What is the difference between characteristic and typical?
I've seen that they both are used with kinda the same structure (be characteristic/typical of sb/sth)

Like: "This hospitality is characteristic of him." Or "Being late is typical of him."

But it seems to me that typical is usually used to show annoyance, but characteristic is not, right?

I wanted to know if it is possible to use typical with just the same meaning as characteristic, i.e. not to show annoyance, in a sentence like "This hospitality is typical of him".

And what about using characteristic to show annoyance, in a sentence like "It's characteristic of him to ruin his friends' parties"?

  • 1
    'Characteristic!' is unusual as a stand-alone comment. Dec 18, 2014 at 13:03

3 Answers 3


If you open the nine drop-down examples of usage at the entry for typical at Oxforddictionaries.com, you will see that the word can readily be used in both positive and negative contexts.

However, I think the implied intensity of the negative sense is often greater with typical than it is with characteristic, which is often used in more neutral contexts. Typical is therefore often used in situations where the speaker is accustomed to disparaging others.

Hence I'd be much more likely to say

"It's typical of him to ruin his friends' parties"


"It's characteristic of him to ruin his friends' parties"

  • The fox needs a hat. Dec 18, 2014 at 12:58
  • @EdwinAshworth - For you, Edwin...
    – Erik Kowal
    Dec 18, 2014 at 12:59
  • @EdwinAshworth - Where is your hat, BTW?
    – Erik Kowal
    Dec 18, 2014 at 13:10
  • I couldn't compete with that, so I'll not try. When does the film come out? Dec 18, 2014 at 13:11
  • @EdwinAshworth - What does the fox say? Find out in The Interview (Sony Pictures).
    – Erik Kowal
    Dec 18, 2014 at 13:12

As their spelling and meaning implies, there is a close link between the words characteristic and character, meaning the essential nature of a thing, and in fact both words come from the ancient Greek kharackter, meaning a "symbol or imprint on the soul.

  • stripes characteristic of the zebra

When something is typical, it is common, regular, expected.

  • a typical romantic poem
  • a typical case of arteritis
  • It's typical (expected) of him to ruin his friends' parties.
  • This is the correct answer, IMO. The other answers (so far) do not seem at all appropriate to me.
    – Drew
    Dec 18, 2014 at 16:36

Typical when used to describe somethin objectively is neutral, you could use either typical or characteristic.

Spraying ink when in danger is a typical/characteristic behaviour of squids.

But you can also use typical to make reference to a steretoype, then it would have a negative connotation. Characteristic isn't used in this way.

He's the typical macho-man.

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