It can be particularly hard to know the difference between especially and specially. These two words—that can both mean “particularly“—look similar, have similar origins, and in some cases, are interchangeable.
Not only are they both adverbs, but the difference in their definitions is so nuanced, it may seem impossible to know when to use especially versus specially correctly. The distinction may seem small, but once you see the difference, it’s easy to keep straight.
Let’s take a look at the bigger picture.
What does especially mean?
Especially is a common adverb defined as “particularly; exceptionally, markedly.” It can also mean “above all” or “something more” when compared to other things. So it was clear the boys were talented singers, especially the youngest. Or, although she loved all animals, she was especially passionate about tigers. In both these examples, it’s clear that one option stands out above the others. There are many animals; there are many talented singers.
The word especially is first recorded around 1350–1440. It comes from the Latin word speciālis (“pertaining to a particular kind”), via the French word especial. Latin words that began with sp- (among some other initial consonants) tended to acquire an e-when they were adopted in French.
A helpful tip: if you can swap in exceptionally in the place of especially and it makes sense, then especially is generally the right choice. For example, she excelled in all subjects at school but was exceptionally good at science. Since exceptionally works well here, you know that you can also use especially in this case. She excelled in all subjects at school but was especially good at science. This tip works when a comparison is involved.
What does specially mean?
Then there’s specially. Another adverb that also means “particularly,” but it’s the term’s other definition that will help you keep this word straight: “specifically.” For example, he brought Spanish red wine over to his friend’s house specially because he knows it’s his favorite.
Specially can also mean “in a special manner or for a special purpose.” He got his hair cut specially for the family photos this afternoon. Or, she made sure to go to bed early specially for the big day ahead.
This word is recorded around 1175–1225. It’s also derived from the Latin word speciālis, but as you can tell, it did not take on the extra e-, as it wasn’t borrowed through French. Both especially and specially ultimately come from the Latin speciēs, meaning “appearance, form, sort, kind.” But while they come from the same root, they have diverged in use in English.
A trick for specially is to think about the definition “specifically”—and if these two adverbs can be interchanged, then specially is likely correct. For example, he went to the grocery store specifically for milk and left without it. In this case, specially could be correctly used. He went to the grocery store specially for milk and left without it.
How to use each word
Keeping exceptionally in mind for especially and specifically in mind for specially is the best way to remember which word to use. If you’re on a tight budget, you need to be especially (or exceptionally) cautious with what you spend right now. He didn’t like going to school, especially on days he couldn’t eat lunch with is friends. If not, he specially tried to see them in the halls between classes.
He specially (or specifically) asked for chocolate cake because he knows it’s your favorite. She had her wedding gown specially created for her favorite bridal designer to incorporate all of her favorite details. Her mom spends most of the time in the garden and especially cherishes her rose bushes. So for Mother’s Day, her kids all chipped in on a painting made specially to look like her prized flowers.
In some cases the use of these words can overlap. For example, those with pre-existing conditions were warned to avoid public places during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially (or specially) grocery stores. In this scenario, it comes down to the nuanced meaning you’re trying to convey: that people are above all told to stay away from grocery stores or specifically told to avoid them. Both cases can be true.
Final note: in American English, special is used more often than especial. However, especially is much more commonly used than specially. Because we are just particular like that.