Common Errors in Written English: Definitely Defiantly

Definitely Defiantly

by Owen Fourie

While reading about the work of a social media manager recently, I saw the following statement: “I could defiantly do it …”

I would not employ a social media manager who would do his job defiantly.

By the use of the word defiantly, we understand that this person would be resisting and challenging his employer all the way.

Definitely is the word that should have been used. “I could definitely do it …” tells of the writer’s confidence that he can certainly do the job.

Now I would be interested in this prospective employee.

How has this confusion arisen?

This misuse of defiantly for definitely prompts me to ask, how has this confusion arisen?

Perhaps it is the appearance or the shape of the words. To some, they might appear to be similar, and they have not taken note of the finer detail to make the distinction. This must affect their writing.

It may be that others simply read the first and last letters of words and fail to make the distinction between words as similar as defiantly and definitely. This will also have an unfavorable impact on their writing.

Research at Cambridge University? … H’m

The point about reading the first and last letters of words has been illustrated by one item that is found in many places on the Internet. Here is only the first sentence. Try to read it:

Aoccdrnig to rseearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are; the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.

Here is the corrected version of this sentence:

According to research at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are; the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place.

It proceeds to tell us that the garbled version can be read without a problem because we read the word as a whole, not letter by letter.

Reading phonetically is the solution

Although I can read the garbled version with ease, I learned to read by sounding every letter or combination of letters in a word.

Today, I can be looking at a page, and I’ll quickly spot a solitary spelling error without even reading the surrounding text. I doubt that I would have been able to do this without being taught that each letter matters.

Learning to read by recognizing the shape of a word or the first and last letters of a word could be at the root of the confusion between defiantly and definitely.

No one who has been taught to read phonetically will use defiantly for definitely.


There are other pairs of words that are used incorrectly. Which pairs have you noted in your reading? Which pairs have confused you? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips


    • apalopohap on December 21, 2012 at 15:03

    FYI, this typo is usually courtesy of the auto correction feature of the software being used. The original typo is usually ‘definately’, and is automatically “corrected” to ‘defiantly’, instead of ‘definitely’.

    1. Thank you for this information. It goes to show that writers must not depend on automatic correction and should always proofread their work.

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