I know publically appears as an incorrect spelling in most dictionaries (in fact as I type this up on my Safari browser it keeps trying to correct the spelling to publicly).

However I have seen the word spelled in that manner before in certain places so I did a search on Google and found that there is a definition for the spelling publically at dictionary.com and the free dictionary as well. The English wiktionary site considers it an alternate spelling.

Are both spellings valid or are there some subtle differences I am missing? Which version would you accept as correct in a spelling bee?

  • 5
    I find it ridiculous that we spend energy on debating whether an alternate spelling is "correct" - real people, not English professors and dictionary authorities, are the authorities on English-as-used, and will ultimately make the distinction irrelevant.
    – user51783
    Sep 12, 2013 at 4:02
  • 15
    It's weird how basically is correctly, but publically is not. "Basicly" is just bad English. So why does that not apply here?
    – user17782
    Jan 29, 2015 at 1:36
  • 8
    @lunchmeat317 because languages are not treatises on logic.
    – fiatjaf
    Mar 5, 2017 at 22:08

5 Answers 5


Publicly is certainly more common, but publically is a logical alternative, mentioned in the OED with half a dozen citations from 1727 to 1998, so it can't really be called a mistake.

  • 11
    Though "publicly" is far more common than "publically", it is bucking the trend. The OED has the following numbers of entries for the endings "-icly" and "-ically": 63 vs. 2100. Some of those "-ically" will be from words in "-ical" of course, but it has only 3500 "-ical" entries as against 11000 in "-ic".
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 14, 2011 at 11:50
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    Just adding that "publicly" continues to be empirically much more common: books.google.com/ngrams/… Feb 4, 2016 at 15:25

Adjectives ending in -ic form the adverb with -ally: poetic poetically, systematic systematically, automatic automatically.

There is one exception to this rule, public has publicly. And its only natural that speakers in the course of time extend the general rule to public and form publically. I would see this as a natural "pruning" and rectification of the system. Of course, there is no difference between the two forms. The first is the older irregular form, still preached by a lot of grammars, the second is the newer and regular form and in this case I must say sometimes speakers have more sense than grammars or grammarians.

Added: It should also be the task of dictionaries and grammars to regularize language and not to fix irregularities for all times.

  • historic and historical are different adjectives. Feb 23, 2021 at 8:30

I would accept only "publicly" as being correct. I'm surprised that you found dictionaries listing "publically" as anything other than a mis-spelling of "publicly".

If this alternative spelling does become commonplace, there's still no difference in their meaning; they are, after all, alternative spellings of the same word, not different-but-similar words.

Update: In the 2-and-a-half years since I wrote this answer it seems that "publically" continues to grow in popularity, and more dictionaries are listing it. Nevertheless I would still advise against its use since it is still not yet globally accepted as a correct spelling and there's nothing wrong with "publicly"!

  • 1
    Actually I found this as an accepted alternate spelling in my Merriam Websters Dictionary so its not just online dictionaries that carry the spelling.
    – Nikhil
    Oct 16, 2011 at 15:38
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    Not only does the OED, as noted above by TimLymington, have an entry for 'publically' (and who am I to gainsay that), but a pop into the Free Dictionary and you can easily find it defined there as well. It is, as has been noted, a rare but acceptable variant of 'publicly'. Nov 19, 2012 at 8:05
  • 1
    Word also list publically as an option, whereas Google Chrome marks it as a mistake. Jan 28, 2014 at 12:13
  • 2
    Whether or not certain types of spellings are objectively "right" or "correct" isn't something that you can determine. You can certainly "advise" (as you do) against certain spellings but to some extent, especially in these gray areas where multiple different spelling forms have existed, I think the most you can say is that spelling is in some aspects idiosyncratic.
    – franklin
    Mar 18, 2015 at 16:05
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    >>"-ally" only works for words where "-al" is also a valid suffix @Waggers : Basically, that's tragically incorrect. You may need to drastically update your thinking and dramatically change your viewpoint. More: academic, acerbic, acidic, acoustic, aerobic, (ant)arctic, exotic ...
    – mcalex
    Jan 8, 2018 at 9:43

Public is not the same as basic - there is no "basical" and there is no record of it in the past.

