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
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 8:18
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    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
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 8:19
  • 4
    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
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 13:18
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    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
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 21:33
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    "Revolutioner" does not appear in my copy of the Concise Oxford. Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 8:04

4 Answers 4


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? Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 9:01
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    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. Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 12:16
  • Why would He was a great revolutionist be incorrect? noun 1. a person who advocates or takes part in a revolution. Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 4:53

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 https://www.english-corpora.org/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
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 13:19
  • 2
    Your first example isn't actually to point: it's using revolutionary as an adjective, not a noun.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 3:00

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.


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.

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