Please explain the difference between especially and specially ?



1 Used to single out one person or thing over all others:

2 To a great extent; very much:



For a special purpose:

The definitions make sense on their face, but the way we use the words is confusing. I was reading The Journal of Henry David Thoreau today and came across this his of specially that I might have used especially:

September 7, 1851

We can, perchance, then direct our nutriment to those organs we specially use...

February 23, 1853

The Secretary for the Advancement of Science requests me, ... to fill the blak against certain questions, among which the most important one was what branch of science I was specially interested in ... I felt that it would be to make myself the laughing-stock of the scientific community to describe to them that branch of science that specially interests me...

Is there no difference or one is more prominent than the other?

  • 2
    What did a dictionary tell you? Feb 11, 2015 at 14:37
  • Almost same definition in dictionary but is there any difference if I used one above another or one is more formal? Feb 11, 2015 at 14:39
  • Try "The Free Dictionary" online and "Merriam-Webster". Also, "Oxford Online". You'll find there is a difference, not only between "special and especial" but also between "specially and especially".
    – Centaurus
    Feb 11, 2015 at 14:39
  • @Adityaultra To make your question more answerable, you might post the definitions of the words, as well as what confuses you about those definitions. Why do you think they're the same or different? Feb 11, 2015 at 14:41
  • 1
    See english.stackexchange.com/questions/62786/…
    – Frank
    Feb 11, 2015 at 14:59

1 Answer 1


First of all, remember that the way people used words 150 years ago does not dictate how we use words today, even though their usage has probably influenced our usage very deeply.

Since especially and specially look and sound so much alike, it can be very difficult to realize the clear differences in their definitions. The fact that special and especial, their adjectival forms, share even closer definitions makes the confusion that much more difficult to sort out.

From www.learnersdictionary.com

The meanings and usage of these two similar-sounding words overlap quite a bit, so it can be hard to figure out which one to use when. If you are interested in the details, I encourage you to read their entries in Merriam-Webster's Learner’s Dictionary. If that’s more information than you need, here are simple rules to follow that will insure that you are using these words correctly:

  1. Use especially to mean “very” or “extremely,” as in these examples:

    There is nothing especially radical about that idea.

    The food was not especially good.

  2. Use especially when something stands out from all the others, and you want the meaning of “particularly,” as in these examples:

    She can't be sure she will win, especially at this early stage of the campaign.

    The appetizers and especially the soup were delicious.

  3. When you want to convey the meaning “for a special purpose,” or “specifically,” you can use either especially or specially. They are both correct.

    The speech was written especially/specially for the occasion.

  4. When you want to convey the meaning “in a special manner”, as in this example below, use specially. In this context, especially would sound odd or wrong to most native speakers.

    I don't want to be treated specially.

    [AVOID] I don't want to be treated especially.

Rule 4 is the most important to remember, because it is the only one where especially will not fit. In all other uses, you can safely assume especially will work.

The more extensive difference between the adverbial forms seems to be related to the subtle difference between their adjectival forms:

The meanings of the adjectives special and especial are more or less the same. They both mean “different and more than usual,” as in the examples below:

This is a matter of special importance.

Pay especial attention to the last paragraph.

However, special is by far more common than especial. In fact, according to COCA, the Corpus of Contemporary American English, special is used about 600 times for every one time that especial is used.

In addition, unlike especial, special does not need to be followed by a noun, as in this example:

If you’re going to a business lunch, wear something special.

Since special is much more common, and its use is more flexible, I don’t recommend using especial at all.

Since especial is fading out of use, you can reduce the confusion by assuming special is the right adjective, unless you have a clear compelling reason to use especial. Interestingly, the 150:1 usage ratio of special over especial is reversed in the 85:1 usage ratio of especially over specially. Especially is significantly more common than specially.

I use the following mnemonic to remember that the adjective special is more useful and the adverb especially is more popular:

Special words are especially important.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.