Word Choice: Causal vs. Casual
  • 2-minute read
  • 5th March 2018

Word Choice: Causal vs. Casual

Sometimes typos are obvious. If you write “teh” instead of “the,” for example, it’s easy to spot the error. Half the time your phone or computer will autocorrect it for you! But things get trickier with “causal” and “casual.” One keystroke out of place here and you get a completely different word.

And since “causal” and “casual” are both proper words, you can’t rely on autocorrect to help you out. Luckily, then, we’re here to help out with our quick guide to how these words should be used.

Causal (Related to Causation)

“Causal” means “related to causation.” We use it when discussing relationships of cause and effect:

Our study looks at the causal relationship between weather and mood.

The key thing to remember with this word is that it’s always related to the cause of something. The “causal relationship” above, for example, refers to how weather affects how we feel.

“The weather today will start out gloomy, but by lunch it will be looking more upbeat.”

Casual (Informal or Relaxed)

The word “casual” has a few different uses, but it usually refers to being informal, relaxed, or unconcerned about something. For example, we might say:

To the casual observer, this wedding looked just like any other.

Here, “casual observer” implies a non-expert or someone who is not paying close attention. We could also say:

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You can’t turn up to a wedding ceremony in casual clothes!

In this case, “casual clothes” refers to jeans, trainers, or other informal clothing.

If we can see your knees, you’re dressed “casually.”

A slightly different use is to mean “irregular” or “temporary,” such as when we talk about “casual work” (i.e., work without regular hours). Even this sense of “casual” draws on the idea of an informal or relaxed relationship, though, so it isn’t too far from the other uses outlined above.

Causal or Casual?

As you can see, “causal” and “casual” have very different uses. The good news is that this makes it easy to remember the difference. The bad news is that a minor typo could lead to a big error!

The best way to avoid mistakes with these words is to proofread your work carefully. And remember:

Causal = Related to causation

Casual = Informal or relaxed

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