Language is constantly evolving, and sometimes what is technically “wrong” in terms of grammar or definition becomes “right” in casual conversation. But just because the way you’re using a word sounds right doesn’t mean it actually is. Such is the case with specially vs. especially.
It isn’t uncommon to hear these two words used interchangeably, but when it comes down to dictionary definitions, what are the correct and incorrect ways of using both? That’s what we’ll examine in this handy grammar guide. If your issue with substituting incorrect words for correct ones stems from a simple thing like spelling, check out this course on American English spelling rules to improve your skills.
The Definition of Specially
The dictionary definition of specially, according to Merriam-Webster, is:
specially – adverb
Syllabification: spe·cial·ly Pronunciation: \ˈspe-sh(ə-)lē\ Definition:
- for a special purpose
- to a special or unusual degree
The word specially is the adverb form of special, which itself means “distinguished by some unusual quality,” or “held in particular esteem.” We know what it means for something to be “special,” but some confusion tends to arise when we encounter the very similar term especial and its adverb form especially. Check out this course for or more elementary English tips.
The Definition of Especially
The dictionary definition of especially, according to Merriam-Webster, is:
especially – adverb
Syllabification: es·pe·cial·ly Pronunciation: \is-ˈpesh-lē, -ˈpe-shə-\ Definition:
- for a particular purpose
- more than usually
It helps also to examine the definition of especial, which Merriam-Webster describes as:
- directed toward a particular individual, group, or end
- of special note or importance
- highly distinctive or personal
Specially vs. Especially
Dictionary definitions of similar words don’t help dramatically when they both use the other word in their own definitions, so I’ve tried to leave out the definitions that do so. What we can gather from the definitions of special and especial, though, is that using them interchangeably is usually not a hugely incorrect move to make. Most contexts would allow for the use of both.
The major difference between the two words is that specially leans more towards “specifically” or “to a special degree,” while especially leans more towards “particularly” or “noteworthy.”
We might say something like, these are especially difficult words to differentiate, but that I’ve written this article specially for people who are confused. Of course, things become more confusing (sorry) when we say that the last part of that sentence could also read, “I’ve written this article especially for people who are confused.”
That’s because when we want to say something is particularly something, or that we’ve done something for a particular reason or group of people, both specially and especially work fine. Like we said before, the context is usually broad enough that both can make sense. For more tips on improving your technical writing skills, check out this course.
Let’s go back to specially meaning “specifically” and especially meaning “particularly,” though, by taking a look at the following sentences:
“I sewed the uniform specially for Kate.”
“This uniform was sewed especially for Kate.”
The major subtle difference here is that when something is made specially for someone, it means it was done so to cater to a specific purpose. Maybe the uniform that was sewed for Kate has unique measurements, specially tailored for her, or something of that nature. If the uniform was sewed especially for Kate, however, it was made for her in particular. Maybe it still has particular measurements to suit her needs, but the use of the word especially comments on the distinctive nature of the uniform being made for Kate, and not the distinctive nature of the actual uniform.
All this aside, especially can also be used as an intensifier, as an especially extreme variant of particularly. Check out this English grammar course to further boost your skills.
When to Use Specially vs. Especially
Use your newfound knowledge of specially vs. especially and fill in the blanks below!
- “He doesn’t deserve the award, _____ because he lied.”
- “She doesn’t want to be treated _____.”
- “I’m not feeling _____ well today.”
- “Her essay was _____ well-written.”
- “He had prepared the speech _____ for the occasion
- “She is _____ concerned about her son’s test results.”
- “I bought this cake _____ for you.”
- “We _____ designed the room for movie nights.”
- “Her daughter was _____ chosen to attend the lecture.”
- “The material is _____ built to withstand rain.”
Want to learn the difference between more common words? Check out this guide on the difference between affect and effect. Or, strengthen your English vocabulary with Vocabulary Bootcamp.