I have trouble with 'suspicious'. For example:

a."He looks at me suspiciously"

b."He gives me a suspicious look"

I can read both of these as meaning both "there is something suspicious in the way he is looking at me" and "he sees something about me that he finds suspicious".

I have a mild dyslexia, I'll admit. I am often confused when shop doors offer 'Entrance' and 'Exit' side by side. I can see 'Exit' to mean "this is the way to exit the street". So this problem with 'suspicious' may be all my own, but I don't know.

If it is a problem with the word, how do we resolve it?

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Both suspicious and suspiciously can go either way, and is dependent on context. Suspicious is defined as both "having distrust" as well as "causing one to have distrust". Likewise, suspiciously is defined as both "in a distrusting manner" as well as "in a manner that causes distrust". From just the sentence "He looked at me suspiciously" or "He gave me a suspicious look", there's really nothing to indicate whether you think he shouldn't be trusted, or if he thinks you shouldn't be trusted.

An unambiguous way to say it would be "He looked at me with suspicion," meaning that he looked at you with distrust.

  • Your comment is not addressing the question. Can you expand it perhaps to cover the difference between suspicious and suspiciously? – Rasdashan Nov 15 '18 at 14:29
  • 3
    @Rasdashan I was interpreting the question as more about the directionality of the suspicion rather than the difference between the adjective and adverb, which the OP appears to have a good grasp of, given his perfectly grammatical usage. Edited nonetheless. – Nuclear Wang Nov 15 '18 at 14:55
  • Thank you @Nuclear Wang. To avoid ambiguity we have to be careful in our use of the word. A nice little problem. – Stephen Boston Nov 15 '18 at 23:46

If it is a problem with the word, how do we resolve it?

Using surrounding context. Add a sentence (or even just a phrase) to clarify which meaning you're going for.

For example:

a. "He looks at me suspiciously."

a1. "He looks at me suspiciously. Well, trust doesn't come easy in this business, and I'm just some bloke he met at a bar." (Emphasis on 'he' suspecting 'me'.)

a2. "He looks at me suspiciously. There's definitely something hiding behind those eyes." (Emphasis on 'me' suspecting 'he'.)

b. "He gives me a suspicious look"

b1. "He gives me a suspicious look. Well, trust doesn't come easy in this business, and I'm just some bloke he met at a bar." (Emphasis on 'he' suspecting 'me'.)

b2. "He gives me a suspicious look. There's definitely something hiding behind those eyes." (Emphasis on 'me' suspecting 'he'.)

The rest of the scene and other interactions can definitely hint at which of the characters is distrusting the other.


The confusion is common. Adverbs are sometimes used incorrectly such as ‘I feel badly’ instead of ‘I feel bad’, the first indicating a flaw in the speaker’s ability or quality of feeling and the second, the nature of the feeling itself.

We do this because ‘I feel bad’ sounds incomplete and we add an incorrect ending to please the ear when we should simply say ‘I feel terrible.’.

In your example suspiciously refers to the manner in which he is looking at you and that, perhaps you find it suspicious. The second means that he suspects something and such is apparent in the way he looks at you, but the suspicion is his, not yours.

People get sloppy with adverbs in casual speech. The rule is that adverbs always modify and describe the verb - the act of looking, in this case. The adjective describes the look itself.

  • I disagree with your interpretation of a "suspicious look" only meaning that someone is looking at you with suspicion in their eyes (i.e. they suspect you of something). If you receive a "suspicious package" it's because you look upon the package with suspicion (i.e. you suspect the package of something). – Nuclear Wang Nov 15 '18 at 14:18
  • Inanimate objects are certainly different. Such a package could be suspect due to the return address, lack thereof or a ticking sound, but it might just be a clock. How we construe things can be fluid as we parse the probable intent and go from there. Either of the OPs sentences could be construed similarly, but that is more in our minds and talent for seeking meaning than the actual words themselves. – Rasdashan Nov 15 '18 at 14:24

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