Submitted by Dyske  •  January 11, 2003

Social vs. Societal

How do you properly distinguish them? In what context do you use one, and not the other?

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In the context of "society", I think both work. Ff you were speaking of societal issues, societal problems, societal classes, I think it would be just as fine to say social issues, social problems, social classes. In fact, the latter group using social would be more likely used and preferred. I think the reason for this is, social describes more human society and its methods and modes of organization, ie: communities and its people and how they operate; whereas societal describes the actual structure and functioning of society. Also, things used to help groups of society may be called something like "social programs", not "societal programs". There is also the "social worker" which is someone who helps offer guidance and assitance to those in disadvantaged communities or disabled.

It is difficult for me to think of good sentences to describe those differences, sorry.

However, there is a context that social is used that societal cannot be used. Social does not just mean related to society and its groups. Though closely related, it speaks more about "socializing", as in the act of talking and being with people (best way i can describe it). When someone likes to socialize, it means they like to talk to a lot of people, have a lot of friends, hang out a lot. To be social means to be friendly and love to talk and hang out with people. Sometimes these people are called "social butterflies", specifically people who go to "social events" and go from person to person. A "social event" meaning a party, dinner, concert, or anything that involves the act of socializing, or hanging out with friends and talking to people. Also, there are some events and parties out there that have social apart of the name, such as "Ice Cream Social" which is basically an event to go have ice cream with people and enjoy conversation.

In no way could you use societal in an any of the contexts I just mentioned above. You would never say "societal butterfly", "societalizing with others", "societal event", "ice cream societal", etc. Now that I think about it, I realize that social is also more of an adjective describing people and communities and their interaction, and societal is merely an adjective used only in reference to the structure and workings and issues that face society itself as a whole.

does that help? I'm sorry if I didn't put it very good...

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guh, sorry my english is so bad, i forgot to proofread. i'm a native speaker... no, really! ;)

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I think people just get hung up on word building sometimes, which is why we end up with gems like "irregardless".

The whole -al adjective thing is already flawed, and is a wonderful source for more literate comics... for example

prime -> primal
crime -> crimal? No, criminal. Why?

I believe "social" was the commonly accepted term for "of society", but has evolved nearly into "of human interaction" -- and therefore people started to think there was no word for "of society"... and voila'! societal.

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I agree with Joe's last comment regarding the 'social' vs. 'societal' issue. However, in response to his example on the -al adjective system being flawed, those particular words are formed as such because of their roots in Latin -- 'primus' and 'primalis', and 'crimen' and 'criminalis'. Those words were transmitted into English through French, which had modified the words into forms very similar to our own modern ones. I don't know much about Latin, but I believe the suffixes took different forms because of their base words.

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I see the problem of one in which terms used from a science are finding their way into common usage. Often such events are followed by periods of abuse and misuse.

Events, like a sudden epidemic that changes the way a society or large populations address mundane issues like changing outer garments before entering the rest of a home, are societal events. If someone needs to feed the survivors, this is a social issue.

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This discourse helped me tremendously. I wondered why I couldn't find any definitions for 'societal norm' - Now i know it's the same as 'social normal'. Thanks

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Social is a broader word with more definitions. Societal's definition is a subset of social's. There is another post on this here:

http://www.painintheenglish.com/post.php?id=977

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"Issue" does not mean "problem" by the way. It just means "topic", "subject" or "question". It is always misused and it drives me mad!

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Robert., no matter now mad you may be, you are mistaken. I checked two dictionaries. One had thirty five definitions of "issue" and the other had over fifty. The word can mean much more than just "topic..." Here are some of the more relevant ones:

A point or matter of discussion, debate, or dispute.

A misgiving, objection, or complaint.

So, when someone refers to a problem they're having as an "issue" they are quite correct. I do, however, get annoyed by Microsoft who has a official corporate policy that their software NEVER has any BUGS, only ISSUES. Such a use may be more the type of euphemism you are complaining about.

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The exchange of best practices within these networks can also increase the number of youth involved. ,

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