7

Both words can be found in a dictionary and have the same meaning. My question is: is any one better than the other in any way? Is one more fitting in certain scenarios?

I think revolutionist sounds more natural but I'm not sure. I've been living in Eastern USA for about 5 years so could it be that revolutionist is just more common in my area?

  • Compare the suffixes -er and -ist -- there's significant difference, though they are both used in a general sense, sometimes even incorrectly. – Kris Feb 25 '15 at 8:18
  • 7
    In general, an -er is a practitioner, an ist is a believer in the philosophy. And there's revolutionary anyway. What meaning are you actually trying to convey? Can you include an example sentence, and maybe the broader context? – Kris Feb 25 '15 at 8:19
  • 3
    I frankly don't ever recall (in my 65 years) seeing or hearing "revolutioner". I may have heard "revolutionist" a handful of times. – Hot Licks Feb 25 '15 at 13:18
  • 4
    I'm trying to imagine what a "revolutionist" or "revolutioner" is, as opposed to a "revolutionary". Maybe an ice skater or a dancer who is expert at revolving around in a circle rapidly. – GEdgar Feb 25 '15 at 21:33
  • 1
    "Revolutioner" does not appear in my copy of the Concise Oxford. – Harry Johnston Feb 26 '15 at 8:04
28

If what you are looking for is this sentence "he was a great revolutionist" then the correct way of saying it would be: he was a great revolutionary; " Che Guevara was a great revolutionary."

Revolutionary: a person who either actively participates in, or advocates revolution. Also, when used as an adjective, the term revolutionary refers to something that has a major, sudden impact on society or on some aspect of human endeavor.

  • I see, I had only seen "revolutionary" being used as an adjective. Is there any occasion where "revolutionist" would be a better choice? or is it just preference? – Jorge Luque Feb 25 '15 at 9:01
  • 15
    In AmE I have only seen "revolutionary". I can imagine "revolutionist" referring to one who advocated but did not participate in a revolution, but I cannot imagine using "revolutioner" in any context. – Brian Hitchcock Feb 25 '15 at 12:16
  • Why would He was a great revolutionist be incorrect? noun 1. a person who advocates or takes part in a revolution. – Jim Reynolds Feb 26 '15 at 4:53
10

We almost always use revolutionary (versus revolutionist or revolutioner, etc.) to name (noun) or describe (adjective) someone who caused, led, supported, or was important to a revolution (major and fundamental change).

From the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

And here's a young girl on a horse who was a great revolutionary heroine, so you should by all means stop and see that one.

Date: 1994 (19940703); Title: Authors Remember American Women's Historical Landmarks; Source: NPR_Weekend.
Davies, Mark. 2008- The Corpus of Contemporary American English: 450 million words, 1990-present. Available online at http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/.

The Christian ministry has been located on the corridor for 10 years. "King was such a revolutionist," Thomas said. " That's what we're trying to do.

Date: 2000 (20000113); Publication information: CityLife Atlanta (Extra); Title: A stroll down MLK Drive;The road named for the civil rights leader tells a story as it meanders through town; Author: S.A. Reid, Staff; Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution.
(Same source.)

Revolutionary appeared 7,877 times in the COCA, while revolutionist appeared 12 and revolutioner 0.

  • If it's a cause we favored. – Hot Licks Feb 25 '15 at 13:19
  • 2
    Your first example isn't actually to point: it's using revolutionary as an adjective, not a noun. – Marthaª Feb 26 '15 at 3:00
5

According to The New Fowler's Modern English Usage-

The form in -ist is first recorded as a noun in the sense 'one who instigates or favours revolution' in 1710 and was the customary word until the mid-i9c.

Since then it has been challenged by revolutionary (the OED entry leads off with a quotation of 1850 from Charles Kingsley's Alton Locke).

Both words are still current. The usual choice is revolutionary.

Modern US examples:

  • Songs ... are a resource both for the loyalists defending their country and the revolutionists overthrowing it—Harper's Mag., 1991;
  • Oratory and organization were the basic skills of the revolutionist and he had both—J. Pournelle and S. M. Stirling, 1993
  • An obituary in The New York Times described her as “an incorrigible revolutionist to the end- NY Times, 2012

Like the word revolve, it's all about turning things around.

0

Consider the context: did the revolution succeed or fail? In AmE you will see Che Guevara described as a revolutionary far more often than George Washington, who was a founding father, fighter for independence, creator of the nation - a successful revolutionARY.

One interpretation of revolutionIST would be "one who is a specialist in revolutions" which might denote a history professor doing comparative research (e.g. between English, French and American revolutions) or even a mercenary type consulting on how to promote revolution, both meanings carry the implication that the revolutionIST is not personally committed to the revolution i.e. s/he is NOT necessarily a revolutiuonARY.

One would expect RevolutionER to be equal to RevolutionARY, unless revolutioner happens to be a term used within the re-enactor community to distinguish between "revolutioners", "civilists", and soon.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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