If I'm discussing fantasy as a genre, and I want to describe a noun as fitting that genre, should I call it fantastic or fantastical?

It seems both words exist in (say) Merriam-Webster, but the -al form is described as a variant. Is it dispreferred or less common? I fear Ngrams won't help here since "fantastic" also means "extremely good," a (likely more prevalent) meaning not shared by "fantastical."


3 Answers 3


I personally find two distinct senses for each word. If we have to pick one or the other, the one I would choose would fit in as many different ways as possible.


  1. great; superlative.
  2. relating to, or having the qualities of, fantasy in general or one fantasy in particular.

"The idea that the day the last American finally buys a gun, the whole country will turn into one big cool-headed, peace-loving family has the air of the fantastic."


  1. being or relating to fantasy or some particular aspect of fantasy.
  2. fantastic, but with an extra syllable for clarity or emphasis (Edit: much as people do with "ironical" [1]).

"UFOs do not really exist, but if they did, their alien passengers would not cast magical spells. Spielberg's E.T. was less science fictional than it was fantastical."

Either one could be fine. Which one works best I think depends entirely on context.

[1]: E.g., Robin Williams' character, Sean Maguire, in Good Will Hunting:

SEAN: Why don't you come, I'll buy you a drink.
LAMBEAU: The drinks at those things are free.
SEAN: I know, Gerry. I was being ironical.


I would use "fantastic"; but I'm not sure exactly why I prefer it in this case. One piece of data – J.K. Rowling, in addition to the Harry Potter fantasy series, has written a book about the creatures in the Harry Potter world titled "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," which includes a dragon, among other creatures of fantasy.


"Dragons are fantasy creatures". Fantasy as a genre only functions in that precise form. It makes clear we are talking about a (thing) that is part of this literature. I wouldn't change a thing about it

  • This looks reasonable to me, but I'm specifically interested in the words "fantastic" and "fantastical," which are both "real" words according to M-W. If not in this context, when should I use them?
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 13:14

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