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Buck's English: You can act instinctively or instinctually

Buck’s English: You can act instinctively or instinctually
By Gene Owens Published: August 24, 2014

Robert S. Ryan, of Edmond, stopped by Curly’s Soonerco for a precise distinction between “instinctively” and “instinctually.”

He cited the case of a man accused of striking a woman in the face.

The man’s attorney stated that the man “instinctually defended himself,” Ryan said. “To me, the correct word would have been ‘instinctively defended himself.’ Am I wrong, or are the two words interchangeable?”

Buck can see no clear distinction between the two adverbs. Both are derived from the noun “instinct,” and Buck’s many dictionaries give them similar meanings.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “instinctual” as “relating to or prompted by instinct; apparently unconscious or automatic.” It defines “instinctive” as an adjective form of “instinct.”

The American Heritage Dictionary lists the adjectives “instinctive,” “instinctual,” “intuitive” and “visceral” as synonyms meaning “derived from or prompted by a natural tendency or impulse.”

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