I am trying to use untenably in a sentence. Not to showcase my ignorance, but I feel like the modern usage is out of whack with the grammar rules. The sentence in question is:

  1. Marin was getting untenably expensive.

Here untenably is an adverb, but modifies expensive. So, it should properly be untenable expensive instead.

  1. Marin was getting untenable expensive.

But that sounds archaic to my ear.

Also, I am having a tough time coming up with the correct usage of untenably as an adverb. Something seems wrong with these but I don't know what:

  1. She untenably ran...
  2. She untenably worked...

Can someone enlighten me here? Why does sentence 2 sound wrong? Why don't sentences 3 and 4 sound right?

closed as off-topic by Edwin Ashworth, Kristina Lopez, Nigel J, Phil Sweet, jimm101 Jan 4 '18 at 0:01

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  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. What did you find when you Googled 'untenably' ? – Nigel J Jan 2 '18 at 15:58
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    No. Adverbs modify adjectives; adjectives do not modify adjectives. – tchrist Jan 2 '18 at 16:01
  • wordnik.com/words/untenably Expand the Examples section. – Jim Jan 2 '18 at 16:07
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    Please include the research you’ve done . Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 2 '18 at 17:25
  • As far as I can tell, these comments and the one answer mean to agree that OP's sentence 1, "Marin was getting untenably expensive," is correct. – Chaim Jan 2 '18 at 17:33

Your sentence appears to use untenable with the meaning suggested below meaning excessive or insupportable. Untenably is correct according to this excerpt from The Free Dictionary online, which originally came from the American Heritage Dictionary. See in particular “Usage Note” where it elaborates on why sense 3 of untenable is one that some may considered to have a usage problem:

  1. Not capable of being maintained or defended: an untenable position.
  2. Not capable of being occupied or lived in: untenable quarters.
  3. Usage Problem Insupportable; intolerable.

    Usage Note: The word untenable has recently been applied to various situations with the meaning "not capable of being coped with; insupportable." This meaning (which is not far from the traditional sense of "incapable of being maintained") has become codified in the locution untenable situation.

    In our 2005 survey, fully 91 percent of the Usage Panel found this expression acceptable in the sentence The job offer left her in an untenable situation: She must either move away from her child or forgo her dream of becoming a film director. But the Panel had little enthusiasm when untenable was extended in its application with this meaning. Only 19 percent accepted the sentence Another untenable tragedy in the region is that children have dropped out of school to become soldiers. The Panel became even less sanguine when untenable was applied to an emotional burden, with just 12 percent accepting When I saw the destruction from the storm, a sense of untenable sadness washed over me.


  • When I searched I got: vocabulary.com/dictionary/untenable . I was under the false impression that adverbs modified verbs alone, and not adjectives. I was also interested in the evolving usage of the word. I'll have to check out the Free Dictionary Online. Though I was warned away from that site a while ago due to bloat, but maybe it's not really as bad? That's maybe off topic for this thread. Thanks! – LogicAndReason Jan 2 '18 at 22:31

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