In the OED:

effectively, (adverb)—in such a manner as to achieve a desired result: make sure that resources are used effectively.

effectual, (adjective)—successful in producing a desired or intended result; derivatives: [...], effectually adverb, [...].

In Wiktionary:

effectually [...] Synonyms: completely, effectively.

In the Encyclopaedia Britannica I read:

Though the designs of the Frenchs against Jamaica were now effectually frustrated, the victory was not followed [...].

Further, in the Guardian I read:

Schools that had once been mixed were now effectually segregated.

So, I am confused if the above sentences would sound better as

  • Though the designs of the Frenchs against Jamaica were now effectively frustrated, the victory was not followed [...]
  • Schools had once been mixed were now effectively segregated.

Can you confirm whether effectually and effectively are completely interchangable or not?

Note: I read "'The team is moving around really effectively.' — Is this a correct use of effectively?", but there it does not answer my question.

  • From The Old Man and the Sea: As he watched the bird dipped again slanting his wings for the dive and then swinging them wildly and ineffectually as he followed the flying fish.
    – Rick
    Apr 19, 2023 at 10:08

5 Answers 5


Effectually is effectively archaic. Don't use it.

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Note that OP's definitions evidence the fact that the two words are synonyms in the adverbial sense of "with efficacy", which normally implies purposefully and efficiently.

On the other hand, my own usage at the start of this answer has more the sense of "in effect, to all intents and purposes, in practice" (a meaning which also originally attached to effectually). But since most people probably won't be so familiar with the archaic form, presented with...

High dosage of morphine effectually/effectively ended his life.

...they might well tend to interpret effectually there as meaning the morphine was administered in order to give him a painless death, where effectively would often be seen as implying that death was more of an unfortunate/unforeseen/accidental consequence of the pain-killing treatment.

For all that, I would not recommend using effectually in any non-facetious circumstances.

  • -1 Does not answer the question, Are they interchangeable?
    – zpletan
    Apr 15, 2012 at 19:09
  • @zpletan: IMO this does answer the question. Interchangeability implies not only the same meaning, but also the same register, so to speak. If one word is used 100 times as often as the other one, they cannot be interchangeable by definition. Apr 15, 2012 at 19:15
  • @zpletan: What Armen said. You've obviously already established that the definitions are pretty much equivalent. By far the most important difference lies in the significance of using the (today) non-standard version - which on average would simply mark the writer/speaker as either a pseudo-intellectual who likes using obscure words for the sake of it, or someone with limited fluency in current, modern English. But there are other differences which I'll edit to reflect. Apr 15, 2012 at 20:03

The NOAD has the following notes about effective, effectual, efficacious, efficient:

All of these adjectives mean producing or capable of producing a result, but they are not interchangeable. Use effective when you want to describe something that produces a definite effect or result ("an effective speaker who was able to rally the crowd's support") and efficacious when it produces the desired effect or result ("an efficacious remedy that cured her almost immediately"). If something produces the desired effect or result in a decisive manner, use effectual ("an effectual recommendation that got him the job"), an adjective that is often employed when looking back after an event is over ("an effectual strategy that finally turned the tide in their favor"). Reserve the use of efficient for when you want to imply skill and economy of energy in producing the desired result ("so efficient in her management of the company that layoffs were not necessary"). When applied to people, efficient means capable or competent ("an efficient homemaker") and places less emphasis on the achievement of results and more on the skills involved.

  • I think NOAD are just tying themselves up in knots there by introducing effectual into an explication of the difference between effective and efficient. That difference is real, but imho the word-pair OP is asking about are effectively synonyms. Dictionary-makers aside, no-one writes of effectual recommendations nowadays (or even very often effective recommendations, if the intended sense is that the recommendation was successful in that it was accepted by whoever it was made to). Apr 15, 2012 at 22:52

I offer this distinction. Say you're in IT, and there's an issue tracker nobody ever looks at.

The accounting department complains that their software sporadically slows down. Your manager wants to ignore this, but doesn't want to appear to ignore this. So he says, "put a ticket in the issue tracker."

This is an effective, ineffectual ass covering.

  • How is it any different from "This is an effectual, ineffective ass covering."
    – Pacerier
    May 31, 2018 at 23:17

From the examples given above re: effectual in the Britannica and in the Guardian, "effectual" is used because "effective" would imply that frustration/segregation were desired. To say that from a modern perspective would be suspicious. "Effectual" was used instead because it lacks connotation and simply implies that the intended result was brought about (but not intended from the narrator's point of view), or that the actions came to a conclusion.


In Garner's Modern American Usage, the author makes this distinction:

Effective: having a high degree of effect (used of a thing done or the doer)
Effectual: achieving the complete effect aimed at (used of a person's action or some other thing)

  • So you're saying effectual is a greater level of effectiveness?
    – Pacerier
    May 31, 2018 at 23:15

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