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Exceptional vs. Special: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on December 3, 2023
Exceptional means surpassing the ordinary or usual, often in a remarkable or superior way; special refers to being distinguished by unique or specific qualities.

Key Differences

Exceptional is often used to describe something that is extraordinary or surpasses usual standards. It typically connotes a high level of excellence or rarity. Special, on the other hand, implies that something is distinguished or different from the norm, often due to unique qualities or circumstances.
Exceptional emphasizes a level of performance or quality that is significantly above the standard. It suggests rarity and outstanding attributes. Special, in contrast, focuses on the distinctiveness or particular importance of something, without necessarily implying superiority.
In usage, something exceptional usually stands out in comparison to others in its category because of its superior qualities. Special, however, is often used in a more personal context, signifying emotional value, uniqueness, or specific relevance to a situation or individual.
The term exceptional often carries a sense of awe or admiration due to its rarity and high standards. Special, while still positive, is more intimate and subjective, relating more to personal significance or individual preferences.
In recognition, exceptional achievements or abilities are often acknowledged publicly and widely admired. Special moments or items, though, might hold significance primarily or exclusively to specific individuals or groups, cherished for personal reasons.

Comparison Chart


Surpassing ordinary standards
Distinctiveness, unique qualities

Implication of Quality

Superiority, high excellence
Importance, personal value

Context of Use

Comparative, professional realms
Personal, emotional significance

Emotional Resonance

Awe, admiration
Intimacy, subjectivity


Public admiration, accolades
Personal or group significance

Exceptional and Special Definitions


Surpassing the usual or ordinary.
Her exceptional skills made her a leader in the field.


Holding particular importance.
His special bond with his grandfather was heartwarming.


Remarkable or extraordinary in quality.
The chef's exceptional talent was evident in every dish.


Distinguished by unique qualities.
The special edition book was a collector's item.


Unusually excellent or superior.
His exceptional performance earned him a promotion.


Specifically designed for a purpose.
She received special training for the mission.


Rare or uncommon in a positive way.
Her exceptional insight was invaluable to the project.


Having personal or emotional significance.
The necklace was special because it belonged to her mother.


Standing out from the norm.
The exceptional quality of the artwork was recognized by all.


Intended for a specific reason.
They made a special trip to visit the museum.


Being an exception; uncommon
This town is exceptional for the region in having a high tax rate.


Surpassing what is common or usual; exceptional
A special occasion.
A special treat.


Distinct among others of a kind
A special type of paint.
A special medication for arthritis.


What does exceptional mean?

Surpassing usual standards, extraordinary in quality.

Is exceptional always a positive term?

Generally, though it can also highlight unusual challenges.

Can a skill be both exceptional and special?

Yes, if it's outstanding and holds personal significance.

Can an everyday object be exceptional?

If it significantly surpasses typical standards, yes.

Can a person be both exceptional and special?

Yes, a person can be exceptional in abilities and special in personal significance.

Is special a subjective term?

Often, as it relates to personal value or importance.

What types of things are often described as special?

Items or moments with personal or emotional significance.

Can a product be marketed as both exceptional and special?

Yes, if it excels in quality and has unique features.

How is exceptional different from special?

Exceptional implies superiority, while special denotes uniqueness.

How does one identify something as special?

Through its unique qualities or personal importance.

Can an exceptional talent go unnoticed?

It can, especially in less visible or recognized fields.

How do cultural differences impact what is considered special?

Cultural values and traditions heavily influence this perception.

What makes a day special?

Personal significance, unique events, or celebrations.

Can a relationship be special?

Yes, if it holds particular importance to those involved.

Are exceptional circumstances always positive?

Not always; they can also be challenging or difficult.

What makes an event exceptional?

Its rarity and remarkable nature.

Does exceptional imply rarity?

Typically, as it stands out from the norm.

Does exceptional always relate to performance?

Often, but it can also apply to qualities or characteristics.

Is special often used in intimate contexts?

Yes, particularly in personal and emotional situations.

Can something be special to one person but not to others?

Absolutely, as special is often a subjective evaluation.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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