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14 Comments

  • We have to look out for adjectives distinguished from adverbs in sentences like these: “He entered the house weakly” and “”He entered the house weak.” The former adverb defines the way he entered; the latter, the condition he was in when he entered.

    There is another explanation for “flat adverbs”: they are just (lexically) adverbs and, as adverbs (some) may be used as adjectives without affixation.

    I’m from the South where the suffix -ly is seldom heard: She walked weak, slow, pretty, invigorated–all sound OK to me.

  • Stan: You include ‘fast’, ‘long’, ‘far’, and ‘soon’ in your examples of flat adverbs. But surely the only defining feature of a flat adverb is that it has an alternative form ending in ‘-ly, like ‘quick’ and ‘slow’? Adverbs are a ragbag word class, and hundreds of them don’t end in ‘-ly’. The adverbs ‘fast’ and ‘soon’, for example, are just regular adverbs. The ‘unnecessary contention’ you mention relates mainly to adverbs which have an alternative ‘-ly’ form, like ‘quick’, ‘slow’, ‘wrong’, and ‘safe’. People object to these simply because there IS an ‘-ly’ form available, and because they think dropping the -‘ly’ is a new trend and therefore to be abhorred, like any new ‘grammar’. You are quite right about this; my question is simply ‘how would you define a flat adverb?’

  • Dr. Goodword: That’s a good point; ambiguity can indeed arise.

    Gill: Surely the word surely should be a warning sign! The defining feature of flat adverbs, per paragraph 2, is that they look like their associated adjectives. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage defines a flat adverb as “an adverb that has the same form as its related adjective”; it notes that “most of them compete with an -ly form”, from which we can infer that some don’t. While it’s true that people tend to complain only about the ones that have an -ly form available, this doesn’t bear upon what constitutes the category.

  • Okay ‘surely’ will be banned from my lexicon! I agree – the defining feature of flat adverbs is that they look like their associated adjectives. BUT as I said, you include ‘soon’ as a flat adverb. ‘Soon’ doesn’t have an associated adjective; it is just a regular adverb, like ‘sometimes’ or ‘never’, or ‘pronto’. So what’s flat about it? As for ‘fast’, I agree that it has the same form as the adjective ‘fast’. I thought you were including it in the ‘contention’ issue, because of the link between your paragraphs 1 and 2. Okay, you weren’t. But the point about ‘soon’ still puzzles me. I know it is on the lists – why? Maybe I’m just being incredibly thick.

  • There is an adverb soonly, but it’s rare; fastly is a bit less so, but would be considered archaic and non-standard. Yet I’ve seen people argue that “drive fast” is incorrect even when they realise “drive fastly” isn’t available. MWDEU says fast and soon “have managed to survive as the only choice”. This doesn’t mean they get kicked out of the flat adverbs club. What’s flat about them is that they are adverbs that don’t end in -ly.

  • You’re welcome, Valerie; I’m glad the post helped clear it up for you. I’m quite fond of the old flat adverbs too. It’s a pity they lost ground over simple misunderstanding.

  • I’m pretty sure I was taught that yesterday, today, and tomorrow were adverbs, modifiers for verbs.

  • The Years with Ross (1959), James Thurber’s account of the early years of the New Yorker, has a lovely example. It describes James M. Cain at Thanksgiving dinner “putting the turkey, platter and all, on the floor and carving it, blandly going on with the story he was telling, and he told stories exceeding well.”