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-ive, -ous, -ful, -ic, -able, -al, -y, -ible
electrical goods
Anderson Braga Mendes from Brazil asks:

I am an English teacher in Brazil and I am in doubt as regards the use of the suffix -al. For example, in the sentence: ‘The Electrical Sector plans new measures for next year’ is it:
  • ‘The Electrical Sector’
  • or ‘The Electric Sector’?

Is there any rule to solve this sort of problem? Is this kind of mistake common among native speakers of English?


Roger replies:more questions

Adjectival suffixes: -ic and -ical

We use ‘electrical’ to describe systems, industries, components and certain machines or devices. Consider the following:

  • 'Electrical appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers use a lot of electricity.'

  • 'My new car has electrically-operated windows.'

  • 'My house was full of electrical and electronic (note: not ‘electronical’) equipment.'

  • 'The electrical and mechanical engineering industries are doing well at the present time.'
So in your example, Anderson, it would have to be:
  • ‘The Electrical Sector plans new measures for next year’.
We use ‘electric’ to describe things to do with current and voltage, simpler machines and devices and the atmosphere. Consider the following:
  • 'An electric fire in winter and an electric fan in summer were all I needed.'

  • 'The electric wiring in this house needs to be renewed.'

  • 'The atmosphere was electric when Tina Turner came on stage.
It very much depends upon context as to which one you use.
Economic/economical is similarly difficult. If we are talking about ‘the economic situation’ or ‘the economic outlook’ of a country, i.e. where we are discussing ‘the economy’, then the adjectival suffix -ic is preferred:
  • 'The economic outlook in this country is now bleaker than at any time in the last ten years.'
However, if we are talking about making personal economies and saving money, we tend to use ‘economical’. ‘Economical’ also means using the minimum amount of time or energy. Study the following:
  • 'This car is not very economical. It only does 15 miles to the gallon.'

  • 'Storage heaters are extremely economical because they run on night-time electicity.'

  • 'Politicians are invariably economical with the truth.'

  • 'We wanted to make the most economical use of our time as we had only half a day there.'
Other adjectival suffixes are much more clear-cut. If we are discussing science and technology, there is no choice: the adjectival forms are quite clearly ‘scientific’ and ‘technological’:
  • 'Scientific investigation revealed that the dinosaur footprints were from the Cretaceous period.'

  • 'Japan is one of the most technologically advanced nations.'
Although he came from Genoa in Italy, Christopher Columbus is often thought of as a - FAME - Spanish explorer.
To be left by the roadside bleeding to death is a - HORROR - way to die.
Many people believe that a diet rich in vitamins is very - HEALTH -.
It was such an - EXPENSE - present that I was too embarrassed to accept it.
It is no longer - FASHION - to wear high platform heels.
I am - HOPE - that she will leave hospital next week.
We went to see an excellent - photography - exhibition last week.
Everybody was wearing - NATION - dress at the parade.
see answers  



















1. famous

2. horrific

3. healthy

4. expensive

5. fashionable

6. hopeful

7. photographic

8. national

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