Soul-crushingly bad; heartbreakingly sad; bone-crunchingly violent; etc. I swear I have seen it done, but I am not sure whether it's proper grammar or not.

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    It's just dandy. – StoneyB Sep 24 '12 at 1:30
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    @Joanne: Notice, please, that all three (soul-crushingly; heartbreakingly ; bone-crunchingly) end in /-ly/. That little suffix turns adjectives into adverbs of manner. Therefore, what you see is adverbs functioning as adverbs. Normal. Grammatical. No problem. – user21497 Sep 24 '12 at 4:19
  • Please be aware that there is a sizeable minority of analysts who are determined to apply the classification adverb solely to those words actually engaging in modifying verbs. The many examples of usually isoformal words used to modify adjectives and adverbs are described as degree modifiers (eg highly , slightly, and the non- -ly-form very ) or, more generally, secondary modifiers (eg eerily , chillingly , bone-crunchingly ). See www.sussex.ac.uk/english/documents/essay---parts-of-speech.pdf & berkeleyhigh.org/features/slang – Edwin Ashworth Sep 24 '12 at 21:41
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    This question can be improved by citing sources you checked before asking the question. That is basic site etiquette. – MetaEd Sep 26 '12 at 16:27

All your examples are correct. These are adverbs rather than adjectives. Specifically, they're participial adjectives that have been turned into adverbs using the "ly" suffix. They also all follow a pattern where the noun added to turn them into a compound is the noun that would be the direct object of the verb. (e.g., soul-crushingly bad = bad enough to crush souls). There are other examples that follow the same pattern (e.g., "breathtakingly beautiful").

The "add -ly and use it as an adverb of manner" construction doesn't seem to work on all compound participial adjectives. There's no such adverb as "hard-workingly" or "time-consumingly," for example, even though time-consumingly fits the same pattern as soul-crushingly).


The -ly is totally unnecessary on these compound adjectives; you can get the same effect by saying "breathtaking beautiful" as adjectives are often used as adverbs in English, a completely malleable language. Plus, it helps the style.

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    If that's true, why didn't you write "total unnecessary" and "complete malleable"? – Hellion Sep 25 '12 at 21:31
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    Some people's 'English' seems to be completely malleable! Oh, I can't leave this. Adjectives are never'used as adverbs' in English. There may be isoformal lexemes, homonyms with adjective and adverb representatives (conversion may have occurred). Leisurely is one. Sometimes, there is a choice of related adverbs: The plane took the direct route to Rome. The plane flies direct to Rome. I will be with you directly. The second example here has an adverb isoformal with the adjective in the first example: a so-called flat adverb. Its sense is subtly different from the -ly variant, as seen. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 26 '12 at 8:25
  • Oh yes, and the use of flat adverbs in the English language a few hundred years ago was far more prevalent. Unless trying to write in Victorian or earlier English, avoid them, apart from those cases where flat adverbs are still in common use. Bernstein, 1971, lists such pairs as bad, badly; bright, brightly; close, closely; fair, fairly; hard, hardly; loud, loudly; right, rightly; sharp, sharply; tight, tightly. Many of these pairs have become differentiated, and now the flat adverb fits in some expressions while the -ly adverb goes in others. Fast and soon remain untransformed. (M-W CDoEU) – Edwin Ashworth Sep 26 '12 at 8:27
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    Downvoted because it's incorrect. Yes, flat adverbs exist, but that doesn't mean every adjective can be used as an adverb. Breathtaking isn't used as an adverb in any source I can find. – Kelly Tessena Keck Sep 26 '12 at 16:29

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