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"Longingly" is the adverb form of "longing".

Depending on where you look, "longing" is described as an adjective, a verb, or a noun:

  • Oxford defines it as either a noun or an adjective.
  • Cambridge, Collins, and Merriam-Webster seem to define it exclusively as a noun.
  • Wiktionary says it's either a noun or the present participle verb form of "long".

Despite the disparate definitions, I can see justification for all three forms.

This raises a question: which distinct form of "longing" is "longingly" derived from? Or is the adverb formed indistinctly? I know that adverbs ending -ly are typically formed from adjectives, but English is full of exceptions.

I checked a few etymology sources but they either only had information on "longing" itself, or only described longingly as being formed from longing as a general word.

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    The suffix -ly is generally used to form adverbs from adjectives.
    – user 66974
    May 21, 2023 at 18:26
  • I'm not sure if there's enough historical evidence to settle this dispute.
    – alphabet
    May 21, 2023 at 18:38
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    Parts of Speech (POS) are not properties of individual English words, since virtually any English word can serve as noun, verb, or adjective, at least, in the right context. And you can't tell without context, so it's not surprising different dictionaries list words differently. As pointed out, -ly marks longingly as an adverb, and you don't give any examples, but as an adverb, it's the sort of thing that modifies action verbs, giving them an emotional accompaniment. E.g, He looked longingly at her. That's him longing, not her. Maybe. Can it be both? May 21, 2023 at 18:57
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    You could compare fittingly, stupifyingly, caringly, and many other similar words, all of which could derive from adjectives (or participles functioning as adjectives, because the difference isn't always obvious). But while the OED will have a first date attested, we don't know who really was first to use it or what they were thinking.
    – Stuart F
    May 21, 2023 at 19:03

1 Answer 1

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The verb, to long, first appears in what is now a recognisable but obsolete form:

OED

II. Senses relating to emotional or physical condition.
†4. transitive (impersonal). me (etc.) longs (also longeth): I (you, etc.) have a yearning desire; I (you, etc.) wish earnestly. Usually with after, to, or infinitive.

eOE tr. Orosius Historiarum adversum paganos libri septem . (BL Add.) (1980) ii. v. 48 Hu lustbærlice tida on ðæm dagum wæron..þæt us nu æfter swelcum longian mæge swelce þa wæron.

The quote dates from somewhere around 890 AD.

In its current form, it appears 300 years later.

6.a. intransitive. With for (also †after, occasionally †at, †to) or infinitive. To have a yearning desire or strong wish for something; to yearn to do something.

c1225 (▸?c1200) St. Katherine (Royal) (1981) l. 724 Þe cwen..longede forto seon þis meiden. [The queen longed to see this young woman]

As a count noun longing appears around 1000 AD

2.a. The condition or fact of feeling strong desire; yearning.

OE (c.1000 AD) Seafarer 47 A hafað longunge se þe on lagu fundað.

There is then a significant gap in the development of the root. As an adjective, longing is first recorded in the early 15th century.

2. That longs for something or someone; characterized by strong desire or yearning.

a1425 (▸?a1400) Cloud of Unknowing (Harl. 674) (1944) 26 Smyte apon þat þicke cloude of vnknowying wiþ a scharp darte of longing loue.

The adverb, longingly, is recorded 10 years later:

1435 R. Misyn tr. R. Rolle Fire of Love 103 Longyngly in lufe dee.

And its etymology is given as

Etymology: < longing adj.1 + -ly suffix2.

In manner characterized by longing; with strong yearning or desire.

Given the time between the verb and noun and those and the adjective/adverb, the conclusion of the OED on the etymology of “longingly” seems to be justified.

The progress thus seems to be verb -> noun -> adjective -> adverb.

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