What is the difference in meaning between "seminal" and "path-breaking" in the scientific research ?

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    Please edit to show the research you've done, your prior understanding of those terms, why a dictionary can't answer this question for you, etc. Aug 23, 2022 at 0:09
  • I was unable to understand the difference in meaning from an Internet dictionary. Aug 23, 2022 at 6:34
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    "Path-breaking" isn't a real word. Use seminal. Aug 23, 2022 at 10:49
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    You probably mean 'groundbreaking', or maybe 'trailblazing'. Firstly, seminal is more formal. It pays to know that it shares roots (pun intended*) with 'semen' and is related to seeds germinating (from which whole trees grow). Groundbreaking is radical and different, but could be applied to something created yesterday. Seminal things have been around for a while - it takes time to grow the tree. *Actually a double pun, because I'm Australian ;-)
    – mcalex
    Aug 23, 2022 at 13:56

1 Answer 1


Merriam-Webster gives two sences of "seminal":

  • 1 of, relating to, or consisting of seed or semen
  • 2 containing or contributing the seeds of later development : creative, original * "Path-breaking" is perfectly valid English, the comment by user Maths Barry to the contrary notwithstanding. However, its meaning is somewhat different.
  • Collins gives as a definition for "path-breaking":

very original; ground-breaking; The report was itself a path-breaking study of that subject.

completely different and new and affecting the way in which things are done or considered in the future; May's path-breaking essay 'The Recovery of American Religious History' was published in the American Historical Review in 1964.

*This was a path-breaking and influential work, which remains a basic reference for historians of psychoanalysis today.

Novel, innovative, and unprecedented;
establishing a new standard for the future.
The narration in this novel is truly path-breaking—I've never read anything like it!
We've had some really path-breaking legislation this year that will influence the laws in this nation for decades to come.

The word "seminal" is generally used for a work, creation, or event that is the seed of future events or developments, and was highly influential. It suggests a starting point. It is thus most often used of events that occurred long enough ago that one can see what grew from them, or else as a prediction that something significant will grow from a recent starting point.

"Path-breaking" suggests a person or work that leads the way, but possibly is not the actual beginning of a trend or line of thought, rather something that developed and pushed ahead some set of developments.

Personally, I prefer to avoid the use of "seminal" (except in reference to male seminal fluid or seminal anatomy). Because it is so closely related to an exclusively male biological concept, it often unintentionally promotes the idea that new, creative developments are a primarily male province. This can make it feel ironic when the creator was in fact female. In place of

X was a seminal work on Y.

I might use such forms as:

  • X was a highly original work, which gave rise to a new line of thought on Y.
  • X started a new sequence of development on Y.

However, all this is merely a personal preference, or at most a matter of style. The word "seminal" remains perfectly natural, particularly in formal academic usage, where it is not uncommon.

  • Thank you for your detailed answer. It was something I was looking for. I would like to know why someone votes for close this question if you were able to give such a natural and nice explanation. Aug 27, 2022 at 17:17
  • @user2925716 One user said that more details are needed in the question, another said that more research should have been done, and shown in the question, before anyone tried to answer. If you want to discuss why questions should or should not be closed, that can be done on the English Language Learners Meta site. Note that closed questions can be reopened if the reasons for closure are dealt with. Aug 27, 2022 at 17:23

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