I have wondered about how to make the words silly, ugly, friendly, lively, etc. into adverbs, so I researched in the Internet. I found many different answers, so I tried checking Oxford Dictionaries.

However, Oxford Dictionaries still gave me two answers:

  • this is from Oxford Dictionaries’ online grammar reference, “forming adverbs” page

    Adjectives that end in -ly, such as friendly or lively, can’t be made into adverbs by adding -ly. You have to use a different form of words, e.g. ‘in a friendly way’ or ‘in a lively way’ instead

  • from the dictionary entries: there are results from typing sillily, uglily, friendlily, livelily into Oxford Dictionaries’ website (online dictionary)

That’s quite an obvious contradiction from one of the most famous dictionary providers of the world!

So, are the words sillily, uglily, friendlily, livelily, etc. valid English?

Note: I already saw the “comparative and superlative adverbs” question that asked about the word sillily but I don't see any sources in there that are trustworthy enough (compared to oxford dictionaries), so I'm asking a new question.

EDIT: I've already reported the mistake to Oxford Dictionaries. They said that those words are valid (although rare) and it's a mistake in the reference, They say they will get it fixed soon.

  • Probable duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/q/72257
    – tchrist
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:03
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    @tchrist: the question is about 'leisurely' alone, si I dont consider that a duplicate. One answer there would be a good answer here though.
    – Mitch
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:34
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    @Mitch It was Daniel’s answer there that I was thinking of. Sometimes unlike questions can produce like answers.
    – tchrist
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:41
  • My tongue would trip over itself so many times, if I tried saying "sillily". Jun 20, 2013 at 19:08
  • "Valid English"? What's that?
    – Drew
    May 8, 2023 at 20:20

5 Answers 5


If you use the real OED, you will find all these with no trouble:

burlily, chillily, cleanlily, comelily, deadlily, friendlily, ghastlily, ghostlily, godlily, holily, homelily, jellily, jollily, kindlily, livelily, lonelily, lordlily, lovelily, lowlily, manlily, melancholily, oilily, portlily, sicklily, sillily, sprightlily, statelily, surlily, uglily, unfriendlily, ungodlily, unholily, unmanlily, wilily, woollily, worldlily.

So there is clearly ample evidence that this sort of thing exists.

Here in more detail is the OED entry for sillily:

sillily [ˈsɪlɪlɪ], adv.

Etymology: f. silly a. + -ly 2.

  1. Poorly, badly. Obs. rare.

    • 1581 Mulcaster Positions xxxv. (1887) 126 — The soule it selfe is but sillyly looked to, while the bodie is in price.
    • 1611 Cotgr., s.v. Manger, — He that makes himselfe simple shall be sillily vsed.
  2. In a foolish, absurd, or senseless manner.

    • 1627 W. Sclater Exp. 2 Thess. (1629) 256 — How doe wee sillily call all Idolatrous, that is in vse amongst Idolaters?
    • 1658 A. Fox Würtz’ Surg. iii. xi. 248 — Such Wounds which were very deep, and were silily and ignorantly stitched.
    • 1712 Steele Spect. No. 466 P6 — [She] affects to please so sillily, that..you see the Simpleton from Head to Foot.
    • 1740–1 Richardson Pamela I. xxiv. 67 — He sat down, and look’d at me, and..as sillily as such a poor Girl as I.
    • 1805 Spirit Publ. Jrnls. IX. 4 — They sillily interested themselves in the event of a new experiment.
    • 1843 Mrs. Carlyle Lett. I. 254 — Neither have I sillily paid four or five pounds away for it.
    • 1864 Browning Dram. Pers. Wks. 1896 I. 573/2, — I took your arm And sillily smiled.

So it has clearly been around for a long time.

That should answer your question about whether sillily is “valid English”. Sure, you may not care for it, but it is unquestionably an English word of long-standing use.

