English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In the sentence:

How deep or deeply should I study something?

Which of the two is more appropriate?

share|improve this question
up vote 6 down vote accepted

In that context, it's deeply.

Deep is an adjective, so can only be used to describe the quality of a noun:

How deep is the water?

Deeply is an adverb, so can only be used to modify a verb:

Were you thinking deeply?

Deep is often used instead of deeply, to the extent that it is largely accepted without comment. However, I've never heard it the other way around. "What a deeply question" is just plain wrong.

share|improve this answer
Though you are right in your description of plain deep often being used as an adverb, I just want to emphasize for non-native speakers that this is definitely seen as informal, so make sure to avoid this in a formal situation. – Kosmonaut Nov 19 '10 at 14:09
It's not just deep/deeply where the adjectival form (no -ly) is sometimes also used as an adverb. This happens with some frequency in English--part of a much larger trend of simplifying inflected forms. As Kosmonaut notes, this is an informal usage (but check back in another 100 years!) – res Nov 19 '10 at 15:13
'Deep is an adjective, so can only be used to describe the quality of a noun' and 'Deep is often used instead of deeply, to the extent that it is largely accepted without comment.' is over-simplistic. AHDEL, Collins, RHK Webster's ... all list the perfectly acceptable adverbial usage/s. The distribution of the flat adverb is not identical: they worked deep into the night / dig deep / run deep / play deep. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 6 '15 at 7:51
@Kosmonaut I want to correct your misinforming of non-native speakers that the use of deep as an adverb is always better avoided at least in formal writing. Sometimes, it and not deeply is the correct choice. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 6 '15 at 7:54
@res '[T]his is an informal (strongly hinting at less than totally acceptable) usage'. The flat adverb deep is sometimes the only acceptable form. Check in a dictionary. And this is true with other flat adverbs in certain situations. 'We arrived at London and then flew direct to Athens' has a different meaning from 'We arrived at London and then flew directly to Athens' . – Edwin Ashworth Dec 6 '15 at 7:59

Deeply is probably better in this context, because it's an an adverb of manner or degree, and is commonly used as an intensifier. In this case it can indicate the degree or intensity of the studying.

Deep, when used as an adverb, is usually used as an adverb of place.

While deep can also be an adjective, deeply, of course, is not used as an adjective.


  • She understands the concept deeply. (Deeply is being used as an intensifier or adverb of manner or degree.)
  • She has a deep understanding of the concept. (Deep is being used as an adjective.)
  • They are travelling deep underground. (Deep is being used as an adverb of place/location.)
  • You're going to need to dig deep. (Deep is being used as an adverb of place/location, and also as a resultative.)
  • How deep should I go? (Deep is being used as an adverb of place/location.)

This is not necessarily an exact science, and it's certainly not a question of formality or informality. In fact, there's an argument for "How deep should I study something" if deep is thought of as resultative – i.e. as a result of studying something, I will be deep inside of it, which is an expression of metaphorical location. However, a similar concept can be expressed with "deeply immersed in it", which may seem at first blush like location but is probably better characterized as an expression of the intensity or degree of the immersion.

In the end it may be a question of whether it's the intensity or degree of the verb process or the locative result of the verb process that's being emphasized.

share|improve this answer
I'm sorry that this far better answer should be 3 - 6+ down against a deficient one rather than 6 - 0 up. It's not good for the site. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 6 '15 at 8:08

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.