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Regular and Irregular Adverbs


Adverbs generally correspond to an adjective, so that when we want to apply the adjective’s meaning to a verb (or to an adjective or another adverb), we have a straightforward way to do so. Regular adverbs are formed by adding “-ly” or some variation thereof onto the end of the adjective. Sometimes the adjective’s spelling needs to be altered slightly to accommodate this, but the rules of doing so are fairly straightforward.
Irregular adverbs, on the other hand, are adverbs that are not formed from standard English spelling conventions. Because they do not follow the “rules,” there is no trick to using them: you simply have to memorize them. Here is a table of the most common irregular adverbs and their adjectival counterparts:
Irregular Adverb
Sources of Confusion
Hardly (ever) is an adverb of frequency, meaning “almost never.”
Lively still exists as an adverb in phrases like “step lively.” However, it is more often used in the adverbial prepositional phrase “in a lively manner.”
Lately is a different adverb that means “recently.”
no adverb
Can be used in the adverbial prepositional phrase “in a friendly manner.”
no adverb
Can be used in the adverbial prepositional phrase “in a friendly manner.”
Well is the adverb form of good; it can also function as a predicative adjective.
First, let’s examine the normal rules for making regular adverbs, and then we’ll examine more closely the irregular adverbs above that do not follow these rules.

Regular adverbs

Regular adverbs are formed by taking an adjective and adding some form of the suffix “-ly.” Sometimes the spelling of the adjective changes to accommodate this suffix; sometimes the suffix itself must change. As with most spelling rules in English, though, there are exceptions even to these patterns. We’ll look at these rules individually below, and highlight any exceptions to each.

Adjective + “-ly”

The most straightforward rule is to simply add “-ly” to the end of an adjective, without changing the spelling at all. This occurs when an adjective ends in a consonant (except for “-ic”) or a consonant + “-e” (except for “-le”). For example:
  • “She is a beautiful singer.”
  • “She sings beautifully.”
  • “He is a slow walker.”
  • “He walks slowly.”
  • “This is the last item we need to discuss.”
  • Lastly, let’s discuss the impact on the environment.”

Adjectives ending in “-ic”

Sometimes the spelling of a word will have to change slightly so as to better accommodate the extra “-ly.” If the adjective ends in “-ic,” for instance, it will become “-ically”:
  • “They are enthusiastic students.”
  • “They work enthusiastically.”
  • “There are some drastic differences between these.”
  • “These are drastically different.”
The one exception to this rule is the adjective public, which becomes the adverb publicly.

Adjectives ending in “-y”

If the adjective ends in a “-y,” it is replaced with “-ily”:
  • “The children are happy when they are playing.”
  • “The children are playing happily.”
  • “Why are you so noisy when you eat?”
  • “Quit eating so noisily!”

Adjectives ending in “-le” and “-ue”

For adjectives ending in “-le” or “-ue,” the “e” on the end is dropped and is replaced with “-ly”:
  • “He is a terrible golfer.”
  • “He plays golf terribly.”
  • “You will get what is due so long as you are true to your word."
  • “It is duly noted that the defendant is truly remorseful.”

Irregular Adverbs

The majority of adverbs end in “-ly,” but as we will see, there are some irregular ones that need to be memorized.

Spelling doesn’t change

Fast is one of the irregular adverbs—the adjective and the adverb are the same. For example:
“A Ferrari is a fast car.
“He drives fast.”
Hard is another irregular adverb. If we say, “I work hardly,” it could impede understanding. The listener may think you mean, “I hardly work,” which has the opposite meaning (hardly (ever) is a frequency adverb and means “very rarely”). The correct use of hard as an adverb would simply be “I work hard.”
Other exceptions to the spelling rules include straight, lively, late, and early, which all have the same spelling whether they are used as adjectives or as adverbs. For example:
  • “Draw a straight line.”
  • “We drove straight.”
  • “It was a lively game.”
  • “Step lively,* everyone!”
  • “I think I need to have an early night.”
  • “I’m going to bed early tonight.”

Late vs. Lately

A common source of confusion is the proper use of the words “late” and “lately.” Late, as already mentioned, is both an adjective and an adverb. Lately, on the other hand, is only an adverb of time meaning “recently.” For example:
  • “Why are you always late?” (adjective)
  • “We arrived late.” (adverb)
  • “I’ve been feeling unwell lately.” (adverb of time)

Only adjectives

Timely and friendly are only adjectives. To use these as adverbs, we simply use them in an adverbial prepositional phrase, such as “in a ______ way/manner”:
  • “Please arrive in a timely manner.”
  • “He spoke to me in a friendly way.”
*Though lively still exists as an adverb in phrases like “step lively,” it is more often used in an adverbial prepositional phrase, such as:
  • “The boys all played in a lively manner.”

Adverbs of frequency

Adverbs of frequency that deal with specific measures of time and end in “-ly” can function both as adjectives and adverbs. Examples of these include yearly, weekly, daily, and hourly. For instance:
  • “It’s good to have a daily routine.” (adjective)
  • “I make sure to exercise daily.” (adverb)
  • “I want weekly updates, Jenkins!” (adjective)
  • “I update the boss weekly.” (adverb)

Wrong vs. Wrongly

The adjective wrong can become the adverb wrongly, but we can use wrong as an irregular adverb as well—both are acceptable. However, wrong as an adverb must come after the verb if modifies, as in:
  • “I guessed wrong.”
  • “He filled out the form wrong.”
Wrongly, on the other hand, can be used either before or after the word it modifies:
  • “He was wrongly accused.”
  • “They judged the case wrongly.”

Good vs. Well

Good is an adjective used to describe a noun; well is the adverb derived from good and describes how you do something. For example:
“I speak English good” is incorrect, as we need to use an adverb when describing a verb. In the last example, “I did good” is incorrect because we need an adverb to describe how the speaker did on the exam. The phrase “do good” is especially tricky, because it can also mean “to do good or virtuous deeds.” (Good in this sense is a noun acting as the object of the verb.)

Adjectives after linking verbs

It is important to remember that linking verbs (such as be, become, get, and the sense verbs feel, taste, look, sound, smell, and seem) are followed by predicative adjectives, not adverbs. For example:
  • “You seem happy.”
  • “She sounds English.” (An opinion based on her voice.)
  • “We became tired.”
  • “You look good.”
  • “You look well.”
Notice that the last two examples are both correct. Not only is well an adverb, but it also functions as an adjective. Its opposite adjective is ill, while the opposite of good is bad. When we say, “You look good,” we are referring to the person’s physical appearance. If, on the other hand, we say, “You look well,” we are referring to the health or well-being of the person. To learn more about adjectives that follow linking verbs, as well as the “good/well” distinction, see the chapter on Predicative Adjectives.

1. What is the most common way to make an adverb from an adjective?

2. What is the irregular adverb of the adjective late?

3. How does the usage of wrong as an adverb differ from wrongly?

4. How are adjectives ending in “-le” or “-ue” changed to become adverbs?

5. Which of the following is an irregular adverb?

6. Which of the following is not an irregular adverb?

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