Sometimes, I forget to use the proper form when an adverb is required. Or sometimes it simply doesn't appear to me one is required, unless I actually consider the grammar of my sentence. I suppose that's mostly because in my native language (German), there is no morphological difference between an adverb and an adjective.

This led me to wonder:
Is this distinction in English merely an idiosyncrasy or can I really semantically convey something other than intended, if I omit the suffix by mistake?

  • 3
    A frequently quoted example about adverb/adjective confusion that can cause a difference in meaning is "He did well" vs. "He did good.". The latter can be interpreted as meaning "He did a good deed." Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 14:33
  • @Joachim: That example certainly answers the question well. You should make it a real answer instead of just a comment. To my ears though, that is artificial sounding. It's not particularly confusing; by having done a good deed, one has done well.
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 15:08
  • There was a question just yesterday (I think) about "perfect" and "perfectly" making a change in the meaning. But I do not find that question now.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 15:12
  • 1
    @GEdgar: I think you might be thinking of this question.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 16:14
  • @JoachimSauer: Yes of course. There's a number of exceptions to just know and they can be as grave as "He worked hard" vs. "He hardly worked" ;)
    – back2dos
    Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 18:35

1 Answer 1


Leaving out the '-ly' is more of a marker of non-standard English. That is, in more formal occasions, one usually keeps the '-ly' but informally or in regional dialects it is more common to drop the '-ly'. The prescribed grammar rule is to, except for, well, exceptions, form an adverb from the adjective by the suffix '-ly'. There is almost no ambiguity because of the position of the word.

There may be instances were a semantic ambiguity could arise, but they are rare, so you would be safe -semantically- in dropping '-ly'. However, you probably don't want to make that a habit, because as an ESL speaker, most people will call the '-ly' dropping incorrect, or even uneducated (because of its association with non-standard speech).

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