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“Wholistic” vs. “Holistic”: Understanding the Difference

“Wholistic” vs. “Holistic”: Understanding the Difference

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Words with related or entirely similar meanings but different spellings often cause confusion, sometimes bickering, between and among language users.

Native speakers do not always agree on these language-related issues, which then causes further concerns among the non-natives.

One good example of this is the trouble between the words “wholistic” and “holistic,” which also seems to have been bothering you.

So, without ado, let’s start with a quick answer to today’s inquiry.


What is the difference between “wholistic” and “holistic”?

“Wholistic” is mainly used as the British variant for “holistic.” While both suggest the idea of looking into the bigger picture, “wholistic” is particularly used by writers who want to visually emphasize the concept of “wholeness.” In general, though, most people still prefer using “holistic.”


“Wholistic” vs. “Holistic”: Knowing when, why, and how to use each

You would be surprised as to how many other confusing terms exist in the English lexicon, just like “amature” vs. “amateur” and “mayhap vs. mayhaps” which naturally leads to squabbles.

The rest of the information in this article narrowly addresses the concern on “wholistic” vs. “holistic,” which is utterly interesting yet trivial at the same time.

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” which is the principle followed by scholars who developed Gestalt psychology.

Gestalt psychology uses a more humanistic approach (rather than functional or structural) in understanding human behavior, which is apparently ideal yet an extremely complex thing to do.

Interestingly enough, this assertion is the key in understanding the nuances behind the words “wholistic” and “holistic.”

In relation to human language, the words “wholistic” and “holistic” also refer to the idea of looking at the whole picture, such as from a bird’s eye view.

If this explanation is enough to shed light on these two words,  what then is causing the confusion among people?

The only way to address this concern is to look into the meaning, usage, and examples of using each of these words in detail, ironically speaking.


The meaning of wholistic in a nutshell

“Wholistic” is mainly considered as the British variant spelling of the word “holistic” – an adjective that conveys the definition “a full circle or loop.”

This word has been used minimally since the 1800s, and because of this, many would argue that “wholistic” is an aberrant misspelling for “holistic.”

These peculiarities in using language can also be further observed in the usage of either “PhD” or “Ph.D.” in writing, which is also another trivial matter.

As you may have guessed, we are looking at words with philosophical connotations today, which is why Aristotle was mentioned and quoted earlier.

Going back to Aristotle’s words of wisdom, the way “holistic” is spelled would actually make a lot of sense if we wish to convey anything that deals with the idea of “wholeness” or “entirety.”

Albeit evoking a similar sense to “holistic,” the word “wholistic” is something you would more likely notice among writers who want to highlight the “wholeness” or “entirety” of an idea, event, or system.

To be fair, writers are not to be blamed for the ongoing confusion because, considerably enough, “wholistic” is more communicative of such an assertion.

Put simply, writers may have the urge to use the word “wholistic” instead of “holistic” because it is “more visually representative” than “holistic.”

This visual representation is aided by the letter “w” at the beginning of ”wholistic” which makes us remember the root word “whole” rather instantly.

But of course, this doesn’t mean that one cannot use “holistic” to represent such an idea because this is even the more popular choice for years now, wholistically speaking.

Hope you noticed how I intentionally used “wholistically” as a parenthetical insertion at the end of the previous sentence to give more emphasis on the explanation given.

So, again, when we describe something as “wholistic,” what we are intending to convey is the idea of looking at the entirety of something rather than painstakingly going over each of the individual parts.

But, we must also note that the context in which “wholistic” should be used would matter so as not to evoke misinterpretation and misperception.

This simply means that if the target audience would specifically be British English speakers or followers, then criticism would less likely occur.

Otherwise, it would be wiser to use “holistic” if the text is intended for a wider range of audiences that would include American English users and followers.

These things show that the rise and spread of English as a global language indeed have both advantages and disadvantages.

Here are some example sentences using “wholistic” for contextualization:



The wholistic integration of all departments contributes to the development of the company.

Taking on a wholistic approach to business development, the program facilitator has succeeded in training the team of young investors.

Many students often find it hard to use wholistic models in doing research.

Before you can provide possible solutions, you look into the wholistic picture of the problem first.

The newest presidential candidate is advocating for wholistic health programs.


The meaning of holistic in a nutshell

Meanwhile, we can blame the ancient Greeks for bringing the term “holistic” to the modern world – although not necessarily in a bad way, of course.

The Greek equivalent for the word “whole” is “holos,” which is also a popular prefix used especially in the field of medicine even at present.

Perhaps, in one of your past readings, you may have encountered terms like “hologynic,” “holoenzyme,” “holometabolism,” and “hologamy.”

All of these words make use of the prefix “holo-” which comes from, no other than, the Greek word “holos.”

Moreover, it is important to note that “holistic” is not an inch close to the words “hole” and “holiness” because, again, it has something to do with the word “whole” instead.

The noun form of “holistic” is “holism,” which deals with the idea of investigating or looking at the “whole picture” for the purpose of seeking more inclusive answers.

The word “holistic” is also something you would likely notice in academic writing, particularly in philosophical, social, and medical research domains.

