The words amicable and amiable are sort of like fraternal twins. They certainly have a lot in common, but upon a closer look, there are differences that truly set them apart.
Admittedly though, spotting the differences between amicable and amiable even gave us pause.
First, they practically look the same and sound the same, so it is easy to understand how one could mix them up. At the root, these two adjectives both center around friendliness and are often cited as synonyms for each other.
So why exactly can’t you use them interchangeably? Let’s take a closer look.
What does amicable mean?
The simple and accessible definition of the adjective amicable is “characterized by or showing goodwill; friendly or peaceable.” When using the word, you’d say, “The former couple is able to have amicable conversations regularly,” meaning this theoretical couple has a pleasant interaction every time they speak.
Amicable can also show up as an adverb in the form of amicably (e.g., He amicably shook hands with every person in the room) or as a noun as amicability or amicableness (e.g., She handled the awkward situation with great amicability).
What does amiable mean?
When a person is friendly or sociable, they are considered an amiable person.
The concise definition of the adjective amiable means “having or showing pleasant, good-natured personal qualities; affable.” For instance: Her son had such a cheery and amiable disposition, it was hard not to love him.
Furthering the confusion between these two very similar words is the fact that they also share etymological roots.
Both words stem from the Latin amicus, which means “friend, loved one,” or “friendly, loving.”
So, what’s the difference?
If you’re keeping tally, it probably seems by now that amicable and amiable are essentially the same word, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong. The difference lies in their usages.
Amicable can describe situations, specifically ones that were previously strained but are now a lot better. For instance, if you were describing the relationship between a divorcing couple, you might say, “The parents were amicable with each other around the kids.”
Amiable is used to describe one’s personality and pertains to a disposition. A good example is She was such an amiable person, she had no trouble at all making lasting friendships.
You can be amiable in an amicable setting and do so without being redundant. A good way to remember how to use these words is to think about the sounds of the words themselves. Amiable is a calm, flowing pronunciation, where amicable has the hard C sound, which you can remember applies to conquering hard situations with dignity.
The differences are so slight, people might not even catch your slip up if you were to use these words incorrectly … but 10 points will totally be awarded to Ravenclaw if you do use them correctly.