Especially vs. Specially
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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