I am wondering which choice works properly in each example and if there is any preference over the other, please let me know why?

1. What is the use of theoretical knowledge when it has no practical application?! Also, I believe that, the most efficient type of knowledge is the .......... one.
a. experiential
b. empirical

2. English grammar has never been theoretical. It has always been........
a. experiential
b. empirical

Looking at each option semantically, I think, in either case, both words work properly, but based on the dictionary definitions, it strikes me as if the only where the adjective "experiential" is often used these days is in the collocation "experiential learning", while the adjective "empirical" is the exact opposite of "theoretical" which is in my question.

Please kindly help me to clear this ambiguity.

1 Answer 1


I was surprised to see that the dictionary definitions of these two adjectives are so similar, but the examples given for each are in line with how I am used to seeing them used in context.

Experiential tends to be used to describe things like training or learning - things that perhaps 'intangible'. I've seen experimental theatre described as 'experiential' where the production invokes a more sensory experience rather than simply observing it.

Empirical tends to be used to describe things like data or evidence - things that are more tangible in that they have been found and recorded.

In your first example, 'knowledge' could be used with either. This ngram shows usage of the terms 'experiential knowledge' and 'empirical knowledge'. Both terms can be found in online dictionaries.

I don't feel that either fit your second example at all. The subject is 'grammar'. Grammar is a set of rules, a structure. It would not be described as either experiential or empirical - how does one experience grammar? You could perhaps describe a study or knowledge of grammar as "experiential" if it was rooted in practical learning rather than the learning of theory.

  • Well, @Astralbee that was how a native speaker had phrased it (I'm about #2.) However, the distinction between the two is a bit hazy to me. According to your definitions, I still think they can be used interchangeably wherever one of them can be used and the distinction between the two remained vague to me.
    – A-friend
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 14:15

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