Posted by: Jack Henry | May 23, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Purposely and Purposefully

Many people are confused by the words purposely and purposefully. Are they synonyms? Is purposely even a real word?

Let’s start with some definitions from Merriam-Webster:

· purposely: with a deliberate or an express purpose : on purpose : INTENTIONALLY, DESIGNEDLY, EXPRESSLY

· purposefully: full of determination : guided by a definite aim

Although the two words are close in meaning, there is a subtle difference. You could say that purposely means "on purpose" and purposefully means "with a sense of purpose."

Merriam-Webster notes, "In everyday use, purposely is fine to merely show that something was done or said on purpose (as opposed to accidentally). But if that thing was done or said with a deliberate aim or intention, then purposefully is the adverb to use."

In case the distinction still seems fuzzy, here are some examples (four I made up, and two from recent news stories).

Example: The vandal purposely painted a bad word on the dumpster.

The vandal’s finger didn’t slip and fall onto the spray can nozzle, but he had no goal beyond causing mischief. The vandal chose the dumpster arbitrarily.

Example: The vandal purposefully painted "LIAR" on the front door of the senator’s campaign headquarters.

The message and the choice of target were deliberate. The vandal didn’t just want to cause mischief; he wanted to embarrass the senator and make a political statement.

Example: Alice purposely walked into the lecture hall.

Alice didn’t walk through the wrong door, but she wasn’t full of determination. She might be attending a lecture or trying to get out of the rain.

Example: Alice purposefully walked into the lecture hall.

Alice didn’t just wander into the lecture hall; she had determination and a definite aim. She might be the lecturer, or she might be extremely confident about taking the final exam.

Example: "Report: Driver purposely crashed during Border Patrol chase" – San Diego Union-Tribune

The driver allegedly chose to crash his SUV after the Border Patrol started chasing him. However, crashing wasn’t the driver’s goal (as it might be for a Hollywood stunt driver who crashes purposefully).

Example: "It’s the willfully eccentric characters and purposefully obtuse scenes that fuel enthusiasm for [the television show
Twin Peaks]." – NPR

Obtuse scenes in Twin Peaks aren’t just "on purpose"—they’re the whole point. Twin Peaks is a mystery show, and director David Lynch deliberately disorients the audience with dreamlike imagery and cryptic dialogue.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
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