Historic or historical?

Posted on 4 November 2014 by Lucy Gregory

Should you use historic or historical?

In the past week, I’ve seen these words used incorrectly in a BBC report, an official document and a company’s financial reporting.

So, let’s get it right.

Historic is a word to describe something important in history. For example, ‘The assassination of President Kennedy was a historic event’.

Historical describes something that happened in the past. For example, ‘We are investigating historical accounting errors, which have only just come to light’.

There may be times when it’s appropriate to use the word ‘historic’ in business. Perhaps you’re writing about the ‘historic collapse of Lehman Brothers’ or the ‘historic year your company made its first million’. But if you’re simply referring to things that happened some time ago, the word you’re looking for is ‘historical’.

‘An historic’ or ‘a historic’?

There’s one final issue to clear up. Should you write ‘a’ or ‘an’ before words that start with the letter ‘h’?
If a word starts with the letter ‘h’ and the ‘h’ is silent, use ‘an’. For example, ‘an hour’, ‘an heir’, ‘an honour’.

If you sound the ‘h,’ use ‘a’. For example, ‘a horse’, ‘a headache’, ‘a healthy love of grammar’.

You may have come across (and been puzzled by) ‘an historian’, ‘an historic event’, ‘an hotel’. Historically (see what I did there?), the ‘h’ was silent. So it made sense to write ‘an’. Nowadays, almost everyone sounds the ‘h’ and using ‘an’ is a little old fashioned – although I do have a soft spot for it.