Specially or Especially – is there a difference?

by Liz Walter​
Specially or Especially

A reader recently asked me to explain the difference between ‘specially’ and ‘especially’.

In order to find the answer, I looked at the Cambridge International Corpus, which is a collection of almost two billion words of English from many different sources. Cambridge University Press’s authors and editors use the corpus to find evidence about the use of English.

The first thing I discovered was that ‘especially’ is much more common than ‘specially’. In fact, ‘especially’ occurs 149.2 times for every million words of text, as opposed to 8.1 times for ‘specially’.

The second thing I discovered was that although there are some useful guidelines, there are very many examples of proficient users of English ignoring all of them! However, there are definite patterns, and my advice to learners of English would be to stick to them.

The main difference is to do with meaning. In the following two cases, it is much more common to use ‘especially’ than ‘specially’:

1) to mean ‘particularly’ or ‘above all’:

She enjoys exercise, especially aerobics.

I especially liked his latest novel.

With this meaning, it is extremely common to use ‘especially’ at the beginning of the second clause in a sentence, after a comma.

She painted a lot, especially in the early years.

His work was poor, especially compared to that of his colleagues.

2) before an adjective to mean ‘very’ or ‘extremely’:

She’s not especially talented.

Getting food supplies to the region is especially urgent now.

This meaning very often occurs in negative sentences:

It was reasonable, if not especially inspired, advice.

Their teaching methods were not especially effective.

Although ‘specially’ is generally less common, there are two situations in which it is preferred to ‘especially’:

1) to mean ‘for a specific purpose’:

The uniform was specially designed for women.

We bought the chair specially for Grandma when she visits.

With this meaning, ‘specially’ very often occurs before a past participle:

specially modified equipment

specially trained staff

2) to mean ‘in a way that is not ordinary’:

We don’t want to be treated specially.

These two uses of ‘specially’ are related to the common adjective ‘special’. There is an adjective ‘especial’, but it is very rare, and mostly found in very formal or literary writing.

Finally, a warning about a couple of common mistakes with ‘especially’. Firstly, make sure of the spelling! It is one of the 50 most commonly misspelled words in English.

Secondly, do not try to use ‘especially’ at the beginning of a sentence. Use ‘in particular’ instead:

The concert was wonderful. In particular, I enjoyed the Mozart symphony.

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