I know the vast majority of people say "Don't take yourself too seriously", as found correct by basically every native speaker I've asked about this (often accompanied by incredulous looks).

What confuses me is whether it makes sense for serious to be an adverb here as that would make it modify the verb. It would be an appeal for me to less seriously do something instead of how I'm currently behaving, which is doing it in a serious manner.

Isn't the true appeal behind the sentence to think of myself as a less serious person, i.e. (not take) (myself serious) instead of (less seriously) (take myself), similar to constructs like "deem appropriate", "hold responsible" and "consider capable"?

(This once used "take sick" as a phrase for comparison but it's been pointed out in the comments as a bad example.)

  • I think this question is too basic. If it weren't for the spurious parallel with idiomatic take sick, OP would have no case to argue for an adjective as opposed to an adverb. Voting to close. Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 23:13
  • @Fumble: Did you read Edwin Ashworth's answer? Admittedly he's expressing my question far better than I did, but I don't understand how you could claim there's no merit to the question if you have.
    – peth
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 21:22
  • I only skimmed it - it's a bit long. Much of it is true (adjective/adverb aren't always useful terms, for example). But I disagree the (relevant) analysis of I can't take him seriously because to me, seriously is obviously an adverb modifying take. It's spurious to contrast that with I can't consider him [to be] serious, where the adjective serious modifies the noun him. Whatever - your question is quite safe from my depredations, in that my closevote has expired without attracting any others. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 21:41
  • I personally don't find that obvious at all. Serious just can't be meant to modify take but the object of the sentence. How would I seriously take someone, and what would the difference in my taking be if I followed the advice of less seriously taking him? Much like your can't consider him [to be] serious, I'm thinking it may be short for Don't take him [for/as] serious. Anyway, thanks for explaining and all the best.
    – peth
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 21:58
  • 1
    Actually your last comment helped me understand how take seriously could make sense far better than any of the answers. I'm beginning to think both may be correct in subtly different ways. Cheers. :D
    – peth
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 0:14

4 Answers 4


I believe that there is an idiosyncrasy in the form of these expressions involving seriously. Saying that only verbs that take object complements can take adjectives as separate complements to modify their objects and that This is merely a matter of syntax (form), not of semantics (meaning) is tantamount to saying we use an adverb instead of an adjective in the phrase take someone seriously because that's the way we do it. I have yet to see a definitive list of such linking verbs in English; I know that CoBuild regard blush and run as members, and they stress that English has many productive features (ie parallel constructions often develop over time).

A more logical approach to analysing the construction take oneself too seriously (and related constructions, see below) is to consider the definition of the terms adjective and adverb. The classical (semantically based) definition of an adjective as a word that modifies a noun will suffice, though arguably we should classify noun modifiers, eg car in car park, separately. The strict definition of an adverb as a word that modifies a verb (string) is the one I'll select, leaving aside degree modifiers (eg very), sentence modifiers, prepositional phrase modifiers....

Consider The teacher marked the question wrong. Wrong is a predicative adjective, modifying the question (though actually referring to the teacher's written assess ment of the answer). Contrast The teacher marked the question wrongly. Here, wrongly is an adverb, describing the (accuracy of) the teacher's marking / assess ing.

In the striker shot wide, it is arguable whether the shooting process or the end result is being modified, so it is arguable whether wide is a predicative adjective describing the resulting state, or an adverb describing the shooting process.

In We considered you seriously (for the post), seriously is obviously an adverb (of degree or arguably manner). The considering is what was being carried out seriously (allegedly!)

In We considered you frivolous / too frivolous / too serious (for the post), there are obviously predicative adjectives referring to you.

In We took your application seriously, the adverb seriously refers to how we ascribed importance to (ie took) your application - ie how responsibly WE were operating in our appointments procedures.

But in I can't take him seriously, there isn't a comment on my assessing as such, there's a comment on him: I think he's stupid. We could contrast I considered him, stupidly (though this is actually a comment on the stupidity of my even considering him rather than how stupidly I was thinking at the time I was considering him! - stupidly here is a sentence modifier rather than a true adverb) with I considered him stupid. The people who've felt uneasy with the use of the adverbial form, seriously, in constructions where the allusion is to the object rather than the process described by the verb are quite correct - this is a perverse usage, now fossilised and accepted as correct.

