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Ideal vs. Real: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 28, 2023
Ideal refers to a perfect standard or model, whereas real pertains to what actually exists or happens.

Key Differences

The term 'ideal' denotes a concept or standard of perfection, often an abstract or theoretical model that is considered the best possible. In contrast, 'real' refers to what is actually existing or occurring in the physical world, free from imagination or idealization.
'Ideal' represents aspirations or goals that may be strived for but are often unattainable in reality. 'Real', on the other hand, grounds us in the present, acknowledging the current state of affairs or conditions as they truly are.
In the realm of ethics, an 'ideal' character might embody virtues to an exemplary degree, whereas a 'real' character reflects the complexities and imperfections commonly found in human behavior.
When considering solutions to problems, an 'ideal' solution would be the most effective and efficient, often disregarding practical constraints. Conversely, a 'real' solution takes into account the practicalities and limitations of the situation.
In literature and art, 'ideal' often refers to representations that are perfected or stylized, while 'real' is used to describe depictions that are true to life and authentic, capturing the essence of the subject as it exists.

Comparison Chart


A standard of perfection or excellence
Actual existence or occurrence

In Literature

Represents a perfected, often unattainable concept
Portrays realistic, authentic scenarios

In Ethics

Embodies perfect virtues or standards
Reflects actual human behavior and morality

In Problem-Solving

Theoretical best-case scenario
Practical, feasible solutions

In Perception

How things should be ideally
How things are in reality

Ideal and Real Definitions


A principle or value that one actively pursues as a goal.
Equality is an ideal that many societies strive for.


Not imagined or supposed; genuine.
His expression of remorse was real, not feigned.


Representing an absolute standard of perfection.
The ideal student consistently achieves top grades and participates actively in class.


Actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact.
The threat of climate change is very real and alarming.


Optimal; most suitable under the circumstances.
For hiking, the ideal weather is cool and dry.


Legitimate or authentic.
The document was confirmed to be real, not a forgery.


The best imaginable of its kind.
Her idea of an ideal vacation is one where she can relax on a secluded beach.


Concerned with actual experience or practical matters.
Her approach to problem-solving is always real and down-to-earth.


Existing only in imagination; desirable but not likely.
The notion of a world without conflict is an ideal, albeit a remote one.


True to life; realistic.
The movie portrays real-life struggles of immigrants.


A conception of something in its absolute perfection
The ideal of national unity.


Being or occurring in fact or actuality; having verifiable existence
Real objects.
A real illness.


One that is regarded as a standard or model of perfection or excellence
The restaurant is considered the ideal in fine dining.


True and actual; not imaginary, alleged, or ideal
Real people, not ghosts.
A film based on real life.


Is 'ideal' always achievable?

No, an 'ideal' often represents a theoretical model that might not be practically achievable.

Can 'real' also mean authentic?

Yes, 'real' can refer to something that is genuine, authentic, and not counterfeit or artificial.

How is 'ideal' used in ethics?

In ethics, 'ideal' refers to a moral standard or virtue considered as a model of excellence or perfection.

Does 'real' always imply physical existence?

Primarily, yes. 'Real' typically refers to something that exists physically or occurs in reality.

Can 'real' refer to true emotions or feelings?

Yes, 'real' can describe emotions or feelings that are sincere and not fabricated.

Is 'ideal' subjective?

Yes, what is considered 'ideal' can vary greatly depending on individual perspectives and cultural values.

Can 'real' pertain to realistic representations in art?

Yes, in art, 'real' often refers to depictions that are true to life and realistic.

Are 'ideal' conditions always practical?

No, 'ideal' conditions are often theoretical and may not be practical or attainable in real situations.

What does 'ideal' mean in philosophy?

In philosophy, 'ideal' refers to a concept of perfection or an exemplary model that represents the highest values or aspirations.

Is the 'ideal' always positive?

Typically, 'ideal' is associated with positive qualities, but it can sometimes set unrealistically high standards.

Do 'ideal' values change over time?

Yes, what is considered 'ideal' can evolve over time with cultural, societal, and individual changes.

Does 'real' imply factual truth?

Yes, 'real' often implies something that is factually true and not based on illusion or deception.

Is an 'ideal' scenario always unattainable?

Not always, but 'ideal' scenarios often represent a standard or condition that is challenging to achieve fully.

Is the 'ideal' always universally agreed upon?

No, ideals can vary widely among different people and cultures, reflecting diverse values and beliefs.

How do 'ideal' and 'real' differ in problem-solving?

In problem-solving, 'ideal' refers to the best possible solution in theory, while 'real' focuses on practical and achievable solutions.

Can 'real' also mean honest?

Yes, 'real' can imply honesty or straightforwardness in speech or behavior.

Can 'real' situations be unpleasant?

Yes, 'real' situations can sometimes be unpleasant or difficult, reflecting the complexities of actual life.

Does 'real' always mean tangible?

Mostly, 'real' refers to tangible things, but it can also include intangible realities like feelings or concepts.

Can 'real' experiences be subjective?

While 'real' experiences are based in reality, individual perceptions of these experiences can be subjective.

Can 'ideal' be used as a goal or target?

Yes, 'ideal' often serves as a goal or target that individuals or groups strive to achieve or emulate.
About Author
Written 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.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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