I came across a sentence on grammarist.com:

Blest is an archaic form that shows up mainly in references to old, mostly poetical texts and as a poetic affectation.

I find the alternation between the two words poetic and poetical interesting. Between the pair, poetic is of course much more common. According to ODO, poetical is defined as

Relating to poetry.

Written in verse rather than prose.

Having an imaginative or sensitively emotional style of expression.

And the definitions of poetic are, well, quite similar if not the same:

relating to or used in poetry.

written in verse rather than prose.

having an imaginative or sensitively emotional style of expression.

I found a discussion on Word Reference Forum which doesn't have much information but rather makes the topic more confusing.

How do they differ in usage? What is the rationale behind the alternation of words in some texts, e.g. the Grammarist post.


4 Answers 4


I doubt that you'll be able to find a definitive answer on this. As you say, both have, essentially, the same definitions.

Google's Ngram Viewer does show that poetic is used much more often than poetical. Basing use on how common they are, poetic would therefore likely sound better to most people.

Speaking for myself, and this is purely subjective, I almost always use poetic. However, I might be tempted to use poetical if I was referring strictly to an actual poem. So, in literary criticism, I might use poetical form rather than poetic form.

(This is similar to me always using the word use, except in very specific, technical, circumstances where I might use utilize instead. Such as in a scientific paper that offers detailed instructions on how to employ specialized tools.)

Note that this very slight distinction of mine is along the same lines as in the quotation you gave in your question. The reason they might be used differently is to make a distinction between most common contexts and highly specialized contexts.

But, for all intents and purposes, they mean the same thing. Which you use is just a matter of style and preference.


Poetical - pertaining to poetry
Poetic - having the quality of poetry

  • Yes, indeed. Such a poetical presentation. The advert was poetic.
    – Lambie
    Feb 14 at 17:03
  • 1
    Your answer can be improved by providing reputable sources.
    – fev
    Feb 14 at 17:51
  • These have indeed been the traditional distinctions. But these words aren't used all that precisely by "the man in the street" and now dictionaries are reflecting that fact. We're reverting to grunts and gestures.
    – TimR
    Sep 5 at 10:19
  • Ode to Autumn rang the curtain on the poetical career of John Keats as he stopped writing because of his failing health.

In the above sentence, it is not possible to replace the adjective 'poetical' with 'poetic'.

The difference between the two words is that while both are adjectives obviously referring to poetry, 'poetic' refers to the poetry itself whereas 'poetical' can also refer to associated meanings beyond poetry proper. For example these sentences:

  • He described the incidents poetically.
  • He was poetical in describing her beauty.

Here, the sentences do not mean he spoke in verses but his speech mesmerised us as if we were listening to a soulful redition of a good poem.

  • [I've tidied the above.] I'm sure you're on to something here, but I wouldn't be too unhappy with 'He was poetic in describing her beauty.' (The adverbial usage isn't much help here.) But you're right that a 'poetic career' doesn't work. I'm guessing that 'poetical' must be used when speaking about the genre 'poetry'. So you'd have a poetical critic (unless they wrote their crits in verse!), a poetical career, and 'The Poets' Encyclopedia is an English-language poetical anthology' [Wikipedia] (doubtless written in prose).... Mar 31, 2020 at 10:16
  • But I think that otherwise, the two words are largely interchangeable, with style considerations probably encouraging the use of the shorter one. Mar 31, 2020 at 10:18

Poetical - pertaining to poetry

Poetic - having the quality of poetry

Poesy - the art of writing poetry

  • You should either edit your original answer to include the extra item and delete this one or delete the original to leave this. Feb 14 at 17:25