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What is the difference between the words inspiring and inspirational? In which context should one choose one over the other?

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  • Reminds me of the difference between "historic" and "historical". Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 12:11

7 Answers 7

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One difference is that inspiring always means that someone is actually inspired by it, whereas inspirational can also be used in compounds where it means only that something is intended to inspire; an inspirational speaker (or "motivational speaker"), for example, is someone whose job is to give speeches that are intended to inspire, without regard for whether they succeed (so "boring inspirational speaker" is not a contradiction in terms), and similarly, an inspirational poster (or "motivational poster") is a poster that is (supposedly) intended to inspire positive qualities, but I don't think it generally succeeds. But this use is non-predicative; in "the speaker was inspirational" (predicate adjective) or "a very inspirational poster" (modified by very), that meaning is not available, so in these cases inspirational just means inspiring.

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    An excellent answer, with one reservation: An inspiring speech (or whatever) need not come from an inspired speaker (or other creator); it only needs to inspire its beholder (to some action, thought, or feeling). However, an inspired speaker, except in a theo-historical context, must inspire someone to merit the label. Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 23:34
  • @HStephenStraight: When I say that "inspiring always means that someone is inspired", I mean that something is only 'inspiring' if it actually inspires someone. That is -- if someone is inspired by it. (Sorry for the belated response; it wasn't until just now that I finally realized what part of my answer you had a reservation about.)
    – ruakh
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 4:38
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"Inspirational" shows intent; "Inspiring" shows effect. So, "Inspirational" often carries an ironic comment on the pretensions of the subject. It is often hyperbole. "Inspiring" is a clean and simple word meaning to be filled with breath which suggests that there was something "breathtaking" about the subjects action. I chose "inspiring" in all uses, except the ironic.

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From usage I have seen (to the limited extent I did), the two words are quite different.

inspiring is typically used to qualify something post-facto: 'The speech was inspiring.'

inspirational is common in qualifying in functional terms: 'He is going to deliver an inspirational speech.' (intended to be or do/ supposed to be or do, looking forward).

I do not think we can find an authentic reference on the above lines, though.

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Having noticed that the word "Inspiring" has recently taken a back seat to "Inspirational", I decided to look up and see for myself what the differences between the two words might be. For instance, Kate Middleton referred to Diana as "Inspirational." I thought to myself, "Surely she was inspiring rather than "inspirational". So, I chalked that up to nerves. However, I've since noticed that nothing is "inspiring" anymore. It's always "inspirational". Very strange.

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Inspirational is more closely associated with the spirit in a religious context; an example is "inspirational hymn". Inspiring can have the same meaning but is used more commonly in the sense of uplifting or creating an impetus to action; an example is "the coach gave an inspiring half-time speech".

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  • I feel like this answer asserts that "inspirational" is primarily used in religious contexts. It certainly can be understood that way, but isn't intrinsic to the word. Commented May 26, 2013 at 4:31
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Inspirational (adj) is with the intend to inspire, e.g. an inspirational speech.

Inspiring (adj, v) is delivering the impact, e.g. the speech is inspiring, or an inspiring coach.

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Verbs ending in -ing can be used as gerunds (nouns) or present participles (verbs or adjectives). "Inspiring" ends in ~ing. It is mostly used as a present participle and hence its usage as an adjective is correct.

"[I]nspirational" is always an adjective.

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  • You've misunderstood gerund and vowel. Commented May 15, 2014 at 11:53

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