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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?

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'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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