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Which of these is the right usage?

  • John's financial situation is not good.

  • John's economic situation is not good.

When is the usage of financial justified over economic and vice versa, given their similar meanings?

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1  
They mean different things. Please consult a dictionary before asking here. –  Robusto Dec 12 '12 at 15:53
1  
The "al" endings seem like they should mean the same thing but they are completely unrelated –  mgb Dec 12 '12 at 15:54
    
@Robusto (i) you are assuming that the OP hasn't consulted a dictionary, (ii) the dictionary is not always the best source for differentiating words with similar meanings, and (iii) most members to not have access to OED. OED defines financial and economic, respectively, as Of, pertaining, or relating to finance or money matters. and Of or relating to household management, or to the ordering of private affairs; domestic. Some further clarification is needed. –  jlovegren Dec 13 '12 at 0:15
    

3 Answers 3

Firstly, it's understandable to get confused on the usage of economic vs. economical (see p.381 of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English usage for explanation on the difference).

In current usage, economic situation is normally used in association with a large entity, especially a nation-state. It is rarely (but still occasionally) used with reference to specific individuals. Financial situation, on the other hand, is used in association with large entities, but also potentially with individuals, e.g., John. Financial situation is then the preferred usage.

This assessment is in line with corpus data, some of which I give below. (Caveat obtrectator: corpus results are from a research-grade POS-tagged corpus which is sensitive to morphological boundaries.)

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Here are some hits for "economic situation" preceded by the genitive 's in COCA (notice that there are cases where the possessor is a family or an indefinite individual):

1        THESE DRIVERS ' ECONOMIC SITUATION MAY HAVE    1   
2        THEIR FAMILIES ' ECONOMIC SITUATION , MUST 1   
3        THE WORLD 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION FOR A  1   
4        THE TIBETANS ' ECONOMIC SITUATION DIRECTLY ,   1   
5        THE NATION 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION ON SEPT   1   
6        THE NATION 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION . ''  1   
7        THE NATION 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION , NOW 1   
8        THE LUMBEES ' ECONOMIC SITUATION GREW WORSE    1   
9        THE LEAGUE 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION : AT  1   
10       THE FAMILY 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION . ''  1   
11       THE COUNTRY 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION HAS WORSENED 1   
12       THAT TIBET 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION WOULD BE  1   
13       PARTICULAR EMPLOYEE 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION ; THE    1   
14       OF RUSSIA 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION IS A   1   
15       NORTH KOREA 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION DETERIORATES ,   1   
16       IN VIETNAM 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION , THE 1   
17       IN ONE 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION , ''  1   
18       IN AMERICA 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION WAS THE   1   
19       IMPROVED IRAN 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION AND HAVE   1   
20       IMPROVE SYRIA 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION AND BREAK  1   
21       IMPROVE ONE 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION . '' 1   
22       GIVEN PERU 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION , THE 1   
23       GIVEN G.M. 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION , ''  1   
24       BUT BATASHI 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION IS BETTER    1   
25       BALTIC REPUBLIC 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION .    1   
26       ABOUT JAPAN 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION AND HOW  1   
27       ABOUT CHRISTOPHER 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION BEFORE HE  1   
28       A COUNTRY 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION AND LIKELY 1   
29       A COUNTRY 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION .  1   
30       @@25365 TODAY 'S ECONOMIC SITUATION PRESENTS A

As for financial situation, the phrase still is applied to large entities such as corporations, and state and nation, it is however also applied with more frequency to individuals. Unlike the corpus hits for economic situation, we find the proper names referring to specific individuals.

1        DISCUSSED ENRON 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION . ''    2   
2        DENVER-BASED FRONTIER 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION HAS QUICKLY   1   
3        AT ERNIE 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION . AND  1   
4        AND SHANNON 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION MIGHT HAVE  1   
5        AND LOAN 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION WHO ARE    1   
6        ANALYZE INA 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION . MELMAN    1   
7        AC TRANSIT 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION ARE FAR  1   
8        A PERSON 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION . ''   1   
9         VINCENT 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION TELLS ONLY 1   
10       . JULIAN 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION CAUSED HIM 1   
11       . EVERYBODY 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION IS DIFFERENT    1   
12       , GORE 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION IS TIGHT 1   
13       , DAVID 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION . WAS   1   
14       , CARRUTH 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION WAS ANYTHING  1   
15       YOUR FAMILY 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION , YOU   1   
16       YOUR FAMILY 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION , LOCAL 1   
17       YOUR CHILD 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION AS WELL  1   
18       WOODY ALLEN 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION , BUT   1   
19       THIS COUNTRY 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION . LET  1   
20       THEIR PARENT 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION AS THEY    1   
21       THE TRIBE 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION . THE 1   
22       THE TEAM 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION HAS IMPROVED   1   
23       THE STATE 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION DETERIORATED ,    1   
24       THE STATE 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION AND EDUCATIONAL   1   
25       THE STATE 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION , HE  1   
26       THE ROCKIES ' FINANCIAL SITUATION DOES N'T 1   
27       THE ORGANIZATION 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION -- OPERATING   1   
28       THE MAGAZINE 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION . A    1   
29       THE LEAGUE 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION , ESPECIALLY 1   
30       THE INVESTOR 'S FINANCIAL SITUATION AND RISK
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You're right that financial is favoured over economic for individuals, but "personal economic circumstances" isn't at all uncommon (although I'll admit "personal financial circumstances" is almost twice as common even there). –  FumbleFingers Dec 13 '12 at 19:34

You can talk about someone's finances but, you cannot talk about their economy, as economy is the flow of money between many entities, usually at country level.

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People do speak of household or personal economy—however, in the sense of frugal or prudent. –  Andrew Lazarus Dec 12 '12 at 21:55
    
I don't see anything unusual in referring to "my economic circumstances", nor do hundreds of others. And thousands of people have written about his economic circumstances (obviously they're less reticent talking about other people's money than their own! :) Just because economy doesn't fit so well doesn't rule out economic here. –  FumbleFingers Dec 13 '12 at 19:28

"Economical" is the wrong word to use here.

ec·o·nom·i·cal
/ˌekəˈnämikəl/ Adjective Giving good value or service in relation to the amount of money, time, or effort spent. (of a person or lifestyle) Careful not to waste money or resources.

You could say John's economic situation is not good, but that's a little ambiguous. Financial is a much better choice.

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OP's erroneous economical has been edited out, but enlighten me - how is John's economic situation ambiguous? I can't see any difference between economic/financial in this context. Personally, I'd probably use circumstances rather than situation, but apparently I'm in the minority there –  FumbleFingers Dec 13 '12 at 0:55
    
@FumbleFingers I mentioned "financial" as being a much better choice for reasons that jlovegren outlined well in his answer. As for ambiguity, I may be the one in the minority - but to my eyes "economic" could also mean his ability to be economical. –  Marcus_33 Dec 13 '12 at 15:26
1  
It's not so clear-cut for me with electric/electrical, but with economic/economical, I divide them pretty definitely as being connected to finance/thrift respectively. So I just wouldn't even register that ambiguity (OP's original erroneous usage stuck out like a sore thumb as implying "non-native speaker here!" :). –  FumbleFingers Dec 13 '12 at 19:23

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