Nigel J. Ross

The -ic and -ical Pickle

There are many adjectives that end in '-ic', and another large group ends in '-ical'; some can even take either. It is only natural to ask why some words go for one, some for the other and some for both. The question is an easy one, but trying to find an answer leads us into something of a pickle. From a historical point of view, it emerges that some words which now take one suffix, used to take the other. Changes have been noted even very recently. When examining pairs (such as 'economic' and 'economical'), certain patterns can be identified, though the situation is not as clear-cut as might have been originally thought. One aspect seems to predominate in this tangle of problems: we seem to be looking at an area of language which is very much in a state of flux. The reason why this area proves to be so complex could simply be that language change is going on around us.

published in English Today (Vol. 14/2, April 1998), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

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