The two senses of this word seem very different. One sense is just another way to say like, and the other is an adjective describing the state of being divided into different portions. I can't see immediately how they are related. How did the antecedents of this word evolve? What is the etymology?

  • Whatever the reality, 'partial' as 'like' sounds to me like British-style understatement/misdirection.
    – Mitch
    Mar 27, 2011 at 16:26

2 Answers 2


According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, both come form the late Latin partialis (part), but through different Old French words: from partiel in the meaning of “incomplete”, and from parcial in the meaning of biased.

Etymonline does not corroborate this, but it indicates that the meaning of “incomplete” emerged later than the meaning of “biased”.

  • That's fascinating! From the French to the English they would almost appear to be false cognates, but from the Latin to the French they are clearly not.
    – kojiro
    Mar 27, 2011 at 14:13
  • Why does parciel mean biased when the original root meant part? That is what I'm trying to get at; what's the connection between the first easily extrapolated sense and the stranger sense in "partial to"?
    – Uticensis
    Mar 27, 2011 at 15:32
  • 1
    impartial = taking no 'part' in, ie no side in the argument. Partial is a back-formation from impartial.
    – mgb
    Mar 27, 2011 at 20:28
  • 1
    @Billare, "parciel" would mean that you have only part of the viewpoint. As in "one sided". Mar 28, 2011 at 10:12
  • And partial meaning "like" comes from partial meaning bias, which you don't say, but it's fairly obvious and the OED confirms. It moves from general senses of partial (to vices or poetry) which are close to the idea of bias, to trivial uses such as being partial to an arm-chair by the early-mid 19th century.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 1, 2021 at 10:28

These are two different meanings of the same word:

partial |ˈpär sh əl| adjective

1 existing only in part; incomplete : a question to which we have only partial answers.

2 favoring one side in a dispute above the other; biased : the paper gave a distorted and very partial view of the situation.

That's from NOAD. Their example sentence in the second meaning I don't think is unambiguous enough, so I would rewrite it as: the paper gave a distorted view of the situation, one that was partial to the incumbent mayor's party.

This site is temporarily in read-only mode and not accepting new answers.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .