Especially vs. Specially

By Ali Hale

One of our readers recently asked if we could explain the difference between especially and specially.

The words especial and special can be used almost interchangeably. They both mean something which was “out of the ordinary” or even “exceptional”. Merriam-Webster defines especial as meaning “being distinctive”:

as a: directed toward a particular individual, group, or end [especial greetings to his son] [especial care to speak clearly] b: of special note or importance : unusually great or significant [especial relevance] c: highly distinctive or personal : peculiar [especial dislike for music] d: close, intimate [especial crony] e: specific, particular [especial destination in mind]

The two words are synonyms, and often either is appropriate:

  • My grandmother’s ninetieth birthday was an occasion of especial joy.
  • My grandmother’s ninetieth birthday was an occasion of special joy.

Both of these are correct, however, especial implies that something less good exists, whereas something special doesn’t need to be compared against anything. Merrian-Webster explains the difference like this:

“special stresses having a quality, character, identity, or use of its own . especial may add implications of preeminence or preference [especial importance] .”

Note that special can be used as a noun, whereas especial cannot, in cases such as “It’s always worth checking the specials in the supermarket.”

Especially or specially?

When it comes to the adjectival forms, especially should always be used. It modifies a verb, adverb or adjective and means “particularly” or “exceptionally”:

  • His train was running especially late that day.
  • We were especially happy to see you.
  • I put the cake especially high.

Specially is becoming more common but still tends to sound rather informal, even a little child-like (“I drew this picture specially for you!”) There is a lot of debate around whether “specially” is appropriate in some cases, but if you want to be sure, stick with “especially”.

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27 Responses to “Especially vs. Specially”

  • Brad K.

    So – I could think of especial as .. extra-special? even-more-special?

    Thanks!

  • ryainc

    I just say more specialer. 🙂 Seriously, thanks for the post, I was actually just wondering that the other day.

  • Vismay

    So what do I say??
    “I specially want you for dinner.” OR “I especially want you for dinner.”

  • Hugo

    That’s funny, I just looked this up last week, as I found myself using ‘especially’ quite a lot lately. I read ‘especially’ is much more common so I you’re not sure I think that is what you should use. Right?

  • Rudy

    Sort of like Ricky Ricardo when he said, “Luuuuuuuuucy, you got some ‘splaining to do!”

  • Ali

    Vismay, in your sentence, “especially” is acting as an adjective to modify the verb want. See the last paragraph of my article above: I think you should use “especially” NOT “specially”, but the latter is becoming more common.

    Best,

    Ali

  • Vismay

    Ali, thanks a lot. So that means I can use specially if want to sound informal, right?? Or with a person whom I know really well??

    Cheers,

    Vismay

  • Ali

    Hi Vismay,

    Oops, sorry, only just saw your comment. Yes, it would be fine to use “specially” in an informal context. The rules of grammar are usually a bit more relaxed with friends! 🙂

  • ri

    i disagree, with the original poster as well as with the comments. For brevity’s sake, I’ll leave off all the “” marks.

    Specially is used to mean in a special way or for a particular purpose. This is not somehow less formal. To say, for example, “I baked this cake specially for you” is to say that I used a special recipe… maybe you are allergic to eggs, so my special method of preparing this cake eliminated the eggs.

    Especially is used to indicate preeminence or noteworthiness. This is not more formal. To say, for example, “I baked this cake especially for you” is to indicate that this cake is primarily for you (although I probably don’t mind if others try it), or that I was thinking of you specifically when I made it.

    Another example:

    SWAT forces are specially trained police officers. This usage of specially indicates that they have training for a particular purpose.

    Police offers are highly trained, especially SWAT forces. This usage of especially indicates that SWAT forces are trained above and beyond the rest of the police officers.

    In addition, adjectives modify nouns. These two, specially and especially, are adverbs.

  • bandur

    The adjectives ‘special’ and ‘especial’ are not interchangeable. The difference typically has to do with whether the specialness is intrinsic to the object or arises from the feelings of the subject. Take the following example:

    • I have an especial interest in photography.

    In this case, there is nothing intrinsically special about the interest in photography. Instead, the emphasis is on me, and my feeling that, of all my interests, photography is the most special. Compare that with the following:

    • I have a special interest in photography: I like black and white photos of circus animals.

    In this case, it is the interest itself that is specialized. There is not necessarily the implication that I am more interested in B&W circus animals than other subject matter, only that I consider that interest unique enough to be worth mentioning.

    For the adverbial forms (specially and especially), ri, above, has some good examples. Again, especially implies that the intentions of the subject are special, and specially implies that the actions themselves were special.

    • This cake is specially baked especially for you.

    In this sentence, ‘specially’ refers to the manner in which it was baked (i.e., a special technique), while ‘especially’ refers to the intentions of the baker.

  • Sam

    thank you very much for this post! so helpful.

    easy to read, easy to understand and i can continue on my writing.

    *thumbs up*

  • Jaki

    Hey 🙂
    This is a GREAT site. You have helped me solve the specially-especially puzzle so well! So clearly! Right down to the last detail that I needed!
    Thank you!

    GOD BLESS YOU!

  • T. Vilaça

    Hi There, Ali and everyone.

