When do you use hierarchical and when hierarchic?

For example, hierarchical database sounds much more native to me, even as a non-native English speaker. But why isn't it hierarchic database?

Edit: I just realized there are more words this question applies to: acyclical/acyclic, aesthetical/aesthetic, cosmetical/cosmetic,...

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    I hesitate to answer because I wonder the same thing, but it seems to me that hierarchic pertains more to human organizational structure, whereas hierarchical is a generic adjective. I am probably wrong. Dec 5, 2013 at 23:05
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    Regarding your edit, see this canonical question with two excellent answers. For particular word pairs, see our dedicated tag "ic-ical", which I am also adding to your question.
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 5, 2013 at 23:35
  • I don't think your other examples work. Aesthetic and cosmetic are the common usage.
    – Rory Alsop
    Dec 5, 2013 at 23:49
  • @RegDwigнt Very interesting read, thanks! Now that I'm seeing how many questions are tagged with this, I wonder myself how I couldn't stumble over one of them. If you transform your comment into an answer, I can accept it.
    – Max Truxa
    Dec 5, 2013 at 23:56
  • The two suffixes -ic and -ical are identical in meaning and can often both apply to the same word. The morpheme is usually just called -ic/-ical. This link gives more info. Apr 2, 2022 at 21:11

2 Answers 2


Every single dictionary link I found redirects hierarchic to hierarchical. It seems as though there is absolutely no distinction between the meanings of two words and hierarchical is vastly preferred. NGram data fully supports this preference.

Therefore, always use hierarchical.

As for why it is hierarchical and not hierarchic, please see the previously linked question and answer: Why is it “geometric” but “theoretical”?


Hierarchic is the less commonly used adjective of hierarchy. Hierarchy is the system of organization, thus it is a noun. Hierarchical is also an adjective form of the base word hierarchy. It is used to modify the subject (organization, system etc.). In other words, we more commonly use the word hierarchical to inform the reader that the subject is a organized system of tiers, or levels.

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    – Community Bot
    Apr 2, 2022 at 20:15
  • This answer doesn't really add anything to the previous answer, which says hierarchical is vastly more common.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 22, 2022 at 10:10

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