Purposely or Purposefully – What’s the Difference?

Nuances in meaning are what separate good writing from great writing. Unfortunately, these nuances can also be confusing to someone who is less familiar with the language.

Purposely and purposefully are both adverbs that describe ways of performing an action. Sometimes, they are even used interchangeably, even though they mean subtly different things. To improve the quality of your writing, you will want to know the meanings of these words and how to use them correctly.

What is the Difference Between Purposely and Purposefully?

In this post, I will compare purposely vs. purposefully. I will use each word in a few example sentences, so you can see it in context.

Plus, I will show you a memory tool that you can use to remind yourself whether to use purposefully or purposely in your own writing.

When to Use Purposely

purposely versus purposefully What does purposely mean? Purposely is an adverb. It is a synonym of intentionally in that it describes an action that was meant to be done, or in other words, on purpose.

The intent behind the action doesn’t really matter—as long as the action was intentionally done, purposely is the word to choose.

For example,

  • The soccer player purposely injured a member of the opposing team, and was suspended for several games.
  • I left that pile of stones there purposely, so that if we saw it on our way back we would know we were going in the right direction.
  • NEON has purposely never had a permanent exhibition space, opting instead to use the city as its gallery. –The New York Times

As an adverb, purposely modifies verbs by describing how they are performed. Not all adverbs end in -ly, and not all words that end in -ly are adverbs, but in general, that suffix is your clue that a word is an adverb.

When to Use Purposefully

Definition of purposefully definition and definition of purposely definitionWhat does purposefully mean? The word purposefully is also an adverb. It describes an action that was carried out for a specific reason.

With purposefully, the reason does matter—we are not merely describing an action that someone meant to do; we are describing an action in terms of the goal the person had in mind when he or she did it.

For example,

  • The priest purposefully arranged the stones into an altar to appease his gods.
  • The police officer stood purposefully in the street, signaling traffic to stop so that the pedestrians could cross safely.
  • The danger with a film this purposefully enigmatic and scrambled is that the viewer becomes hopelessly lost. –The Washington Post

Where purposely means on purpose, purposefully means with purpose. It does not only indicate that an action was performed intentionally, it indicates that the action was carried out with a specific purpose in mind.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define purposefully and define purposelyThe distinction between these words is a fine one. Each word describes an action that was carried out with intent.

  • Purposely simply means on purpose.
  • Purposefully means being carried out with a specific purpose in mind. In other words, the person is full of purpose as he or she performs the action.

Since purposefully contains the word full, you should always be able to remember that purposefully means full of purpose.


Is it purposely or purposefully? Purposely and purposefully are adverbs.

  • Purposely is a synonym of intentionally.
  • Purposefully describes an action that is carried out with a specific purpose in mind.