What is the difference between symmetric and symmetrical?

Answered by John Hunt

The difference between symmetric and symmetrical lies in their usage and context. While the two terms are related, they have slightly different meanings.

Symmetric is an adjective that describes something as relating to symmetry. In technical mathematical contexts, it often refers to objects or shapes that have balanced proportions or patterns. For instance, a square can be described as symmetric because all its sides are equal in length and its angles are all right angles. In this sense, symmetric is a more specific and technical term that is used to describe the precise attributes of an object or system.

On the other hand, symmetrical is also an adjective that describes something as having symmetry. However, it is a more general term that can be applied to a wider range of objects or concepts. In everyday language, symmetrical is often used to describe objects or shapes that have a pleasing or balanced appearance. For example, a human face is often considered symmetrical if the features on one side mirror those on the other side. This concept of symmetrical is more subjective and does not necessarily adhere to strict mathematical principles.

To illustrate the difference, let’s take the example of a butterfly. The wings of a butterfly can be described as symmetric because they have a precise pattern and structure that is mirrored on both sides. However, the overall shape of the butterfly, including its body and antennae, is more commonly described as symmetrical because it has a balanced and pleasing appearance, even though it may not exhibit the same strict mathematical symmetry as its wings.

While both symmetric and symmetrical relate to symmetry, symmetric is a more technical term used in precise mathematical contexts, whereas symmetrical is a broader term used to describe the balanced or pleasing appearance of an object or concept.