'Purposely' Versus 'Purposefully'

More people seem to misuse "purposefully" and "purposely." Here's a memory trick to remember the difference.

Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
Episode #652

A listener named Manasi says she has been avoiding the words “purposely” and “purposefully” because she isn’t sure of the difference between them. I know that problem! I used to avoid words like that before I became Grammar Girl, but it’s better to learn how to use them, so let’s break it down because the difference can be subtle. First, both “purposely” and “purposefully” come from an Old French word that meant “intention,” and they’re both adverbs, which means they’re usually describing how you do something: how you do the action of the verb.


"Purposely" is the word you want when you’re describing something you are doing deliberately or intentionally—something you’re doing on purpose. For example, if you know your sister is always late, you may purposely tell her the party starts 30 minutes earlier than it really does so she gets there on time.

A lot of times when a package says "Open Other End," I purposely open the end where it says that. —Comedian George Carlin

Marston, dressed in a black pullover and jeans, sat and spoke before a purposely blurred and indeterminate background. —“The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes,” Howard V. Hendrix


"Purposefully" describes the action or demeanor of a person who is determined or resolute. If you want to convey a message to your brother across the dinner table without speaking, you may purposefully raise your eyebrows.

Examples of ‘Purposefully’

Here’s an example from the book “Will Tanner: U.S. Deputy Marshal”: 

He walked purposefully toward the horse, looking it in the eye as he untied the reins from the rail.

It seems to me that “purposefully” is usually describing some kind of physical action like walking, looking, staring, speaking, and so on, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. You can also do things like communicate purposefully and live purposefully. Here’s another example from the novel “Night Talk”:

A woman wearing a knee-length black cashmere hooded overcoat and boots walked quickly, purposefully, down Los Angeles’s Broadway Theater District.

Quick and Dirty Tip: ‘Purposefully’ or ‘Purposely’?

As I was looking for examples, I found a lot of people using “purposefully” when they really meant “purposely”—“on purpose”—and not nearly as many errors in the opposite direction, so you probably need to be more careful with “purposefully.” 

Here’s how I remember the meaning. Think of "purposefully" (purpose-full-y) as meaning “full of purpose”—Imagine a gesture full of meaning (those raised eyebrows) or an athlete full of determination.

The shorter word is simpler. Most of the time, “purposely” just means someone did something “on purpose.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

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