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See classic § Etymology for history; surface analysis, class +‎ -ical = class + -ic


  • IPA(key): /ˈklæsɪkl̩/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: clas‧si‧cal


classical (comparative more classical, superlative most classical)

  1. Of or relating to the first class or rank, especially in literature or art.
  2. Of or pertaining to established principles in a discipline.
    • 1992, Rudolf M[athias] Schuster, The Hepaticae and Anthocerotae of North America: East of the Hundredth Meridian, volume V, New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, →ISBN, page vii:
      Herbarium material does not, indeed, allow one to extrapolate safely: what you see is what you get; what you get is classical alpha-taxonomy which is, very largely and for sound reasons, in disrepute today.
  3. (music) Describing Western music and musicians of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
  4. (informal, music) Describing art music (rather than pop, jazz, blues, etc), especially when played using instruments of the orchestra.
  5. Of or pertaining to the ancient Greeks and Romans, especially to Greek or Roman authors of the highest rank, or of the period when their best literature was produced; of or pertaining to places inhabited by the ancient Greeks and Romans, or rendered famous by their deeds.
  6. Knowledgeable or skilled in the classics; versed in the classics.
    a classical scholar
  7. Conforming to the best authority in literature and art; chaste; pure; refined
    classical dance.
  8. (physics) Pertaining to models of physical laws that do not take quantum or relativistic effects into account; Newtonian or Maxwellian.
    Antonyms: quantum, relativistic
  9. (cryptography) In contrast to quantum computing; pertaining to cryptographic algorithms that are not designed to resist attack by quantum computers, or cryptanalysis that does not take quantum computer capabilities into account. In some contexts may instead refer to older cryptographic algorithms, e.g. classical ciphers.

Usage notes[edit]

Various usage advisers give various prescriptions for differentiating classic from classical by word sense distinctions and by collocational idiomaticness (that is, according to the way in which certain collocations tend to use one suffix more than the other idiomatically). For example (as pointed out by various authorities, including Bryan Garner in Garner's Modern English Usage, fourth edition), classical tends to be preferred in the sense referring to "the classics" (in ancient literature, modern literature, or music), although classic also sometimes serves in this sense. For copyeditorially inclined users of English, it is useful to know the twin pair of descriptive facts that apply to many usage prescriptions: the prescriptions are not invariably followed in respectable formal writing, but nonetheless it is widely considered preferable style to avoid flouting them.


Derived terms[edit]



classical (countable and uncountable, plural classicals)

  1. (countable) One that is classical in some way; for example, a classical economist.
    • 2002, James E Hartley, James E. Hartley, The Representative Agent in Macroeconomics, Routledge (→ISBN), page 120:
      Similarly, the new classicals never claimed to be Austrians, nor did they ever make the attempt to meet Austrian objections. Therefore, we cannot fault them for not using this methodology. Nevertheless, new classicals constantly preach []
  2. (uncountable) Short for classical music.

Further reading[edit]