Systemic vs. Systematic vs. Institutional (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use systemic vs. systematic vs. institutional with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors.
Publish date:

In this post, we're going to look at three adjectives that sound very similar, but they are not the same. Systemic and systematic are related to the noun system, while institutional is related to institution. While some people refer to the "system" and institutions as one and the same, there are differences in the nouns that trickle down to the adjectives.

(Grammar rules for writers.)

So let's look at the difference between systemic, systematic, and institutional!


Systemic vs. Systematic vs. Institutional

Systemic describes something that exists throughout a body or system. It is a newer term than systematic and is generally used in more scientific and technical settings. However, something systemic is deeply engrained within the system. So it's hard to separate one from the other. For instance, nerves are systemic to the nervous system.

Systematic, on the other hand, describes how something is done. A systematic process is intentional, methodical, and according to a plan or step-by-step procedures. So while a bat is systemic to the game of baseball, innings and outs are a part of the systematic process of playing a game of baseball.

Institutional is of, in, or like an institution or institutions. An institution could be as broad as "the institution of marriage" or as specific as a company or university. Institution can also be a person or thing associated with a place or thing (such as popcorn being an institution at movie theaters). Bringing it back to the adjective, a general use of institutional could refer to societal norms, and a specific use could describe the differences in institutional rules and systems. 

For instance, American football has very broad systematic rules for scoring that are generally the same across the board. But college football has institutional rules—like those related to penalties and what constitutes a catch—that are slightly different than those used in the NFL (and/or other professional football organizations).

Make sense?

A Quick Example and Final Thought

Example usage of the words: The potential for concussions is a systemic problem with several sports, especially those with systematic processes that jar the brain (like getting tackled in football or heading a ball in soccer). That's why some organizations have tried making institutional changes to how games are played.

There are times when the words can be swapped out with each other and still make sense. But there are times when they can't. 

Here's the best way to keep it straight: Systemic is a part of the actual system (or body), systematic is the implementation of the system, and institutional is tied to an actual institution.


Grammar and Mechanics

No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

Click to continue.