I can't understand why there are these two sets of adjectives: Those ending in -ic and those ending in -ical.

For example, are there any differences between cubic and cubical? Can't they be used with identical meanings? (LOL! Identical itself is like that!)

I know that when you want to make the adverb of adjectives ending in -ic you should add an -al to -ic before adding -ly.

But why are there adjectives ending in -ical in the first place?

  • 2
    As a very loose trend, Xic usually implies a literal and intrinsic connection to X, while Xical can just imply a common trait. At least if I were presented with a made-up pair of words and asked to guess their meanings I'd say something along those lines, but of course real English words can do anything. Jul 10, 2023 at 8:15

1 Answer 1


The -ic and -ical pairs often have very similar meanings, but there are examples where the meanings are significantly different. For example "Historic" (meaning important, grand, will be part of the historical record) and "Historical" (from the past, relating to history) And often only one form is used. So we have both "symmetric" and "symmetrical" (with similar meanings) but "spherical" (never spheric (except in an unrelated sense)) and "nostalgic" never "nostalgical"

The pairs developed as in middle English, the -ic ending often marked a noun (this is still the case with words like "physic" = medicine) These word endings are all derived from Latin suffixes -icalis or -icus + -alis.

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