I’m confused on adverbs of manner because it seems like some can modify adjectives while other cannot. Why is this?

The book was beautifully profound.
The book was quickly profound.

The first sentence seems to work here, but the second sentence doesn’t work with ‘quickly.’ How do you know when an adverb of manner can modify an adjective?

  • 1
    How can something be "quickly profound"? You can be profound in a beautiful way, but profundity isn't usually something that is fast or slow. What are you trying to say by "the book was quickly profound"? This is a consequence of the meaning of the word "profound".
    – Stuart F
    Jan 13, 2022 at 20:41

2 Answers 2


You appear to to have been taught that "adverb of manner" describes one kind of adverb, which should all be expected to behave alike. Nothing could be further from the truth. "Adverb" is traditionally a wastebasket category; if you weren't sure what part of speech something should be, call it an adverb.

Consequently the category has sopped up quantifiers, negatives, modals, locatives, temporals, intensifiers, and gods know what all else. Including manner, a term which applies to certain kinds of phenomena, and not to others. Manner and means are the categories traditionally questioned by how:

  • Q: How did they move the mountains?
  • A: with crowbars (means)
  • A: very, very slowly (manner)

But not everything can have a manner. Normally we ascribe manner (and adverbs of speed like slowly or rapidly) to motion, which is how we sense time passing. When an adverb that refers to velocity is used, the sentence is interpreted to make sense of whatever motion the speaker is presupposing. In

  • The book was quickly profound.

which is grammatical though nonsensical, like colorless green ideas, the strangeness is that profound is not a motion and therefore can't be quick. If you change the predicate adjective to something with a time horizon, you can get reasonable sentences like

  • The book was quickly depressing.

Of course, an enormous number of predicate adjectives with time horizons are formed from old present or past participles and therefore are hard to distinguish from progressive and passive constructions, so you might not notice.


There is an element of transference with the modification here. Beauty isn't normally directly associated with depth; this is really a paraphrase of

  • I found a certain beauty in the profound ideas put forward in this book.

Obviously, some modifiers-of-adjectives (traditionally 'adverbs') will work here:

  • The book was really / exceedingly profound. [basic intensifiers]
  • The book was challengingly profound.
  • The book was delightfully profound.

But some will not:

  • *The book was quickly profound. [using the asterisk to mean 'unacceptable' rather than 'ungrammatical']
  • *The book was raptly profound.
  • *The book was unimposingly profound.

Beware also misidentifying the look-alike comment (eg modal/veridical) 'adverb':

  • The book was certainly profound. =

  • Certainly, the book was profound.

(And in practice, don't use the same word sequentially in two incarnations:

  • ??The book was really really profound. =

  • The book was actually very profound.)

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