Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I know that some adjectives (such as easy & short) can be used as adverbs in some situations, but when can this happen and what adjectives does this apply to?

This definitely works: "He stopped short" But does this?: "He fell pretty hard"

share|improve this question
    
What exactly are you asking here? To stop short is a somewhat idiomatic usage. You normally stop short of doing something, and if the "uncompleted action" isn't explicitly specified, it's normally obvious from context (often, the "action" is simply "talking"). To fall hard is also rather idiomatic - the implication is you hit the ground hard when you have a hard fall. And pretty is just a quantifier, similar to quite, very, etc. In your usages, short and hard are effectively adverbs, modifying stopped and fell. Nothing unusual that I can see. –  FumbleFingers Feb 1 '12 at 3:20
    
are there any examples that are neither idiomatic nor complement of a linking kernel? –  Jakob Weisblat Feb 1 '12 at 3:23
    
These are called "flat adverbs", and there are lots of examples (e.g.: "he drives slow"). I believe that they're used more in the U.S. than in the U.K. –  Peter Shor Feb 1 '12 at 3:47
    
I don't know what you mean by "linking kernel", but adjective and adverb aren't really applicable to "words" as such - as you've just shown yourself, short and hard can function as either. Compare "Come quick! / Hold fast!" and *"The service was quick/fast". In short, adjective and adverb are names for syntactic roles ("parts of speech"), not exclusive classifications that attach to individual words in isolation. Also, people often use the adjectival form instead of the adverbial, especially in speech. "How did it go?" - "It went bad!". –  FumbleFingers Feb 1 '12 at 3:50
1  
@tchrist: You're thinking the same as OP that "quick" is an adjective, and "quickly" an adverb. Which they usually are - but not in, say "Come quick!". And in the case of "fast", there is only one word-form, which functions as both adjective (a fast car) and adverb (to talk fast). In the end adjective/adverb describe functional roles in utterances, rather than provide unambiguous categories to classify each individual word. And calling any particular conjunction a "phrasal verb" won't change that. –  FumbleFingers Feb 1 '12 at 4:11

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I don't think there's much more to it: some adjectives can simply be used as adverbs too. Some can only be so used in certain idiomatic expressions (your estimate fell short), others in a broader context (she drove by fast). There are also other adverbs that simply don't end in -ly, like soon and yonder.

The now productive suffix -ly for adverbs is relatively recent; Dutch and German don't have it—that is, the suffix exists, but it is used differently. In Proto-Germanic/Gothic, the suffix -lîko- could be used to form adjectives from nouns and other adjectives. (Cf. manly, soldierly, womanly, masterly.) The normal suffix for adverbs was -e in Old English, which still exists in German. When the -e ceased to be pronounced in English, at some point -ly became the normal adverbial suffix (it is supposed that there had been adverbs in -ly that had the suffix because they were based on earlier adjectives with -ly, Oxford English Dictionary on -ly_2). This history of the suffix is probably the reason why we still do not use it consistently today.

A small list of seemingly normal English adjectives that can also be adverbs, to which I invite anyone to add more examples:

  • Rest easy.
  • Work hard.
  • Sit still.
  • Fall short.

Edited: The question remains why these adverbs cannot be used before the finite verb:

They quickly followed her.

They soon found her.

*They fast drove to the palace.

I have a theory: because words like fast can be used as regular adjectives, and because many verbs can be used as nouns, it would be very confusing if we could say both *they hard work and their hard work. It could easily lead readers on a false scent, especially in more complex sentences. That could be a reason why we do not use these words in that particular position.

share|improve this answer
    
No, those are all doing something else. You cannot *easy rest, or *hard work, or *still sit, or *short fall. But you can both fall quickly and quickly fall. The things you have there aren’t working as much like adverbs as you seem to think they are. –  tchrist Feb 1 '12 at 4:00
    
@tchrist: Then what are your criteria for adverbs, and why should those criteria prevail? Many people would consider these words adverbs, though of course I agree there is plenty of room for discussion. –  Cerberus Feb 1 '12 at 4:19
    
I just want to know why they can’t move around. Somehow that makes them different from things that can, especially if you judge things according to what they do or do not do. The movable things are different from the immovable ones, and I don’t know why. We don’t have good words for these sorts of things in English. I hate what POS taggers do with them. –  tchrist Feb 1 '12 at 4:22
1  
@tchrist: So would I! I have a theory: because they can be used as regular adjectives, and because many verbs can be used as nouns, it would be very confusing if we could say both *they hard work and their hard work. This could easily lead readers on a false scent, especially in more complex sentences. That could be a reason why we do not use these words in that particular position. –  Cerberus Feb 1 '12 at 4:26
    
@tchrist: Per my first comment to OP, these are all somewhat idiomatic usages. Grammatically, we can easily rest, or stilly sit just as much as the other way around, but they would be odd phrasing either way. IMHO an adverb normally follows a verb, so when we know we're using unusual forms we stick to that rule more diligently. –  FumbleFingers Feb 1 '12 at 4:27

Your Answer

 
discard

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.