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I am wondering what's the key difference between the two adverbs "purposefully" and "purposely" and how to use them in a sentence. I have found a similar question: “Deliberately” vs. “intentionally” vs. “on purpose” but there is no explanation about the difference between the above two mentioned adverbs.

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    Have you looked up the two separate words in a good dictionary? They have very different meanings.
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 20:07

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The two adverbs are often used interchangebly and their meanings are close. Purposefully appears to convey a sense of determination that purposely does not.

  • In everyday use, purposely is fine to merely show that something was done or said on purpose (as opposed to accidentally). But if that thing was done or said with a deliberate aim or intention, then purposefully is the adverb to use.

The following interesting extract traces thier etymology and how the different nuances in meaning developed.

Purposely came into English in the late 1400s or early 1500s, right in the middle of an -ly-adverb boom in English. Its earliest and current meaning is "on purpose, intentionally":

  • It is ordyned...that no man take any Eyre[r], Gossehauke [etc.] nor purposly drive them oute of their covertes. — Acts of Parliament, 1495

  • In the second game Jeanette starts burying balls off two and three cushions. Even when she purposely misses, she leaves him blocked in like it's 5 p.m. on an L.A. freeway. — Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated, 4 July 2005

These two uses are typical, and not rare: purposely has had far more use, historically, than purposefully has (and it still has slightly more use in printed English prose).

Purposefully, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer. Our earliest evidence for the word currently comes from the mid-1800s, with the meaning "indicating the existence of a purpose or object," or "not meaningless or aimless," as in "We were purposefully taken to inspect them" (Elizabeth Grant, Memoirs of a Highland Lady, 1854).

A recent usage of "purposely" by Trump in a message on Twitter has raised this issue again:

@realDonaldTrump: Clinton's email server "more than a mistake; that was done purposely." #debates

So if purposely is actually more common than purposefully:

why did so many people think Trump was making up yet another word? Likely because the context of his comment seemed to imply something that the word purposely wasn't communicating: determined intention.

The two words have the same root—purpose—but slightly different meanings. When used in prose, purposefully seems to connote a determination or intentionality that purposely does not—to do something purposefully is to do it guided by a deliberate aim:

  • "I Knew You Were Trouble" audaciously moves into dubstep territory, boasting heavy bass in some parts and vocals that have been purposefully heavily autotuned to sound mechanized. — The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, 25 Oct. 2012

In common use, purposely seems to lack that level of determination:

  • She wore a long knit dress that looked purposely homespun and showed off her growing baby bump, with her hair swept behind her in a curling bun. — Janelle Brown, This Is Where We Live, 2010

(Merriam-Webster)

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  • I wasn't sure whether to edit this: "raised this issue against" - is against a typo? Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 0:34
  • @Mari-LouA - I corrected my sentence, I think your comment is no longer relevant. Thanks.
    – user66974
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 19:40
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I prefer to reserve "purposefully" for use as a synonym of determinedly, resolvedly or resolutely. Once one begins to treat the word as if it were a synonym for designedly, he or she is on a slippery slope. A slide that will lead to purposefully supplanting purposely entirely.

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  • The snag is that many others use both senses of 'purposefully', as major dictionaries (eg AHD, Lexico) attest. In fact, Lexico adds a third meaning its researchers find to be in fairly common current use. English usage cannot be defined by individuals or small pressure groups. Commented Apr 2, 2022 at 11:19
  • An interesting response considering your background. I’ve found most people with a background in the natural sciences, tend not to take the laissez-faire approach toward words, but rather insist upon clarity and precision. Even more so, in fact, than do many English teachers. I commend on your open mindedness.
    – YaFen Shen
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 12:39
  • I apologise. General (/ 'standard') English usage cannot be defined by individuals or small pressure groups.. And ELU looks at general, standard usages. Precisionist language using stipulative definitions is often off-topic here as being too niche, more appropriate on say Mathematics.SE, Physics.SE or Law.SE... But whenever stipulative definitions are used, they must be defined (or contextually default), and in the former case it must be mentioned where they deviate from dictionary definitions. Stipulative definitions can't be chosen as the everyday defaults by individuals. // Answers on ... Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 13:48
  • ELU lacking felicitous supporting references (ie no cherry-picking and presenting as the complete picture) usually come across as opinion, and may be no more than that. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 13:49

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