Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 50: A Purposeful Debate

This week's topic was suggested by Abby, a listener from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Abby wrote this to us:
"When one does something on purpose, does one say purposefully or purposely? Is there a difference? This has recently become an ongoing debate with friends and family, split about evenly. Can you please settle this grammar feud?"
Thanks for the question, Abby. Fowler's Modern English Usage suggests a careful examination of the dictionary definitions of these words to best understand their differences. The Oxford English Dictionary defines purposely as "on purpose; by design; designedly; intentionally; deliberately." For example:
The man purposely avoided walking along the busy street.
The hockey player purposely instigated a fight with his opponent.
Meanwhile, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines purposefully as "having a purpose or meaning, indicating a purpose or plan, or having a definite purpose in mind." Gordon Jarvie, in his Bloomsbury Grammar Guide, defines purposefully as "resolutely" or "with determination." For example:
In the autumn, you can see geese moving purposefully across the sky.
Dissatisfied, the customer walked purposefully to the door.
And to Abby listening in Massachusetts: Let us know how your family feud turns out.

Sources: Oxford English Dictionary; Shorter Oxford English Dictionary; Fowler's Modern English Usage by RW Burchfield; Bloomsbury Grammar Guide by Gordon Jarvie.

Music from this Episode: "Purpose" by Cloud Cult; "Just Really Want to See You" by Shudder to Think, featuring Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk.

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