Problematic vs. problematical

  • Problematic and problematical are different forms of the same word. Both mean (1) posing a problem, (2) open to debate, and (3) unsettled. Though they’re both listed in most dictionaries, problematic is more common in 21st-century edited writing. Problematical isn’t incorrect—and, in fact, it was the preferred form before the late 20th century–but it is an unnecessary variant.


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    This ngram graphs the use of problematic and problematical in English-language books published from 1800 to 2000. It’s self-explanatory.



    1. Etiennegerard says:

      The words have identical meaning.  “Problematic” is the older and “problematical” is probably an American English variant, given their preference for longer words which some think are more learned.

      • Actually, the OED lists numerous instances of “problematical” used by non-U.S. writers as long ago as the late 16th century and early 17th, so the word is not an Americanism.

    2. I saw the form “problematical” in a book and found it odd – and decided to Google it. It was great to find such a short and concise explanation. Thanks!

    3. Paul Morgan says:

      I found the word problematical used in a 2012 report. I considered its use very unnecessary. Perhaps pre dating what Queen Elizabeth II would consider as correct usage.

    4. davidstead22 says:

      Problematical has been used today in a Sunday Mail article about Lord Lucan

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