  • Then how do you account for the prescription against '-lyly'? All these words may have appeared but that doesn't make them usable.
    – Mitch
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:37
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    @Mitch Being fundamentally descriptivist in nature, not prohibitionist er I meant prescriptionist, a dictionary necessarily documents use not “usability”, whatever that means. If you want to find someone to tell you not to do something, don’t look in a dictionary.
    – tchrist
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:49
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    Sure, but those dictionary entries aren't giving the perspective of current description which is that non-native speakers might try to add -ly to anything to make it an adverb, but native speakers would tend to follow the rule given by the OP _without having to be told so by an English teacher (unlike split infinitives).
    – Mitch
    Mar 12, 2013 at 13:45
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    @Mitch Oh, was this the ESL SE? Missed that.
    – tchrist
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:06
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    It is, I think, worth keeping feet on the common sense ground here. There is no alternative way of turning an adjective into its cognate adverb. "Friendlily" sits uncomfortably in the mouth, and sounds awkward. As an editor I would gently suggest an alternative like 'amicably'. But it is not incorrectly formed.
    – Tuffy
    May 8, 2023 at 22:04

The only author I have read who regularly used the type of -lily ending discussed here is the novelist James Branch Cabell, who did it frequently enough that it ceased to be distracting to me and became instead a kind of characteristic ornament of speech in the faux-medieval fantasy world he wrote about.

In Figures of Earth (1921), for example, Cabell used seven different words with -lily endings:

"For, when we have achieved our adventure," says Manuel, "and must fight against each other for the Count's daughter, I shall certainly kill you, dear Niafer. Now if you were a Christian, and died thus unholily in trying to murder me, you would have to go thereafter to the unquenchable flames of purgatory or to even hotter flames: but among the pagans all that die valiantly in battle go straight to the pagan paradise. Yes, yes, your abominable religion is a great comfort to me."


"Why, as always, Sister, I must follow my own thinking and my own desire," says Manuel, lordlily, "and both of these are for a flight above pigs."


"One thing at least is certain," remarked King Helmas, frowning uglily, "and it is that among the Peohtes all persons who dispute our prophecies are burned at the stake."


Now Manuel, driven out of Poictesme, went with his wife to Novogath, which had been for some seven years the capital of Philistia. Queen Stultitia, the sixtieth of that name to rule, received them friendlily. She talked alone with Manuel for a lengthy while, in a room that was walled with glazed tiles of faience and had its ceiling incrusted with moral axioms, everywhere affixed thereto in a light lettering of tin, so as to permit of these axioms being readily changed. Stultitia sat at a bronze reading-desk: she wore rose-colored spectacles, and at her feet dozed, for the while, her favorite plaything, a blind, small, very fat white bitch called Luck.


Statelily the bird lighted on the window sill, as though he were quite familiar with this way of entering Manuel's bedroom, and the bird went in, carrying the child. This was a high and happy moment for the fond parents as they watched him, and they kissed each other rather solemnly.


Harshly he answered: "Oho, I am not proud of what I have made of my life, and of your life, and of the life of that woman yonder, but do you think I will be whining about it! No, Freydis: the boy that loved and deserted you is here,"—he beat upon his breast,—"locked in, imprisoned while time lasts, dying very lonelily. Well, I am a shrewd gaoler: he shall not get out. No, even at the last, dear Freydis, there is the bond of silence."


"I cannot tell you," replied Ruric, laughing sillily, "but in place of it, I will tell you a tale. Yes, yes, Count Manuel, I will tell you a merry story of how a great while ago our common grandmother Eve was washing her children one day near Eden when God called to her. She hid away the children that she had not finished washing: and when the good God asked her if all her children were there, with their meek little heads against His knees, to say their prayers to Him, she answered, Yes. So God told her that what she had tried to hide from God should be hidden from men: and He took away the unwashed children, and made a place for them where everything stays young, and where there is neither good nor evil, because these children are unstained by human sin and unredeemed by Christ's dear blood."

