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Adjectives and Adverbs: When to Use -ly

Do you wonder when to add -ly to a word? For example, should you say, “He speaks slow” or “He speaks slowly.” Let’s find out.

Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns. They may come before the word they describe: “That is a cute puppy.” Adjectives may also follow the word they describe: “That puppy is cute.”

Adverbs modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. If an adverb answers how and can have an -ly attached to it, place it there.

Examples:
She thinks slow/slowly. Slowly answers how she thinks.
We performed bad/badly. Badly answers how we performed.
She thinks fast/fastly. Fast may be either an adjective or an adverb. In this example, fast answers how she thinks. There is no such word as fastly.

Rule: When comparing, don’t drop the -ly. Simply add more or less.
Example:
He speaks more slowly than his brother.

Rule: English grammar has one tricky caveat that seems like an exception to these easy rules: If the verb is one of these four senses—taste, smell, look, feel—don’t ask how. Instead, ask if the sense verb is used actively. If so, attach the -ly. If the sense verb is not used actively, which is more common, don’t attach -ly.
Examples:
Roses smell sweet/sweetly. Do roses actively smell with noses? No, so no -ly.
The woman looked angry/angrily. Is the woman actively looking with eyes? No, only her appearance is being described.
She feels bad/badly about the news. She is not feeling with fingers so no -ly.
She feels bad/badly since burning her fingers. She feels with her fingers here so the adverb (-ly form) is used.

 

Pop Quiz

1. I feel bad/badly about telling that secret.
2. Walk slower/more slowly, please.
3. You look sad/sadly about the news.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. I feel bad about telling that secret.
2. Walk more slowly, please.
3. You look sad about the news.

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Posted on Sunday, October 7, 2007, at 11:09 pm


Different From vs. Different Than

Different from is the standard phrase. Most scholars obstinately avoid different than, especially in simple comparisons, such as You are different from me.

However, some of the experts are more tolerant of different than, pointing out that the phrase has been in use for centuries, and has been written by numerous accomplished authors. These more-liberal linguists point out that a sentence like It is no different for men than it is for women is clear and concise, and rewriting it with different from could result in a clumsy clunker like It is no different for men from the way it is for women.

They may have a point, but many fine writers have had no problem steering clear of different than for their entire careers.

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Posted on Friday, July 6, 2007, at 2:46 pm


Good vs. Well

Good is an adjective while well is an adverb answering the question how. Sometimes well also functions as an adjective pertaining to health.
Examples:
You did a good job.
Good describes job, which is a noun, so good is an adjective.

You did the job well.
Well is an adverb describing how the job was performed.

I feel well.
Well is an adjective describing I.

Rule:
With the four senses—look, smell, taste, feel—discern if these words are being used actively to decide whether to follow them with good or well. (Hear is always used actively.)
Examples:
You smell good today.
Good describes you, not how you sniff with your nose.

You smell well for someone with a cold.
You are sniffing actively with your nose here so use the adverb.

She looks good for a 75-year-old grandmother.
She is not looking actively with eyes so use the adjective.

Rule: When referring to health, always use well.
Examples:
I do not feel well today.
You do not look well.

Rule: When describing someone’s emotional state, use good.
Example: He doesn’t feel good about having cheated.

So, how should you answer the question, “How are you?” If you think someone is asking about your physical well-being, answer, “I feel well,” or “I don’t feel well.” If someone is asking about your emotional state, answer, “I feel good,” or “I don’t feel good.

 

Pop Quiz
1. She jogged very good/well for her age.
2. She had a good/well time yesterday.
3. With a high fever, it is unlikely he will feel good/well enough to play basketball tomorrow.
4. Those glasses look good/well on you.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. She jogged very well for her age.
2. She had a good time yesterday.
3. With a high fever, it is unlikely he will feel well enough to play basketball tomorrow.
4. Those glasses look good on you.

 

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Posted on Friday, April 6, 2007, at 11:07 pm


Adjectives and Adverbs: Forms for Comparison

A common error in using adjectives and adverbs arises from using the wrong form for comparison.

Incorrect: She is the poorest of the two women.

Correct:
She is poor. (positive form)
She is the poorer of the two women. (comparative form)
She is the poorest of them all. (superlative form)

Many one- and two-syllable adjectives and one-syllable adverbs may be compared by adding -er or -est.

Examples:
sweet, sweeter, sweetest
high, higher, highest
silly, sillier, silliest
big, bigger, biggest

Usually, with words of three or more syllables, don’t add -er or -est. Use more or most in front of the words. Never use both the -er or -est suffix and more or most.

Example: efficient, more efficient, most efficient

Incorrect: He is more efficienter at using the PowerPoint program than his boss is.

Correct: He is more efficient at using the PowerPoint program than his boss is.

Some words have irregular comparative and superlative forms.

Examples:
bad, worse, worst
good, better, best

Incorrect: She is the best candidate of the two for the job.

Correct: She is the better candidate of the two for the job.

When comparing most -ly adverbs, keep the -ly and add more or most.

Incorrect: She spoke quicker than he did.

Correct: She spoke quickly.
She spoke more quickly than he did.

Incorrect: Talk quieter.

Correct: Talk quietly.
Talk more quietly.

 

Pop Quiz
Are these sentences correct or incorrect?

1. She is even curiouser than her little brother.
2. I can run more faster than you can.
3. I can run more quickly than you can.
4. My brother is the youngest of the two of us.
5. She is the best of the two sisters at braiding hair.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Incorrect (more curious)
2. Incorrect (faster)
3. Correct
4. Incorrect (younger)
5. Incorrect (better)

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Posted on Sunday, April 1, 2007, at 3:45 am