English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I was having a debate with my family about the differences between the usage of extract and extricate.

For example, can one extricate a non-living item? Can one extricate a hair? We have heard of extricating oneself, but can one extract oneself? Or extract a living person?

And dictionary.com does not do this justice, unfortunately.

share|improve this question
up vote 11 down vote accepted

The meanings are slightly different; both are loosely defined as "to remove (from an environment)"; however, "to extract" is to remove something from its surroundings in general, while "to extricate" is to remove something from confinement, binding or difficulty.

So, it is possible to "extricate" something non-living, if it is in the context of removing the object from a confined space or to release it from bonds. You can "extricate" a fossil from the surrounding rock, for instance. You can, in almost all cases, use "extract" where you would use extricate, but not vice-versa. I say "almost" all cases because the term "extract" often has the connotation of removing something that is "mixed in", especially in scientific context. So, to "extract" a fossil from the soil might make it seem similar to the listener as extracting water from the soil. In political and tradecraft doublespeak, "extract" also has the connotation of placing someone in confinement, instead of removing them from it, making it nearly antonymic to "extricate".

share|improve this answer
+1 for the whole answer. I'd like to upvote again just for that interesting aside about antonymic doublespeak. – FumbleFingers Jul 20 '11 at 21:19
Right. When you "extricate" something, generally there is something actively working to keep it there (intentionally or not). – T.E.D. Jul 20 '11 at 22:17

Both "extract" and extricate" have the connotation of "to pull out." But the context is meaningfully different.

To EXTRACT something is to "pull out" something that belongs there NATURALLY. One extracts fruit juice from fruit.

To EXTRICATE something is to "pull out" something that has gotten where it DOESN'T belong. The mouse tried to extricate himself from the trap.

share|improve this answer

Extract means to pull out from a general environment (extract the medicine)while for extricate is to also pull something out but in a different way(extricate the body from under the truck)

share|improve this answer
What new information does your answer add to already existing ones? – Vilmar Jan 14 '15 at 8:41

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.