Word Choice: Economic vs. Economical
  • 2-minute read
  • 29th June 2016

Word Choice: Economic vs. Economical

The words “economic” and “economical” are the stuff pedants’ nightmares are made of. This is because they have importantly distinct meanings, yet they seem very similar at first glance.

Suffice to say, this causes a lot of confusion, even among native speakers of English. Thus, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with these terms so you know how to use them in your work.

Economic (Related to Finance)

The adjective “economic” is mostly used when referring to money, finances or the economy:

To implement the plan, major economic reforms will be necessary.

It can also be used when describing something connected to the study of economics:

Various economic theories were proposed to explain the crisis.

Sometimes, “economic” is used to describe the financial prospects of a particular company:

The current business model will not be economic in the long term.

If only someone had warned Blockbuster. [Photo: Ian Taylor]
In all cases, however, “economic” refers to money and finances.

Economical (Value for Money)

“Economical” is also an adjective, but specifically refers to “value for money” or “avoiding waste”. For instance, if we were running an understaffed business with a limited budget, we might say:

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We need an economical solution to the personnel problem.

The term “economical” also applies in non-financial situations involving efficient use of resources:

I drive a hybrid because it’s economical on fuel.

"And I wrote 'I ❤ Hybrid' on it because I want everyone to know how awesome I am."
“I wrote ‘I  ❤ Hybrid’ on it because I want everyone to know how awesome I am.”

So while “economical” often means “value for money,” it can be used to refer to thrifty use of any resource.

Economic or Economical?

While some use these terms interchangeably, in academic writing, it’s crucial to maintain the distinction between “economic” and “economical.” This will ensure clarity, helping you to communicate effectively.

There’s no simple way to remember the difference between these terms, but it can help to think of “economical” as a variation of “economic.”

This way, if “economic” has the general meaning of “pertaining to money,” adding the “-al” gives “economical” the specific meaning of “not wasteful.” Remember:

Economic = Related to the economy/money

Economical = Value for money/not wasteful

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