Particular vs. Specific

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks if there is a distinction to be made between the words particular and specific.

In some contexts, the words are close synonyms, but not in all.

Both particular and specific mean “distinguished in some way among others of the same kind,” so the following sets of statements would have the same meaning:

Do you have a particular company in mind?
Do you have a specific company in mind?

Do you have a particular movie you want to see?
Do you have a specific movie you want to see?

To me specific has a more formal connotation than particular. Although the meanings are identical in these examples, I’d probably choose specific in the business context and particular in the leisure context.

Specific has several technical uses. It can mean “pertaining to a distinct species of animals or plants. For example, “Gaspard Bauhin, a Swiss botanist of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, designated plants by a generic and a specific name.” In medicine, a “specific remedy” is a remedy supposed to act on a particular ailment or part of the body.

In the study of logic, a statement that is true of all of a group is a universal statement, while a statement that is true of a certain kind of thing is a particular statement. For example, “All fish live in water” is a universal statement; “Goldfish are often kept as pets” is a particular statement.

In general usage, the two words are used interchangeably when referring to plans:

Did you ever have any particular plans at the beginning of your career, any particular vision of where performing would take you?

The Barons did the show and, as an amateur group without particular plans,

Asked about the future, Paul Simon says he has no particular plans.

“At this point, no specific plans have been announced,” the statement said.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie haven’t yet set a date for the wedding or made any specific plans.

Generally speaking, I’d choose specific when the content seems to call for precision.

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8 Responses to “Particular vs. Specific”

  • Shing

    They are very different words.

    Specific implies uniqueness. Something specific means something that meets some specifics or criteria. Something specific needs to meet a set of conditions or requirement.

    Although particular means “distinguished” Something particular has NO implied requirements nor conditions.
    Something particular is usually something NON-specific.

    For example:
    A ring can be a particular gift. Any ring can be that particular gift.

    A specific gift cannot be just ANY ring. It HAS to have some DEFINED quality: costs at least such and such, sold at such and such, be such and such size…

    For example:
    “I am looking for a particular person” means looking for someone, just one out of many.

    “I am looking for a specific person” means looking for someone who is red headed, male, in his 30s, etc. There are requirements.

  • Rich Wheeler

    In my experience regarding plans, specific often implies greater detail.

    “Do you have any particular plans?”
    “Yes, we decided to go for a drive in the Gold Country.”

    “Do you have specific plans?”
    “Yes, we’re driving up Highway 49 to Columbia for the morning, spending the afternoon in Angel’s Camp, and having dinner and the concert at Ironstone Vineyard.”

    Also, as adjectives, particular can imply choosiness or fussiness, whereas specific denotes detail or precision.

  • Sherry

    IMO, the two are distinguished by amount of focus, where “Do you have a particular movie you want to see?” is more ‘Do you have a particular [kind of] movie you want to see?’ (i.e., a period piece), while “Do you have a specific movie you want to see?” indicates one specific movie. Or maybe that’s just me, because I’d reply “nothing in particular” as a response to ‘what are you up to today’, indicating something (or nothing) more broadly than specific.

  • venqax

    Sometimes I think the comparison of 2 synonyms goes a little off track. E.g.
    Specific can mean “pertaining to a distinct species of animals or plants.”
    True, but that specific definition of specific, really has nothing to do with the comparison of that particular definition of specific to particular. I bring this up only because we recently had a similar discussion about what preposition is taken by “disturbed”—at or by or both. The point was raised that you would use “from” in the sense of “being interrupted”, e.g. disturbed from your sleep. But that is an entirely different meaning of disturbed—for all intents and purposes a different word—from its meaning of “emotionally or mentally upset” which the subject at hand. Just sayin’.

  • venqax

    None of the above distinctions between particular and specific seem to have any authority or persuasiveness to them as far as I can tell. In any of the sentences the words could be interchanged and mean the same thing except maybe in the mind of the speaker/writer.

  • Sherry

    Venqax,

    Can you be more specific? (Can you be more particular? 😉 )

    Like most synonyms, a case can be made for similarity, but there will be exceptions (which is why they are not the same word).

    Given that the origin of ‘particular’ is a part of a whole, while ‘specific’ means having a special determining quality, I have to stick with Shing and Rich on this one.

  • Umer Baloch

    There is one difference that you may have missed:

    Correct: I am interested in this particular kind of movies.
    Wrong: I am interested in this specific kind of movies.

    Am I right?

  • venqax

    @Umer Baloch:
    Correct: I am interested in this particular kind of movies.
    Wrong: I am interested in this specific kind of movies.

    No, sorry. Without the plural on movies— in both cases—I’d have to say that I am interested in this particular kind of movie, and I am interested in this specific kind of movie mean the same thing. No difference. This kind of movie that I am singling out versus other kinds of movies. You as the writer may intendsome nuanced difference in meaning between the 2, but I don’t think it is there for the reader to get.

    @Sherry: Like most synonyms, a case can be made for similarity, but there will be exceptions (which is why they are not the same word).

    While I agree it’s true than no 2 words are completely synonymous, that doesn’t mean that 2 can’t be so close to it that the difference implied by the writer has no realistic hope of being inferred by the reader (or speaker and listener). I may mean 2 things by saying, the large man vs the big man, or by saying a 10 is twice the power of a 5 vs 10 is 2 times the power of 5. But what distinction could I reasonably expect anyone else to make?

    Given that the origin of ‘particular’ is a part of a whole, while ‘specific’ means having a special determining quality.

    That is true, those are their origins. But now, in this context? Hmmm…

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