Webster 1913 Edition






, }
, Gr.
: cf. F.
. See
Of or pertaining to history, or the record of past events;
as, an
poem; the
There warriors frowning in
Historical painting
that branch of painting which represents the events of history.
Historical sense
that meaning of a passage which is deduced from the circumstances of time, place, etc., under which it was written.
The historic sense
the capacity to conceive and represent the unity and significance of a past era or age.

Definition 2024





historical (comparative more historical, superlative most historical)

  1. Of, concerning, or in accordance with recorded history, (particularly) as opposed to legends, myths, and fictions.
    July 4, 1776, is an historic date. A great deal of historical research has been done on the events leading up to that day.
    The historical works of Lord Macaulay and Edward Gibbon are in and of themselves historic.
    1. (literature, art) About history; depicting persons or events from history.
      • (Can we date this quote?) Paul Hayward, "Seminar VII: Hagiography":
        Hagiography, the historical genre which is the subject of this week's seminar, comprises narratives concerned with the saints and their achievements, especially the miracles which God has performed through them and on their behalf.
      • 2015 January 28, Mark Harris, "How 'Selma' Got Smeared" in Grantland:
        There is no acknowledgment—because there is no understanding—that sometimes historical fiction departs from facts in order to reach for more abstract, thematic, or complexly intuitive truths that even the most diligently fact-checked histories and biographies can fail to illuminate.
  2. Of, concerning, or in accordance with the past generally.
    1. (literature, art) Set in the past.
    2. (uncommon) Former, erstwhile; (religious, obsolete) lapsed, nominal.
      • 1886, Jacob Boehme translated by John Ellistone in Works, volume 1, epistle 2, §49, page 39:
        But concerning some persons of your neighbourhood... their Confession [of Faith] is rather an opinion than a true and sincere earnestness, for all of them are not that which they boast and glory to be; there may be many honest hearts among them; but many of them are only historical and titular, and desire only to show themselves, and to be applauded ...
    3. (grammar) The 'historic' tense.
    4. (obsolete, biology) Synonym of hereditary or evolutionary.
  3. Of, concerning, or in accordance with the scholarly discipline of history.
    The Royal Historical Society / The State Historical Society of Wisconsin
    1. Done in the manner of a historian: written as a development over time or in accordance with the historical method.
    2. (uncommon) Synonym of historic: important or likely to be important to history and historians.
      • 2010 July 12, Erich Follath & al., "Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei" in Der Spiegel:
        EB: We live in a special time of awakening. This is a historical moment for Egypt
        DS: In which many see you as a kind of messiah.
        EB: I neither can nor want to be a savior.
  4. Forming compound adjectives with the meaning "historical/~" or "historically":

Usage notes

  • Like many terms that start with a non-silent h but have emphasis on their second syllable, some people precede historical with an, others with a.
  • Historic and historical are variants of one another and have shared the same meaning (related to history) for much of their history. In present usage, however, a distinction is often made between the two: historic is used as an adjective for the study of history, while historical is used as an adjective for the events of the past. As such, historic is used to describe people, things, and events that are or will be considered important by future historians, while historical is used for people, things, and events in the past, whether important or not. A "historic event" is an important moment past, present, or in the future; a "historical event" is some moment in the past.



Derived terms



historical (plural historicals)

  1. A historical romance.
    • 1999, Anne K. Kaler, Rosemary E. Johnson-Kurek, Romantic Conventions, page 63:
      However, as regular romance readers know, the romance novels that appear on the best-seller lists are not Harlequins at all, but rather historicals and contemporaries, which vary widely from the Harlequin pattern in style, plot, and character.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "historical, adj. and n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2012.