Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the EnglishProofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with passion. Learn More


Social vs. Societal

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

  • January 11, 2003
  • Posted by Dyske
  • Filed in Usage

Submit Your Comment

or fill in the name and email fields below:


Sort by  OldestLatestRating

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...

bluepxl February 2, 2003 @ 7:41PM

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

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

bluepxl February 2, 2003 @ 7:42PM

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

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.

Joe4 March 18, 2003 @ 9:07PM

1 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

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.

cvppasztor April 24, 2003 @ 5:31PM

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

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.

esc6574 June 1, 2003 @ 2:53PM

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

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

Dionne1 November 17, 2007 @ 6:54AM

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

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

porsche November 17, 2007 @ 9:58AM

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

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

r.carruthers November 30, 2008 @ 8:28AM

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

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.

porsche November 30, 2008 @ 6:12PM

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

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

Mr.Carrot86 October 10, 2009 @ 1:37PM

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse