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Imaginative vs. Imaginary

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  Angbeen Chaudhary  —  Grammar Tips
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Imaginary and imaginative are two English adjectives that are similar enough that some writers get them confused. They both stem from the root word imagine, which is a verb that means to envision things that may not be the case. They mean different things though, and the careful writer will know the correct situations in which to use each of these words. If you were a film critic, and you meant to call a groundbreaking film imaginative, but, instead, you use imaginary, you would quickly lose credibility and leave yourself open to ridicule. Likewise, many children are imaginative, but almost none of them are imaginary.

In this article, I will compare imaginative vs. imaginary. I will show you the words in context by using each in at least one example sentence. Plus, I will tell you an easy way to remember whether something is imaginative or imaginary.


The word imaginary originated from late Middle English: from Latin imaginarius, from imago, imagin- ‘image’.

Imaginative as adjective:

Imaginative is used as an adjective in English language which means having or showing creativity or inventiveness.

She is making imaginative use of computer software.

Imaginary as adjective:

Imaginary is also used as an adjective in English language which means existing only in the imagination.

Imaginative vs. Imaginary

Chris had imaginary conversations with her.


My eyes are closed, my head is thrown back, and I’m pretending to conduct an imaginary orchestra to Beethoven’s ninth symphony, which is booming out of speakers above my head. [The Telegraph]

Wildly imaginative and deeply political, Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights portrays the struggles of working class Portuguese under extreme austerity measures.[Sydney Morning Herald]

The action scenes are “imaginative and suspenseful and gradually take on a demented exuberance,” LaSalle continues, and “although the film ultimately lacks that extra something that Spielberg often brings — the sense that the action is somehow emblematic of something grand in the human spirit — the movie has a caustic wit that will do in its place.” [LA Times]

Imaginative or imaginary:

Imaginary and imaginative are adjectives. Imaginary describes something that does not exist. Imaginative is a synonym for creative and fanciful. Imaginative people use their imaginations; imaginary people are products of the imaginations of others. Fairies are imaginary beings. By rhyming fairy with imaginary, you will always be able to remember the meaning of the word imaginary. These words are confusing, but now that you’ve taken the time to learn about them, you will never mix them up again. Be sure to check this site next time you discover another set of confusing words.

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