Comparatively speaking, “holistic” appears to bear a more abstract connotative meaning than “wholistic” based on the argument that the latter is relatively more visual.

When one takes on a “holistic” research approach, the researcher is keener on developing methods that are interdisciplinary rather than narrowed-down to a single field.

While holistic approaches tend to be more applicable in dealing, for example, with psychological health-related concerns, they also have their drawbacks.

The major downside of holistic approaches is that they are non-specific and, therefore, very complicated to implement in real-life scenarios.

By the way, the article you are reading right now tends to take on a non-holistic approach because of how this is created to precisely address the issue between “wholistic” vs. “holistic” only.

Meanwhile, dictionaries make use of a holistic approach by providing prototype definitions of words so that word meanings can become more accessible to many people.

For example, the prototype or standard meaning of “indubitably” in dictionaries is that it is an adverb similar to “undoubtedly” or “absolutely.”

Although this definition may not be enough to cover all the nuances about the word, it is still great for providing an overview when people do quick searches; this is the essence of holistic approaches.

To give you more context, here are examples of sentences using “holistic” so you can also use this word on your own in writing:


There are only a few holistic doctors in Atlanta.

Children who suffer from physical and mental trauma need to be given holistic treatment to be able to fully recover.

The holistic benefits of regularly eating healthy food are unquestionable.

Our graduate school professor promotes using a holistic approach in translation.

Every national leader is expected to be able to look into a holistic perspective in dealing with national issues.


Synonyms for “wholistic” and “holistic”

Now that we know the trivial difference between “wholistic” and “holistic,” as well as when and how to use each word in context, let’s also look into some synonymous expressions that could replace them.

Learning synonyms is great for improving lexical flexibility in both writing and speaking, which is why we are also including this section.

Imagine yourself having to use the word “creative” over and over again in the same article because that’s simply what your discussion flow entails.

Undoubtedly, you would resort to searching for different ways to say “creative” to make your work more appealing and less monotonous.

The words “comprehensive,” “integrative,” “all-inclusive.” “thorough,” and “complete” are all immediate relatives of “wholistic” and “holistic.”

Let’s look at each of them one at a time.



“Comprehensive” is very similar to the word “complete,” but it has a more formal connotation than the latter.

In the last twenty years, “comprehensive” has also been used more often than “holistic,” especially in formal writing contexts.

When you say something is “comprehensive,” you are intending to convey the idea that it covers most, if not necessarily all, important elements.

Here’s how you can use “comprehensive” to mean “holistic”:


There is an apparent need for a comprehensive approach in dealing with bankruptcy.



Another formal equivalent of “holistic” is “integrative.,” which means “to unify separate units to form a whole,” such as methods and processes.

As you can see, this word is semantically similar to “holistic”; however, it is a less preferred version than “holistic” at least in the online corpora.

Here’s a sentence making use of “integrative”:


Integrative processes are crucial in business development.


4.3 All-inclusive

Another adjective you could make use of instead of “holistic” is “all-inclusive” – something that can be used to describe people and agreements, for example.

To say that something is “all-inclusive” suggests that it is aimed at including everything or everyone in the planning or decision-making.

Relatively speaking, “holistic” tends to be more frequently used by people than “all-inclusive” despite having the same meaning.

Here’s how “all-inclusive” works in a sentence:


Leaders who take on an all-inclusive agreement among members are often highly respected.



Should you wish to convey something similar but less academically-inclined to “holistic,” you can also make use of “thorough.”

Predictably enough, “thorough” is used more widely than “holistic” because it has a more neutral connotation than the latter word.

“Thorough” can be used to describe words like “explanation,”  “understanding,” “review,” “knowledge,” “interview,” and “analysis.”


You must have a thorough understanding of the program before enrolling in it.



Last but not least, “complete” can also be used to mean “holistic” although it leans more toward the word “full” in actual scenarios.

We can describe something as “complete” when there are no lacking parts or elements in it, such as in the phrases “complete information” and “complete implementation.”

Words like “instructions,” “overhaul,” “video,” “guide,” “transformation,” and even “nonsense” can also be preceded by the word “complete.”

Here’s an example son you can completely make sense of it:



A complete implementation of the policy is expected by the end of the year.


Frequently Asked Questions on “Wholistic” vs. “Holistic”


What is a “holistic approach” in research?

A holistic approach entails an interdisciplinary measure in addressing a research problem. It also necessitates a complex research implementation process.


What does it mean to be called “holistic”?

When an idea, event, or system is described as “holistic,” it is said to be all-inclusively addressing a certain concern


How do we use “wholistically” in a sentence?

“Wholistically” is used as an adverb that should only be aimed at emphatically suggesting the meaning “as a whole,” such as in “You must look at the problem wholistically.” Many people would argue that “wholistically” is an irregular spelling, thereby making “holistically” the preferred form to date.



Language prescription is an obsolete concept, hence there is little to no point in fighting over which words are right and wrong without contextualization.

More importantly, we have to take note that healthy discussions and ample research must be the default ways in reconciling such kinds of issues. 

Words evolve because civilizations change. That said, it is important to discuss these interesting events politely.