Adverbs Ending in -ly

Do you know how to tell them from adjectives?

Rob Reinalda, Writing for
5-minute read
Episode #196


Rumack: Can you fly this plane and land it?
Ted Striker: Surely you can't be serious.
Rumack: I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.

That exchange from the movie “Airplane!” is presented—gratuitousLY—to spotlight adverbs ending in –ly, our topic for this week. 

Refresher on Adjectives and Adverbs

Before we get into adverbs' more nuanced applications, let’s have a quick refresher on adjectives and adverbs and the differences between them. 

An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun:

  • the red apple

  • the warm sun

  • silly me

An adverb can modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a whole sentence:

  • Aardvark smiled slyly. (“Slyly” modifies the verb “smiled.”)

  • They engaged in a hotly contested campaign. (“Hotly” modifies the adjective “contested.”)

  • Squiggly danced very badly. (“Very” modifies the adverb “badly.”)

  • Fortunately, nobody noticed. (“Fortunately” modifies the whole sentence.)

adverbsYou may have noticed that three of the four adverbs had –ly endings, and that’s not unusual. Many adverbs are just adjectives with the -ly suffix: “accidental” becomes “accidentally,” “perfect becomes “perfectly,” “loving” becomes “lovingly,” “foolish” becomes “foolishly,” and so on. I’d list them all, but we’d be here indefinitely. But there are some exceptions . . .


About the Author

Rob Reinalda, Writing for Grammar Girl

Rob Reinalda, winner of ACES' 2019 Robinson Prize for excellence in editing, is the founder and principal of Word Czar Media. He is the author of "Why Editors Drink."