What is the difference between electric and electrical and their usage?

For example, what is the difference between "electrical machine" and "electric machine"?


5 Answers 5


These two words have a large semantic overlap, but at the edges there are a few key differences.

  • Electric is used to describe things pertaining to electricity. It can also be used metaphorically: "the evening was electric".

  • Electrical can be used nearly everywhere that electric is used when pertaining to electricity (aside from some set phrases). It is not generally used metaphorically in the way electric is. The word electrical can also be used in an additional domain: things concerning electricity. So, generally, people do not say "electric engineer" unless the engineer runs on electricity; instead they say "electrical engineer".

So, in the case of "electric(al) machine" from your question, since you are talking about something that runs on electricity, the two words are essentially identical in meaning.

  • 1
    are you suggesting that I've been wasting my time trying to learn the Electrical Slide? ;-)
    – MT_Head
    Commented Jun 26, 2011 at 22:54
  • As a non-native English speaker, the differentiation between "pertaining to" vs. "concerning" doesn't make things clearer. Could you paraphrase your usage of those terms here to help me understand? Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 22:37

Here's a simple distinguishment which I hope will help:

Electric refers to anything that runs on electricity, i.e. “electric kettle”

Electrical refers to something related to electricity, i.e. “electrical faults”, “electrical component”.

"Electric" is used in front of a device or machine that runs on electricity. It is used when the object has been specified.

"Electrical" is used in a more general sense, as in referring to ambiguous nouns. (By ambiguous, I mean unspecified, e.g. machine, appliance). "electrical" is also used when the object is specified, but the object is not run on electricity, but is related to electricity, i.e. Electrical engineer.

  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrical_machine So why this can't be called and didn't got referred to as "electric machine" ?
    – Computist
    Commented Jun 26, 2011 at 21:47
  • Hmmm.... interesting. I'll try to clarify matters.
    – Thursagen
    Commented Jun 26, 2011 at 21:50
  • 1
    The problem is that the dichotomy you have listed here is not actually how the words are used. Electrical can also be used to refer to electric things: dictionary.com.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Jun 26, 2011 at 21:51
  • 1
    @Computist - That Wikipedia article switches between "electric" and "electrical" without any consistency at all. Don't use it as a style guide.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Jun 26, 2011 at 21:51
  • 1
    @Computist - Here's a sample of what I meant: "Generator (Main article: Electrical generator) An electric generator is a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. " Within the space of five words, they manage to call it both an "electric" and an "electrical" generator. Perhaps you have another name for it, but I call that inconsistency. I didn't mean to suggest that you were using it as a style guide, BTW, just that - if you were planning to - it might not be the best idea.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Jun 26, 2011 at 22:49

Electric means "of, worked by, charged with, or producing electricity."
It can be used figuratively, as in "the atmosphere was electric;" to refer to a musical instrument, as in electric guitar; or to refer to a color, as in electric blue.

Electrical means:

  • operating by or producing electricity
  • concerned with electricity

Electric cannot be always replaced with electrical; you don't say electrical guitar, or "the atmosphere was electrical" (if not to mean something else than the phrase using electric).

  • Since you mentioned musical instruments, note that electric pianos, electronic pianos, and digital pianos are three different things, though of course they all use electricity.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 21:29

In addition to what has been said so far, "electric," unlike "electrical," can be used as a noun for an electrically powered machine or vehicle.


The lawmower is an electric.


Electric used about something that works using electricity, for example, electric cooker , electric guitar, electric kettle. Electrical used about things in general that use electricity, or people whose job is to make or repair these things: a company manufacturing electrical goods|, an electrical engineer electronic used about equipment such as computers and televisions that work by using extremely small electrical parts, or about systems that work using computers: Most kids love electronic games.|Email is the short word for electronic mail.

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