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The title of this video is "Interview Douglas Murray (EN)" (beginning about 1:40). In it, the interviewer says: "European citizens too often vote wrongly."

At first glance, the word "wrongly" appears odd. After looking around, I couldn't find any reasons why this use would be incorrect. It's an adverb that is used in other examples, such as, "A person wrongly convicted of a crime," or "I wrongly assumed something." Even if you take "wrongly" and place it in front of the verb "voted" it still seems off. If the word "incorrectly" is substituted, the phrase seems OK: European citizens too often vote incorrectly.

Grammatically-speaking, "wrongly" can be used in this way. My question; is there another reason why this usage isn't supported? Or if it has been used before, why isn't it used more often?

  • this might help – Ubi hatt Apr 2 '19 at 5:04
  • Does Douglas Murray actually use that phrase though, or has it come from the German media company who put the video up? I would say vote the wrong way. I don't think vote wrongly has to mean vote when they shouldn't but it can sound that way, and I think that's why we usually say I got the wrong answer or I said the wrong thing etc. – user339660 Apr 2 '19 at 6:03
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    To me "vote wrongly" implies that they have voted other than in accordance with the voting procedure. That is they have spoiled their ballot papers. Voting for a candidate or outcome the speaker does not like is not "voting wrongly" it is expressing a contrary opinion (don't get me started on Brexit). Voting for a candidate or outcome other than the one they intended to support is voting in error (and no one, probably not even the voter, would ever know). Finally voting fraudulently (Vote early vote often?) is voting illegally which is much more serious. – BoldBen Apr 2 '19 at 9:07
  • There is nothing wrong with the expression from a syntactic point of view. "Wrong", however, can be ambiguous if not sufficiently qualified (eg, with "from a syntactic point of view"). The use of the term in the original quote is highly ambiguous and open to a vast range of interpretations, though in the context of the clip it appears to mean "for the wrong side of an issue", with the implication that the voters are uninformed. – Hot Licks Apr 2 '19 at 12:38
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    To me "vote wrongly" sounds 'wrong' because it is ambiguous. Does it mean they "voted other than in accordance with the voting procedure" as suggested by BoldBen above? Does it mean that they voted differently from the speaker's preference; e.g. they voted 'Yes' & the speaker thought they should vote "No"? – TrevorD Apr 2 '19 at 14:36
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Wrongly isn't wrong here, but someone seeing the title of the video without understanding its context might be rightly confused for two reasons: wrongly isn't an expected collocation and without the context wrongly and wrong are ambiguous.


Wrongly was not the collocation you were expecting.

Wrongly may be unexpected here because of the common use of the flat adverb form wrong. A flat adverb describes an adverb that lacks the -ly suffix that marks most adverbs derived from adjectives. The flat adverb looks indistinguishable from an adjective, which is why prescriptive grammarians in the 18th century discouraged its use. (Compare: "I ran quick" and "I ran quickly." The first is used commonly in informal speech but discouraged by many editors and grammarians in formal contexts.)

Despite such discouragement of flat adverbs in general, wrong as a flat adverb is more common than the adverb wrongly: the Corpus of Contemporary American English has instances of the adverb wrong 10125 times (out of 93754 results for wrong), and wrongly appears 1645 times.

These results suggest that wrongly would be a less expected collocation for English users. A Google search for "voted wrong" and "voted wrongly" confirms that "voted wrong" has around 25,000 results and "voted wrongly" has around 10,000. COCA has three results for "voted wrong," all in spoken situations on CNN or CBS news/current event shows. "Voted wrongly" does not appear, indicating that it might be less common in journalistic or media use. As a result, readers and listeners might expect wrong rather than wrongly and perhaps they'd even expect another adverb before wrongly. These expectations can affect initial judgments of appropriate usage.


Both wrongly and wrong have ambiguous meanings here

A given action or event can be done wrong(ly) in several ways. Did someone vote wrong(ly)

  • procedurally, that is, they mishandled the ballot in some way?

  • politically, that is, they voted for a candidate or issue that the speaker considers wrong?

  • criminally, that is, they voted when they were not eligible to vote

  • ethically, that is, they approach the act of voting in a way the speaker considers invalid or immoral

There are more possibilities. Both wrong and wrongly have issues with ambiguity, such that having this as the title of the video is less precise than using a more specific adverb or qualifying the adverb with more explanation. So why did the video preparer (Einblick) go with wrong or wrongly?


The context determines how wrong and wrongly are understood

Consider the larger context. One reason wrong/wrongly is used is because the term appears several times as an adjective and adverb to describe voting habits fairly early in the video. I type out the relevant snippets that, indeed, start at 1:40 in the above video:

(Murray) voting the wrong way, voting for the wrong parties ...

(Einblick) this is a concept of (rote?) voting wrong

(Einblick) people have developed this idea that people vote wrongly when they haven't been informed yet in a proper way

Einblick is caught up in the usage and repeats it, while Murray moves on to explicate why the claim that people vote wrong(ly) is a simplification of opponents' political arguments and issues. "Wrong" becomes one of the key charges in this discussion, but it takes listening quite carefully to both Murray and Einblick to figure out exactly how the wrongly in the video title should be taken and whether Einblick's paraphrase is correct.

It's a matter of opinion whether such a video title is enticing (people will watch because they want to know why Murray says people vote wrongly), misleading (it's unclear exactly what "wrongly" means), or both, and that uncertainty that may be at the root of your discomfort with its usage here.

  • As you said, "The first ("wrong") is used commonly in informal speech but discouraged by many editors and grammarians in formal contexts." Einblick sounds to me to have adapted BBC speech style, and the folks at BBC are known for their prescriptive formality. What's common usage in the US would not be particularly applicable. – Hot Licks Apr 3 '19 at 11:56

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