Public was originally an 8th century Anglo Norman adjective[1] that also had a rare form, which appeared around the 14th/15th century "publical"[2]. This would indicate the use of the noun around the same time.

As a noun, it was then recorded in the adverbial phrase "in public"[3] in the early 15th century and increased in popularity as a pure noun, albeit not in the current sense, to the 16th century[4].

It took until the 17th century for the noun "public" to reach its current meaning[5] And all that time there was, lurking in the background, people who used "publical" as an adjective as they had done in the 14/15th century, something that was continued at least until the 19th century[6].

Thus the adjective "public/publical" was possible and its adverb was thus formed with the standard "-ly" suffix. As the difference between the spoken "-icly" and "-ically" is negligible, and as by the 16th century standard spelling was not established, both forms must have existed.

It should be remembered that the reason that any word is spelled the way that it is "because that is how we do it" - there is no authority, merely tradition, and the transition to a completely regular orthography has not yet been completed.

From OED:

[1]Etymology: < Anglo-Norman publik, pupplik, Anglo-Norman and Middle French public, publiq, publique, Middle French publice, publicque, puplique, French public, †publique (adjective) of or relating to the people as a whole (first half of the 13th cent. in Old French),

1394 in Collectanea Topographica & Genealogica (1836) III. 257 (MED) We..to this oure writyn certi[fi]cat han frelich sett oure selys, in ful and pupplik declaracion of trowthe in dede.

[2]Etymology: < post-classical Latin publicalis (8th cent. in a British source; < classical Latin publicus public adj. + -ālis -al suffix1.]

c1450 Alphabet of Tales (1904) I. 248 In gude felowshupp..þer suld all publicall honor and wurshup sese betwix þe fadur & þe son.

[3]B. n. 1. in public.

a. In a public place; before spectators or onlookers; publicly, openly, without concealment. Formerly also †in the public (obsolete). †into public: into print; (also) into the public eye; (obsolete).

c1429 Mirour Mans Saluacioune (1986) l. 923 To convers in publike [glossed in comon place] hase sho fledde all hire lif, Halsing solitarie estat and pure contemplatif.

[4] 2.†a. With singular agreement. The community or people as an organized body, the body politic; the nation, the state; the interest or well-being of the community, the common good. Chiefly with the. Obsolete.

a1586 Sir P. Sidney Arcadia (1590) iii. xix. 325 You are a Prince, & a father of people, who ought..to set downe all priuate conceits, in comparison of what for the publike is profitable.

[5]b. With the and singular or plural agreement. The community or people as a whole; the members of the community collectively.

1621 J. Reynolds Triumphs Gods Revenge: 1st Bk. sig. A3 I only represent what they have acted, and give that to the publike, which they obscurely perpetrated in private.

[6]1898 Catholic World May 240 Even the unselfish and the honest patriots feel a glow of pleasure in the doling out of the loaves and fishes, for they believe that success begets success and state and nation will be their next publical advance.


Publicly is correct

Ly is an old English word meaning "part of, like" When added as a suffix it changes an adjective into an adverb.

Therefore Public----Public(ly)

You will find many words that look similar to Publically, but that is a coincidence of spelling

Example Cynical-----Cynical(ly) Trivial------Trivial(ly)

That's all there is to it and you will never misspell again! Just remember when turning a noun into an adjective by suffix it is LY

  • 12
    In response to WackoJacko, I'd like to offer the word "specifically" as a contradicting example (for which the root word does not end in "al" as in the previous examples given, but instead ends in "ic", as does "public").
    – user45707
    Jun 9, 2013 at 5:59

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