I understand the 2 words are very simple words in English until I came across this sentence below:

"Please drive slow".

I know it should be an adverb here, and I checked it up to find "slow" is not only an adjective, but also an adverb. So my wondering is how to differentiate "slow" from "slowly" both as adverbs? For the sentence above, which sounds a bit weird though, is it also ok to say "Please drive slowly"?

  • 10
    It's a modern Americanizm that'll irritate you to no end now that you've noticed it. 'Real annoying', IMO.
    – OJFord
    May 17 at 17:11
  • Some people dislike "Please speak slow" but for some strange reason have fewer objections to the similar "Please speak slower". Google Ngrams suggests this may be a recent development (though distorted in the charts by a phrase in James 1:19).
    – Henry
    May 17 at 17:51
  • 2
    Well "slower" = "more slowly", so it works fine. But it should be "drive slowly". May 17 at 23:21

What you are seeing here is a phenomenon called a "flat adverb". You might think of it as an adverb without the -ly suffix (though not always.) "Slow" as a flat adverb and "slowly" as a regular adverb have exactly the same meaning.

Flat adverbs were once quite common in English but have fallen out of favor, and often people who are sensitive about grammar will complain about sentences like "please drive slow", or "you are doing good". As to whether such things are "right" or not I think it is hard to say, since English does not have some body that defines the language. What is "right" is what the educated and literate do with the language, and flat adverbs are still quite common, even though many would cringe at the aforementioned "you are doing good", most would not be too concerned with "please drive slow."

For sure there are some flat adverbs where there is no -ly alternative, for example, "Please drive fast" must be used instead of some putative "Please drive fastly", even though "Please drive quick" and "please drive quickly" are both common and widely accepted.

So the answer to your question: how to decide which to use where is simply that there is no rule, you can often substitute a flat adverb for a regular adverb, but you do run the risk of being criticized nit-pickingly, if you'll excuse such a word. Except in those few cases where a flat adverb is the only alternative. You can usually be safe by using the -ly, or equivalent, form, except in those few cases where such a word does not exist, or where there is a specific idiom. "Please sit tightly", "take it easily" or "drive straightly down the street" all sound pretty odd, for example.

Some more info on this at wikipedia or the ever enjoyable "Ask the editor" at Merriam Webster.

  • 9
    Also to be considered is that street signs are like headlines, where short forms are common to fit space and allow for a quick read. Drive slow. Keep right. No turn on red.
    – Xanne
    May 17 at 5:03
  • 7
  • 4
    Plus one for "nitpickingly." You did swell-ly.
    – B. Goddard
    May 17 at 15:15
  • 3
    Thanks! I'd never heard of flat adverbs and had always believed that "drive slow" was an error. I must admit, knowing "slow" it a legitimate adverb doesn't make "drive slow" sound any less cringe-inducing to me. May 17 at 16:12
  • 2
    Missionaries do good; businesses do well. It's a useful distinction. We have the word "well"; why not put it to use.
    – Kaz
    May 18 at 3:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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