Wrong vs. wrongly

Wrong and wrongly are both adverbs, meaning incorrectly, badly, or mistakenly. Usage authorities differ on whether using wrong this way is acceptable, but in real-world usage, the adverbial wrong is not just widely accepted but common.

The adverbial wrong always follows the verb it modifies (e.g., he answered wrong). It also follows the object of the verb if there is one (e.g., he answered the question wrong). And wrongly can go either before or after its verb (e.g., he was wrongly imprisoned by the state; the state imprisoned him wrongly).

In any case, keep in mind that some consider the adverbial wrong incorrect, so writers who wish to play it safe should stick with wrongly in more formal communication.

Examples

Yet the average Democrat respondent got nearly 60 percent of the answers wrong. [American Spectator]

The patients also argue that the laws wrongly give local cities and counties the ability to ban marijuana dispensaries. [KRDO.com]

Then in 1979, all sorts of things went wrong for Carter. [Daily Tribune]

[H[e often answered wrongly on purpose to amuse the class. [The Observer]

An online subheading and picture caption wrongly stated that Ian Edmondson, assistant editor (news) at the News of the World, had been sacked. [Guardian]

Comments

  1. I like the examples. I think it best to avoid using wrong as an adverb, although I also think the proper adverb wrongly used after the verb sounds like old English – hard on the ears – and incorrectly would be a better fit. Wrongly used before the verb, however, sounds like it’s proper home.

    Use of wrong in the Carter sentence – Then in 1979, all sorts of things went wrong for Carter … [Daily Tribune] – would have merited a strong rebuke from my mother.

    • stellabystarlite says:

      Sounds like “it’s” proper home, Grammar King? Other than in such legalese as “wrongly imprisoned,” it’s stilted and unnatural to use “wrongly” as the adverb rather than simply “wrong.” “You’re doing that wrongly” sounds stilted, ridiculous, and…wrong.

    • actually that’s the adjective , like his face went red the things ( noun pl. ) went wrong (adj)

      • No it’s not an adjective. It modifies “went” (how or where did the things go) ….Like things went bad. It seems like it could be an adjective only because we’ve butchered the word(s) by leaving off the ‘ly because “it sounds stilted, ridiculous etc” Things went badly for him. Pretty obvious I’d say.

  2. If the sentence stated that “things went wrongly for Carter” it could mean that they went for Carter, but it was wrong that they did. And you can give correct answers, and still do so wrongly – such as when they are given when they shouldn’t have been, or without following the proper procedure.

    • What about the idea that “Things went terribly wrong” might be acceptable because it describes a change of state rather than an action? As, for example, in “he drives me crazy” or “he went mad”?

  3. Chris Johnston says:

    But “the state imprisoned him wrong” just sounds… wrong.
    Actually, it sounds like they erred in HOW they imprisoned him, rather than THAT they imprisoned him…

  4. Francois- Marie Arouet says:

    I feel that in the first example ‘wrong’ is an adjective for answers. Consider ‘got the answer wrong’ equivalent to, ‘got the woman pregnant.’

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