partly vs. partially

Discussion in 'English Only' started by caireo, Apr 22, 2009.

  1. caireo Senior Member

    I saw this sentence in a book today:

    "His lecture only ____ covered the subject and that part _____ ."

    A.partly;partly B.partially;partially C.partially;partly D.partly;partially

    Until I saw this sentence I didn't know "partly" is not equal to "partially", They gave the answer D. But there is no explanation on why. Thanks for your help.
  2. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    I would pick D, too, but I'm not sure I can explain why. "Partly covered" to me would mean that sections were left out; they were not even mentioned. "Partially covered" would mean that a broad, sketchy overview of the subject was given that touched on bits of everything but nothing in detail.

    The key, to me, is in "and that part". With that phrase in the second half, the only word that makes sense to me in the first half is one that refers to a part rather than a whole. That narrows it down to A and D. A would give me "...that part partly" at the end of the sentence, which makes it sound awkward. This is where my analysis breaks down. I can't explain why "...part partly..." sounds awkward and "...part partially..." does not.

    I suppose, in a way, it's because "part" already refers to a particular section and "part partly" is dividing that section once again into a part that was covered and a part that was not. It doesn't make much sense. It's almost like saying "He only covered half the subject, and that part only one-quarter." Why not say "He only covered one-eighth of the subject" rather than divide twice?

    I hope that helps. Others may see it differently.
  3. caireo Senior Member

    Thank you very much, James. ^^ Very clear and helpful.
  4. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southern England
    English - England
    The Book of modern American usage is interesting on this, particularly this bit:

    some commentators insist that partially means only “to a limited degree” (My liver and bacon were only partially cooked; they were practically raw), and partly means only “in part” (My lunch was only partly cooked; the salad and vegetable were meant to be served cold).

    If we apply this rule to the sentence in question, it seems to me probable that the subject was only covered to in part (partly) - because it goes on to talk about that part - and that the part covered was only covered to a limited degree (partially) rather than in part (some bits covered and some bits not).

    This would justify the conclusion D, which James chose too.

    Note that the book of usage says that most Americans do not distinguish between the two. I think the same could be said of most BE speakers.
  5. Guy Redondo New Member

    Thanks Thomas - a very clear explanation~

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