Secondly, there are quite a few verb + adjective idiomatic expressions, probably best treated as idiosyncratic single units, like verb + adverbial particle and verb + prepositional particle constructions, etc, eg

V + AP: take off (of a plane); come up (= occur)

V + PP: take off (a coat etc, or = impersonate); look up (in a book)

V + AP + PP: look up to; pick up on

V + Adj ('intransitive'): take ill; stand easy; come clean; hold true; keep mum; box clever; fall asleep

V + Adj ('transitive'): let loose; force open; lay waste

V + Adj + P: get clear of; make free with; make certain of/that

There are even some quirky verb + noun constructions that stand apart from conventional verb + direct object; eg for catch fire, contrast:

The police caught Tom. Did they really catch him? I know Tom was nearly caught by the police last year.


The shed caught fire. *Did it really catch it? *I know fire was nearly caught by the shed last year.

And even one or two verb-verb constructions, eg make do, let go, let slip, hear tell

According to Claudia Claridge in Multi-word verbs in early modern English, these constructions are all better simply considered as multi-word lexemes rather than subjected to confusing analysis.

  • Thank you. This is exactly why I asked and what I suspected. I'm no linguist and I don't want to step on anyone's toes, but I'm accepting this answer just because deep, deep down I feel and want it to be true. Pending indignant protests: If someone can please link me a work of reference where I can read an authoritative explanation, I will of course correct my choice.
    – peth
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 21:18

I will take your question as "why do we use an adverb instead of an adjective in the phrase take someone seriously?".

The reason is that only verbs that take object complements can take adjectives as separate complements to modify their objects ("you make me mad").

(And only copulae take adjectives to describe their subjects ("you are mad".)

I found her competent. [find can have an object complement]

They painted her black. [paint can have an object complement]

I am mad. [to be is a copula]

You seem curious. [to seem is a copula]

But take x in the sense "treat x as" is not a copula, nor can it have an adjective as a complement to its object. This is merely a matter of syntax (form), not of semantics (meaning). Take seriously modifies the object with an adverb:

I will take him seriously.

I will treat him kindly.

I will take myself seriously.

In the the last example, seriously describes the way myself is taken, and myself is the object of the verb, I being the subject. It so happens that, in reflexive sentences (sentences with -self), object and subject refer to the same thing in reality: but they are still two different parts of speech in the syntax of the sentence.

The expression to take sick is an idiomatic exception to this rule, which, alas, I cannot explain; but it is take sick that is the exception, not take seriously.

Another exception is take it slow; but this flouting of the "rule" is probably due to its being a rather colloquial expression.

The expression take it easy is another apparent exception, but I believe easy is considered an adverb here. Take it slow may very well have formed by analogy to this take it easy, except that slow ordinarily can't be an adverb.

  • 1
    +5. If only I could.
    – senderle
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 19:32
  • 1
    is "consider" a copula, as in "I consider him lucky"? I see that as another way of say "take" in the examples given.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 19:33
  • @JefSahol: I see that my answer was a bit unclear. Yes, you could consider consider a verb that takes an object complement. As an alternative, you could say that I consider her competent is short for I consider her to be competent, in which case competent would be a complement to the copula be. Commented May 27, 2011 at 19:38
  • @senderle: Haha, that would be a bit too much! Commented May 27, 2011 at 19:41

Taking something seriously is placing an extreme importance in it. Taking yourself seriously is fairly prideful; the admonishment of "Don't take yourself too seriously" is a warning to not consider yourself more important than you really are.

The usage of take in "don't take sick" is mostly unrelated. Instead of (don't take)(myself serious) think of it as (don't)(take myself)(seriously). A completely different way to say the same thing: "Don't think too much of yourself."

  • The key to this answer is the putting together of the words 'take myself'. Well explained.
    – Karl
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 19:21

"Don't take yourself [so/too] seriously" means pretty much the same thing as "tone it down," or "keep things in perspective."

Rather than focus too literally on the wording of the phrase and the adverb and verb in question, it might be more profitable to focus on the speech act in question; this is part of a class of performative utterances that seek to modify another person's behavior.

Here, it is an injunction to relax and adopt a less formal mien. Sgt. Hulka's order to "Lighten up, Francis!" is a classic example.

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