electric / electrical

EnglishBug

Senior Member
Chinese
I looked up the dictionary and found that the interpretaions to these two words were very similar. I have seen many occassions in which these two words are interchangeable. Can anyone give me some sample sentences to illustrate the difference between them? Thank you.
 
  • JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    There have been quite a few discussions of this subject before. If you type "electric electrical" into the search box at the top of the page, you will find some threads that will probably help you. It is not a simple answer!
     

    lablady

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Hello EnglishBug,

    JulianStuart has pointed you in the direction of some good answers. Allow me to show you two threads in particular that try to simplify this complicated answer.

    Electric energy or electrical energy?
    Electric/electrical device

    The first link contains this explanatory post (post #3):
    JamesM said:
    I think it's usually "electric" in front of a device or machine, but "electrical" in front of "energy". If "electric" is being used figuratively, though, it could be used in front of energy.

    For example, "The star was due to come on stage any moment, and there was an electric energy spreading through the audience." To say "electrical energy" in this context would sound like the crowd was being shocked by electricity. :)
    In the electric/electrical device thread, Panjandrum comes to the rescue by quoting Fowler:
    In most contexts electric is the automatic choice. Electrical is reserved for contexts in which the sense is more general, "relating to or connected with electricity."
    New Fowler's Modern English Usage

    I hope one of these threads helps a little.
     

    miyamoto.musashi

    Senior Member
    Anglais
    Right. If there's real electricity in it, it's "electric." If it's about electricity, but isn't charged or powered with any inside, it's "electrical."

    Thus, we have "electric blanket" and "electrical engineer."
     

    Imber Ranae

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Here's my general understanding:

    electric = runs on electricity, electronic (specific term) [electric car, electric fan, electric appliance, etc. Also metaphorically: exciting, energetic]

    electrical = having to do with/concerning electricity (broader term) [electrical engineer, electrical wiring, electrical tape, electrical shortage, electrical energy, etc.]

    I'm sure there are many exceptions, of course. One that springs to my mind is "electric company" for the organization that runs a power-plant. Sometimes the two words may be used interchangeably, as "electrical/electric shock".
     

    Wade Aznable

    Senior Member
    Italian
    electric = runs on electricity, electronic (specific term) [electric car, electric fan, electric appliance, etc. Also metaphorically: exciting, energetic]

    electrical = having to do with/concerning electricity (broader term) [electrical engineer, electrical wiring, electrical tape, electrical shortage, electrical energy, etc.]
    Therefore, when talking about performing maintenance on the electric devices of an industrial plant, I should say electrical maintenance, right?
     
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