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“Fictional” vs. “Fictive” vs. “Fictitious”: What’s the Difference?

Updated on September 28, 2023Writing Tips

Often, two words with the same meaning will have different connotations—i.e., implied meanings. For example, if you look up the word fearless in a thesaurus, you’ll see both courageous and cocky listed as synonyms. However, if you call someone cocky after they do something heroic, you may offend them since the connotation attached to cocky is “a tendency to overestimate one’s abilities.”

The adjectives fictional, fictitious, and fictive all describe something untrue and overlap in usage, but they also have different shades of meaning. Knowing which one you want for a specific purpose can help your writing be more precise, so it’s useful to learn the definitions of each.

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What do fictional, fictitious, and fictive mean?


The word fictional means invented by the imagination; this is the word we most commonly use to describe works of fiction—e.g., novels, TV shows, movies, and plays.

  • Although Felipa’s new book is fictional, it has autobiographical elements.
  • Some quotation of song lyrics as part of a fictional narrative is covered by the fair use doctrine.
  • Atticus Finch is one of the most beloved fictional characters of all time.


Fictitious is used to refer to something fabricated or imaginary, often in the context of real life.

  • The celebrity’s assistant used a fictitious name when making hotel reservations for her.
  • The story the five-year-old told about being chased by a rat turned out to be fictitious.
  • The job application process included creating a slogan for a fictitious company.


Fictive is probably the least commonly used of these three adjectives and the slipperiest in meaning. According to Garner’s Modern American Usage, in its narrowest sense, fictive means having imaginative ability, as in the following example:

Erica’s creative writing teachers thought she demonstrated a real fictive talent.

In everyday usage, fictive also refers to an object or entity invented for a specific purpose—for example, a town that exists only in a play or a figure in a memoir who is a composite of various people. The word is also used to imply a heightened sense of fictionality. Finally, if you have a close friend whom you call a cousin or sibling but who isn’t related to you, anthropologists may refer to that relationship as a fictive kinship.

  • The following story takes place in a fictive school, but many of the narrative events are drawn from real life.
  • The fictive nature of the film’s narrative gives it a dreamlike quality.
  • Including fictive kinship in the definition of family would give children in the foster system more choice about whom to live with.

Fictive is also often used as a straightforward synonym for both fictional and fictitious.

  • The events depicted in the book are entirely fictive.
  • The reason he gave for being late to the party was a fictive one.

Fictional, fictitious, and fictive FAQs

What does fictional mean?

Fictional is an adjective that refers to something invented by the imagination. It is the word we most commonly use to describe works of fiction, such as novels, short stories, TV shows, movies, and plays.

What does fictitious mean?

Like fictional, fictitious refers to something imagined, but it’s more often used to refer to something invented in the context of real life.

What does fictive mean?

Fictive is often used as a synonym for fictional and fictitious. It can also be used specifically to refer to someone with a talent for inventiveness, and it can have connotations of stylized or heightened fictionality or refer to chosen-family relationships (fictive kinships).

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