful' are roughly synonymous.

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  • So, for example, What are "Harry Potter" or "The Lord of the Rings" novels? fictional or fanciful? – AR AM Apr 17 at 13:43
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    @ARAM Fictional, for certain. Contrast with non-fictional novels such as 'War and Peace' or 'The Selfish Gene'. Remember than 'fanciful' is a much rarer word, and would only be used in very specific contexts. The vast majority of the time, 'fictional' is your word. – Joe Apr 17 at 23:35

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