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.



    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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