Confusing words: wrong, wrongly, wrongfully

As dictionaries tell us, the word wrong means ‘incorrect’. There’s nothing difficult or confusing about that, is there? Well, providing wrong is an adjective there isn’t (the wrong day, the wrong number, etc.).

The trouble starts when we use wrong as an adverb and people start saying that it should be wrongly because adverbs always end in -ly. That’s true with many adverbs, but in fact it IS acceptable to use both wrong and wrongly as an adverb. Here are two instances:

1. If we want to sound less formal:

  • He pronounced my name wrongly. [more formal] ✓
  • He pronounced my name wrong. [less formal] ✓

2. Wrong can be used as an adverb instead of wrongly when it comes after a verb:

  • It was spelt wrong. ✓ (also spelt wrongly = more formal)

or after the object of a verb:

  • He spelt the word wrong. ✓  (also spelt wrongly = more formal)

 

! We cannot use wrong as an adverb before a past participle:

  • His name was wrongly speltwrong spelt

or before a clause beginning with that:

  • The newspaper stated wrongly that the company planned to open new offices in Paris. stated wrong that

Wrongfully

So how do we use wrongfully?

Wrongfully is used in formal legal statements, as seen in these examples:

  • He was wrongfully accused of murder. ✓ (They accused him but he was found not guilty.)
  • He was innocent, so he was wrongfully imprisoned. ✓ (He was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit.)

We also use wrongfully with words like convicted and dismissed.

I hope both learners of English and native speakers will find this explanation useful. Feel free to leave a comment below.

 

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. See all posts by Stuart

12 Comments

  1. Sevgi Kınacı - February 17, 2013, 9:19 am Reply

    Thank you so much.I study all your words which you write example and explain. Oll of them are very useful for me.

    • Stuart Cook - February 17, 2013, 4:15 pm Reply

      I’m glad you find them useful, Sevgi. Thanks for visiting the pages.

  2. Dayaneptoonia - February 17, 2013, 10:32 pm Reply

    Good explanation, I learn using the visual learning style, so and advice could be that you use pictures when you are making the examples…Thanks for teach us.

  3. Irregular Adverbs - February 21, 2013, 12:03 pm Reply

    […] wrong / wrongly […]

  4. ramsiya - June 8, 2013, 9:45 am Reply

    I like I have very intrestrd it

  5. ramsiya - June 8, 2013, 10:03 am Reply

    thankfull for written this rule. so I am very glade, when I read to this word
    but won’t some good words explation for to you. so repuest to you

  6. indija - January 5, 2014, 12:55 pm Reply

    Thanks, Interesting explanation. But does the use of wrong with a verb (after a verb) have something to do with the verb being a past participle. You mention it cant go before one but your other examples were also past tense. Its use in this sentence however : “25 phrases you are saying wrong” seemed glaringly wrong to me. What do you say?

    • Stuart Cook - January 9, 2014, 10:22 am Reply

      No, wrong as an adverb is not used only after verbs in the past. Take this present simple sentence as an example: He always spells my name wrong.

      Your example is interesting: 25 phrases you are saying wrong. It probably sounds incorrect to you because it’s a title, and should therefore be formal. As I wrote in my article above, wrong as an adverb is usually informal, so is out of place in your example.

      Thanks for the good question.

      • Indija Mahjoeddin - January 10, 2014, 10:05 am Reply

        oh ok. Thanks. Although, for me, as a native english speaker, vernacular is very closely related to incorrect. Because of course we all take liberties in spoken language or quickie emails but my rule of thumb is, if I wouldn’t write it in a letter or scholarly essay it is grammatically suspect. Perhaps my view is too black and white, especially if you are engaged in teaching good spoken English to adult foreigners.

        By the way can you suggest what is the definitive text for unravelling correct usage these days? My mother would always consult Fowlers Modern English Usage. Is there a more modern or an online source you would recommend?

        • Stuart Cook - January 15, 2014, 7:37 am Reply

          Try Practical English Usage by Michael Swan, which is very good.

  7. Anonymous - March 19, 2016, 2:33 am Reply

    Fantastic explaination. Everyday I learn more with this speakspeak website.

  8. delo - September 21, 2016, 7:31 pm Reply

    So we may forget “wrong” and always use “wrongly” in case we need an adverb. Then we will always be correct not having to be concerned that we might make a mistake. Am I right?

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