In common speech, I often hear stoic used as an adjective. (I am ignoring definitions related to Stoicism.)

Merriam-Webster validates this use with the definition "not affected by or showing passion or feeling." It also gives stoical as a variant.

Meanwhile, Oxford only calls the adjective "another form for stoical." It defines stoical as "enduring pain and hardship without showing one's feelings or complaining," which matches Merriam-Webster's definition of stoic.

I understand words can have multiple accepted variations of spelling, but the difference between stoic and stoical seems more than just spelling.

If these two major dictionaries disagree about which form is more standard, which one actually is? The idea that stoic is only a noun and stoical its adjective form, as suggested by the Oxford dictionary, makes sense but conflicts with common usage. If the common choice of stoic, supported by Merriam-Webster, is correct, why does the Oxford dictionary defer it to stoical?

Perhaps this is simply an issue of personal preference, but I am at least curious about reasons one form may be preferred over the other.

  • 4
    You may be interested in looking at some of the other questions about "-ic" vs. "-ical"
    – herisson
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 7:08
  • @sumelic I didn't even realize this was a common issue for other words. Thank you.
    – Zach
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 7:13
  • An unscientific survey of Americans and Brits at the breakfast table unanimously goes with stoic as an adjective. All would say "They are stoic" and not "They're a stoic". So we actually construct sentences to use it as an adjective and avoid the noun usage. And Stoical just got blank stares.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 14:21
  • 'Ignoring definitions related to Stoicism' is impossible in this context, as the meanings of these word in English are all related to Stoicism.
    – jsw29
    Commented Mar 18 at 15:46

2 Answers 2


Stoic is a commonly accepted alternative spelling to stoical. "The adjective (stoic) is recorded from 1590s in the "repressing feelings" sense, c. 1600 in the philosophical sense". (Etymonline)

  • of or relating to the school of philosophy founded by Zeno, who taught that people should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submit without complaint to unavoidable necessity.

  • (lowercase) stoical.


The following Google Books search appears to suggest that the adjective stoic is becoming more common than stoical.

  • It looks like stoical predates stoic, which became an accepted variant some decades later?
    – Zach
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 7:16
  • 1
    @Zach - Yes, and both usages are centuries old.
    – user66974
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 7:18

Uneducated usage eventually becomes accepted and then educated usage (sadly.. for the French spirit in me).

But I always use stoical as an adjective and stoic as a noun. I trust my Oxford dictionary of more than 30 years' partnership over anything else. ('Stoic, n. Definition: stoical person'). It drives me bonkers when people get it wrong.

  • 1
    Welcome to ELU. This is a comment, not an answer. You will be able to comment when you have 50 rep (gained from writing good answers). Unfortunately it's also mistaken. OED does have stoic as an adjective.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Mar 18 at 7:55

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