23

I can decide accurately which to use in a given context, but I can't make out the actual difference in definition between "special" and "especial". I have searched two authoritative dictionaries to no avail.

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16

In every use, especial can be replaced by special with no change in meaning. The word special does have some meanings especial does not have, such as "of or relating to a species" and as a euphemism for handicapped. Also, the phrase a special to mean an unusual offer or deal has no corresponding form with especial.

9

I agree with all that David Schwartz wrote in his answer. However, I think someone should tell you that almost nobody uses the word "especial." See this NGram of special vs. especial, corpus English, 1800-2008. (The NGram looks similar for both British English and American English.)

I think especial sounds affected. Can you give us an example of a sentence in which you think you might use it?

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  • 8
    Note that the reverse is true for specially vs. especially. – John Bartholomew Mar 31 '12 at 14:03
  • "I have an especial preference for red cars." – Tuesday Mar 31 '12 at 22:48
6

But note that only 'special' can be used as a noun. For example, "Check out the 'specials; on the menu (and not the especials*). Also, in writing, stick to 'especially' rather than 'specially', as the latter is considered informal.

5

Special conveys a sense of unusual quality. Especial conveys a sense of more specificity. Compare: "This is a special gift for you." with "This gift is especially for you."

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