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 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
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.