    I only just realized all of these was posted about four months ago.
    Anyway, I just wanted to express my gratitude for all the information shared here and in a such a clear and direct way, that even when you disagree you just go respectfully straight to the point.

    I solved all my very specific doubts.

    Thank you all guys for that. Really.

  • Geno

    I’ve always had a bad habit of pronouncing especially as ex-specially;
    leading to the temptation of spelling it with an X. It’s about time I got fed up and decided to get this planted in my brain the correct way! Sites like these are among the best uses of the internet.

  • Louise

    I was always thought in school that specially is the proper word and that especially was grammatically incorrect, but used nevertheless to express emphasis.

  • april

    I think Bandur’s explanation is quite clear. I think I have a better understanding of these two words now. – ‘Especially’ refers to the intention of the subject; ‘specially’ refers to the ‘manner’. I hope I won’t get confused anymore. “This cake is specially baked especially baked for you” will always in my mind 🙂 Thanks Bandur!!

  • EdmundX

    Thank you. This is special.

  • minho14

    i just find them similar.. it makes confuse even more!!

  • Anders

    Thanks for clearing it out!

  • John

    All the examples are the same:

    -His train was running especially late that day.
    -We were especially happy to see you.
    -I put the cake especially high.

    They all mean “more than usual.”

    Consider an alternative example:

    “The plutonium was placed in a specially designed container.”

    The container was not “more designed” than others. It was designed for a special purpose.

    However, we can also modify a phrase:

    “The container was designed especially for holding plutonium.”

    Then I would certainly use especially.

    Compare:
    -This building is not especially tall.
    -This building was not specially designed.

    I admit that to me a sentence like “This reactor had to be especially designed” sound like nonsense. As though it had been “VERY designed.”

  • Sean

    I was trying to figure out how to word a comment on another website. Here is part comment and my dilemma = “Also the combat in the Manga is a lot bloodier, [especially] or [specially] during the middle of the second half of the series.” I figured it out (went with especially) Thanks to the original poster and everyone who debated or added with informative comments.

    Oh I’d like to say something about English/writing forums or sites. I find it amusing how pretentious everyone sounds when they disagree on a particular topic. I know no one is trying to be pretentious, Hell I may be coming off as pretentious right now. I just find it amusing. The thing I dislike is when people feel the need to insult someone who doesn’t use the proper syntax, misuse of a word, or a spelling error. I know that this and others like it are about proper English and I can see why they would point it out. However there is no need to insult the person. On sites like youtube or facebook there is no purpose for that behavior. We are on the internet not in class. So unless the person making said error is writing an article just let them be.

    Sorry for veering off topic, I just felt the need to put that out there for some reason. Maybe I felt that way because I was just on youtube and the trolls were irritating me. I refuse to feed the trolls, so you all had to suffer my complaining. I already typed it so I might as well post it. Again I apologize.

  • Sabine

    Sean in your case I’d go with especially. Although this comment is probably too late.

    I’ve got a problem myself as well.
    My friend commented on something saying only “Specially for you”. Underneath it became some sort of trollbattle using Especially or Specially for you.

    Now I’m confused. Anyone knows which was right one?

  • Nekonoms

    Sabine – the orignal comment ‘specially’ is the correct one.
    For remembering the difference between the two try to think of specially as specifically and especially as exceptionally.. thus, you might give a gift that is ‘specially for you’ (specifically for you) but it’s highly unlikely that you would receive one that is ‘especially for you’ (exceptionally for you??). The only case I can think of where someone would utter that phrase is when they’re surprised about your ability and expect less of you:
    eg. “Wow that was some great cooking, especially for you!”
    ie. It’s exceptional for you to cook so well – you usually suck! 😛

    There is one major point on which I disagree with the orignal post, you should absolutely NOT just stick in especially as default.
    Especially means beyond the norm, and if everything was beyond the norm then it would simply be the norm! Specially is not ‘less sophisticated’ or ‘childlike’ it’s simply different and more useful, hence it’s more common usage. Afterall, we do more things for a specific purpose than we do things that are exceptional!

  • Eric Williams

    Just thought I’d clear one thing up. Specially and Especially are not adjectives! They are adverbs. I don’t see why we just don’t get rid of specially and use the adverb especially while using only special as an adjective and be done with it.

  • DeAnna

    Thanks for simplifying it Neckonoms.

    Specially = Specifically

    Especially = Exceptional.

  • KGR

    You may be sick and tired of this topic but I just found this thread and have a question. First of all I am not an English speaker, so excuse me if I make some mistake.
    The thing is I studied “special” education and I can understand that the correct adjective here is “special” because the teaching is intrinsecally specific, specialized for disabled.
    But, couldn’t I use “especial education” if I considered that this education is above the other ways of teaching because it goes further than the rest?
    Maybe I am just messing things up, but I was just wandering in which contexts would it be right to use “especial education”. If any.

    Thank you very much

  • Dean Bush

    I have always suggested that “especially” means “very” in every case (that I know of). If you can say that something or someone is “special,” then say that it or they were “specially” chosen, for example. Another example, “The boxes were ‘specially’ marked to indicate that they contained hazardous materials.”

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