[ fik-shuhn-l ]
/ ˈfɪk ʃən l /
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invented as part of a work of fiction: Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective.
of, like, or characterized by fiction: He used a fictional situation to explain the subject.
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Origin of fictional

First recorded in 1840–45; fiction + -al1


fic·tion·al·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What’s the difference between fictional, fictitious, and fictive?

Fictional means invented as part of a work of fiction, as in Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective or This account is entirely fictional—it’s not based on a true story. Fictitious most commonly means false or made up, as in I signed in with a fictitious name to hide my identity. Fictive is a much less commonly used word that means imaginary or relating to or capable of creating fiction, as in a fictive imagination.

Confusingly, their meanings can overlap—fictitious can sometimes mean the same thing as fictional, and fictive can sometimes mean the same thing as fictitious. It can be tough to remember which word is the right one to use since all three are adjectives that are used in contexts involving things that are imagined or made up.

Still, they are usually used in pretty specific ways. Fictional is almost always applied to stories and characters that are part of creative works, like books and movies, whereas fictitious is most commonly used in the context of things that are made up to conceal something or deceive someone in real life. Fictitious can usually be replaced with the word fake—this is not the case for fictional.

Here’s an example of fictional, fictitious and fictive used correctly in the same sentence.

Example: Instead of using fictitious names that no one would notice, his aliases were the names of fictional characters, like Clark Kent and Peter Parker—you would think a con artist would have a more fictive imagination.

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between fictional, fictitious, and fictive.

Quiz yourself on fictional vs. fictitious vs. fictive!

Should fictional, fictitious, or fictive be used in the following sentence?

The characters in this film are purely _____—any resemblance to real persons is entirely coincidental.

How to use fictional in a sentence