All seven of these words appear in the OED list that tchrist provides above. For what it's worth, I note that of the seven words only friendlily avoids the red-squiggly-line seal of disapproval in Microsoft Word.


Virginia Woolf uses "uglily" more than once in Mrs. Dalloway. It was jarring to me when reading it, but if VW uses it, it must be correct.


I'm surprised nobody's posted the Google Ngram of sillily,uglily,friendlily,livelily

enter image description here

  • I'm sorry, but who cares about popularity contests? That does not decide whether something has been used in English, or is well formed. Just because there is currently a politically charged taboo against the U-word being spoken in front of grown-ups amongst the immigrant preteens temporarily housed on the Isle of Man does not matter at all. Telling people that all written English used somewhere or somewhen that they are not standing right now is invalid is crazy talk. It's like banning the words of dead people, or those of the better educated.
    – tchrist
    May 9, 2023 at 1:22
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    @tchrist I'm sorry, but who cares about popularity contests? I accept the apology, but it does both of these things: That does not decide whether something has been used in English, or is well formed." I have no idea what a preteen on the Isle of Man has to do with anything. I suggest you adopt the saying "When enough people are wrong, they are right." This is how language evolves. The words all have a history - they are extant on a continuum. Whether good or bad, sillily etc. is here among us and the only objections are purely emotional.
    – Greybeard
    May 9, 2023 at 10:47
  • ,,, Yes, usage informs acceptability. But who decides when acceptance actually occurs? At the moment, 30% acceptable. Lose 0·7 of a mark. May 9, 2023 at 13:13
  • @EdwinAshworth. But who decides when acceptance actually occurs? You have asked the wrong question. The Ngram clearly shows a history of the use of "sillily", etc. Your question should be "But who decides when rejection actually occurs?" Do you wish to amend your marks?
    – Greybeard
    May 9, 2023 at 16:32
  • What marks? Oh, that was a contrived example, part of the comment on the general situation. I was actually agreeing that tchrist's comment was far too prescriptive. But if you want to see how 'in favour' sillili and uglily are, these Google 1-grams are probably a better representation. 'Irregardless' is acknowledged to be a famous 'non-word'. May 9, 2023 at 18:14

Friendlily, or uglily are not acceptable usage in English. Friendly means who is affable and cheerful, full of friendly feelings, hence there is no need to twist or distort the language.

  • 2
    What do you mean by '...there is no need...'? Can you give more details to your explanation?
    – Mitch
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:40
  • (Just FYI) OED citation for friendily: “1883 Miss Broughton Belinda i. vii, - Nodding friendlily to the powdery miller as they pass.” OED citation for uglily: “1869 D. W. Freshfield Central Caucasus & Bashan ii. 19 - The town is .. uglily picturesque, if one may use such a phrase.”
    – tchrist
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:43
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    Surely the opinion of Yogesh hathi, a user, outweighs the guesswork of the OED? (Though I admit I think sillily silly and uglily ugly.) I have to grit my teeth when using leisurely as an adverb; slyly doesn't seem to cause many ripples. Mar 12, 2013 at 16:31
  • @Edwin: We slylily know that the OED (praise Murray) outweighs any user's guesswork. Just look at what happened to my comments of a few hours ago: all gone, & I have neither a PhD nor a rep of 1, just opinions about the value of citing the past as justification for the solecisms & stupidities of the present. It isn't 1869 or even 1883, & nobody with good sense uses these archaisms anymore. We don't even use "whom" anymore, but that hasn't died as complete a death as the twisted burlily, godlily, homelily, jellily, ungodlily, unholily, wilily, & woollily. I do like sillily & surlily, however.
    – user21497
    Mar 12, 2013 at 16:50
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    @Bill Franke: OED marks usages as obsolete, rare, etc., and I think they usually mention it when some form does occur, but is considered non-standard by many. Mar 12, 2013 at 18:41

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