Practicable vs. practical

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| Grammarist

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| Usage

Something that is practical is (1) of or relating to practice, (2) capable of being put to good use, (3) concerned with ordinary, tangible things, and (4) being such for all useful purposes.

Practicable is more narrowly defined. It means capable of being put into practice.

Confusion occurs between practical‘s second definition and the main definition of practicable. Think of practical as a synonym of useful, and practicable as a synonym of doable and feasible. Another important distinction is that practical can apply to people (per definition three) and skills (definition two), whereas practicable typically applies to plans or actions.

The corresponding noun of practicable is practicability. Practical makes practicality. Practicalness is listed in some dictionaries, but it is superfluous.


Fortunately an astonishing cross-section of our music community has begun to think about how it can be of practical assistance. [Vancouver Sun]

And unlike other pollutants, no effective, commercially practicable control technology exists. [NPR]

The continued lack of significant rain is furrowing the brows of clerks of the courses countrywide – particularly at tracks where watering is not a practical proposition. [Telegraph]

Mr Fridd said strong action needed to be taken now and the council needed to change the rules as soon as practicable to demand inspections. []

8 thoughts on “Practicable vs. practical”

  1. I think the statement in traffic law, for bicycles staying to the right, uses “as practicable” (and not “as practical”). Does this not emphasize that bicycles can move left for “everyday” hazards?

    • Yup, and it’s a context with which I am quite familiar. I’m a cyclist and our Transportation Code uses the word ‘practicable’. In fact, this is the only time I ever hear or see the word being used. Thus, it takes on an air of ‘legalese’ rather than just being an everyday word. It would be simpler and more clear to the general population to simply use another word such as ‘possible’ or ‘feasible’, but those codes are written by lawyers who spend a lot of money for their law degrees and want to let everyone know it. ‘Look at me; I’ve been to college and I can use BIG words!’

      • Actually lawyers love using extremely precise words, and sometimes older, rarer words are better at that. The law has to be strong enough to be broken but flexible enough to allow for it to be wide-reaching/practical/practicable.

  2. So, really, we just don’t need the word “practicable” (since it makes a person sound like they don’t know how to say the word “practical”) so it’s better, and safer, to use “practical” in all situations. :)

    • not same meaning so can’t be used interchangeably… maybe just say ‘feasible’ instead of ‘practicable’… sounds less snooty

      • Actually, “feasible” is closer to “possible”. In aviation there are three categories:

        Land Immediately – Set the aircraft down in the water, because you are about to die
        Land as soon as Possible – Set the aircraft down on the beach because you likely wont make it to the airfield.
        Land as soon as Practicable – Set the aircraft down at the closest airfield suitable for it’s size… in other words… the first place where a practiced safe landing can be made.


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