Adverbs Ending in -ly

Do you know how to tell them from adjectives?

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

An ‘Important’ Point

Now let’s think about the phrase “most important,” which leads into a number of sentences and paragraphs. People often write and say, “most importantly.” 

Dictionary.com, citing Random House, offers this: “Today, more importantly is the more common, even though some object to its use on the grounds that more important is an elliptical form of ‘What is more important’ and that the adverb ‘importantly’ could not occur in such a construction.”

Importantly is an adverb. It could be used in a sentence as a synonym for pompously or pretentiously (alternative definitions, by the way): Aardvark strutted around his new office importantly. Yes, I’ll bet he did.

So, let’s go with “more (or most) important” as a lead-in—and use it judiciously. It's shorter and less contested. Often what the writer feels is most important may not be a priority for the reader. Then, the author could be writing “importantly”—in that pompously pretentious meaning of the word.

The Tip

If what you have to say next is an important thing to convey and receive, drop the –ly:

For example, “Most important, put a lid on the pot before the popcorn kernels start to pop.” 

One Last Thing

Incidentally, the usage of another -ly adverb, “hopefully,” was addressed in Episode 76. and in The Grammar Devotional (on page 45).

One last word about –ly adverbs, and it comes with guidance from the Associated Press Stylebook. When using a compound modifier, do not use a hyphen to link any adverb ending in –ly with the word it’s modifying: a recently hired executive, freshly baked bread, a newly minted coin, and so on.

Surely that’s easy to remember. Yes, yes—don’t call you Shirley.


This podcast was written by Rob Reinalda, executive editor for Ragan Communications (word_czar on Twitter), and I'm Mignon Fogarty, author of The Grammar Devotional, which makes a great gift for your writer friends, kids' teachers, and grammar enthusiasts everywhere.

Web Bonus

The -ad prefix in “adverb” and “adjective” means “toward,” so “adverb” means “toward the verb.”

The other root of “adjective” means “throw,” so “adjective” literally means something like “throw toward” when broken down to its roots, which unfortunately makes a lot less sense than the root of “adverb.” The Latin precursor of “adjective,” “adiectivus,” meant “to add to.”



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