Do you know the difference between a fictitious statement, a factitious statement, and a factious statement? These are just three of a cluster of seven adjectives with overlapping definitions that help us separate fact from fiction from faction.
Just the Facts
Factional is the adjective form of faction and so means “of or relating to a party or group.”
[T]he architects of the Constitution sought not to eliminate such factional struggle but to limit the excessive power of any faction by dividing the federal government into three powers. (Newsweek)
Factious is also related to factions but means “caused by faction, inclined to faction, or acting for partisan purposes.”
Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people. (Federalist Paper, No. 10)
Though there is some gray overlap, factional usually means something closer to “clannish,” and factious leans closer to “seditious” or “divisive.”
Factitious, like fictitious, is related to artificiality. Something that is factitious is created by humans or human intervention, as opposed to naturally, or is produced by contrivance.
It’s good that he’s sharing [his art collection] with us, but it comes packaged with a theme so transparently factitious that one can’t take it seriously. (Washington Post)
Factitive is a different kind of animal, unrelated to the others, but it’s a grammatical term and therefore of interest to editors. It describes a verb that takes both a direct object and an object complement that indicates the resulting condition or state of the direct object. At first glance, a factitive verb looks like it has two direct objects. For example
They elected Eleanor chairperson.
Vito made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Some common factitive verbs are deem, designate, elect, judge, and make.
From Fact to Fict
There are three “fict” words whose meanings overlap, but they have undergone some differentiation.
Fictional means “of, relating to, or having the characteristics of fiction.” A statement that is fictional isn’t true, but it isn’t necessarily dishonest either.
Fictitious leans more toward “counterfeit, false” than fictional does, bringing with it the odor of dishonesty.
Consider the difference between a fictional account and a fictitious account of events — the former is a story, the latter a lie.
Fictive is often used as an unnecessary (and confusing) variant of both fictional and fictitious, but it can also have the narrower sense of “relating to or capable of imaginative creating.” Your average writer of fiction is fictive.
Original image from Max Pixel.