- Books, Literature, and Writing
(Bad grammar) signs from the road--part 3
Adverbs...they aren't adjectives
Time and time again I hear or see people use adjectives when they mean to use adverbs. This mistake is particularly frustrating to me for two reasons: When explaining this mistake to others, I find that so many people have no idea what an adverb is, and because of the ubiquitous misuse of the adjective in place of the adverb it's clear no one even notices.
So before I go any further, let me explain what an adverb is. An adverb describes the way in which the action is being carried out. Most adverbs end in "ly" but there are exceptions, because, well, this is English we are talking about, and English always has exceptions. I like to say that adverbs add to the verb. You could say that the adverb is the verb's adjective. An adjective describes a noun: Sara is tall. Paul is annoying. The brick house is immovable. Just as an adjective adds to the description of a noun (a person, place, or thing), the adverb adds to the description of the verb (the action word).
Adverbs have the power to change the entire mood or feel of emotion; the manner an action is carried out can vary widely, thus changing the whole scene. An example of correct use of an adverb would be, "Maria jumped joyously," or "Beth ran quickly." Maria could have jumped pathetically, or energetically. Beth could have ran slowly or gingerly or recklessly. If you read the sentence, "Beth ran quickly toward her mother," you might think Beth was scared and needed comfort, or she hadn't seen her mom in a while and was excited to see her. But if you read that "Beth ran gingerly," then the whole scene changes. In this case you might wonder why Beth ran gingerly. Did she hurt her ankle? Why does she have to take care in how she runs?
If you remove the "ly" ending from many adverbs, they simply become adjectives: "gingerly" becomes "ginger" (I realize most of the time "ginger" is used as a noun referring to the spice, but "ginger" could also refer to a color); "regretfully" becomes "regretful"; "abjectly" becomes "abject." You get the idea.
The problem with using an adjective when an adverb is actually what was required is that the sentence no longer makes any sense. "Ginger" is a perfect example; "Beth ran gingerly," makes sense, but take away the "ly" and what do we have left? "Beth ran ginger." Huh? What is "Beth ran ginger,"? Now we are left wondering if "ginger" is the name of Beth's dog, or some other strange thing. Here's another example: "Beth ran regretfully," now becomes "Beth ran regretful." A person can be regretful, but a person cannot run (or think, speak, paint, dream, encourage, laugh, or clap) "regretful."
The included photo, a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book title, tells readers to "Think positive." It's not possible to think "positive" just as it's not possible to think "bored" or "blue" (all colors are adjectives) or "lame" or "passionate." It just doesn't make any sense. The title of this book is instructing readers to think in a positive manner. A shorter way of writing "positive manner" would be "positively" which is clearly what the author meant. I suppose the author maybe, just maybe could have meant "Think positive thoughts," but I'm ruling that out since had the author meant that, that's what the author would have written.
I get so frustrated whenever I hear anyone tell anyone else "God, you don't have to take it so serious!" No one is capable of "taking it serious." Has anyone ever said "You don't take me serious!"? I personally haven't ever heard anyone utter this phrase before. Perhaps someone has, but it's not correct grammar.
A great way to tell if you are using an adjective when you should have used an adverb is to use a color in place of the word in question. If the sentence suddenly obviously doesn't make any sense, then you meant to use an adverb. I'll use the earlier example: "Don't take it so serious." Do you wonder if "serious" is the correct form of the word? You should, because it's not. But if you are in doubt, replace it with a color: "Don't take it so turquoise." Does that make sense? If not, turn your adjective into an adverb: "Don't take it so seriously."
The ridiculous thing to me is that while people repeatedly (and, to me, painfully) use adjectives where adverbs need to be, no one would ever make the mistake in reverse. No one would ever think to say "Gloria's dress is so pristinely," because using an adverb in place of an adjective is so incredibly obviously wrong. What if you heard a teacher say, "Dale, only half your answers on your test are correctly."? You would say, "Correctly? Really? You mean 'correct'?"
There are two adverbs that are very commonly misused, the first being "badly." Whenever you say you want something "badly" you are saying you want that thing in a bad manner, which isn't at all what you mean. "Badly" means to do something in a bad manner; the adjective "bad" becomes the adverb "badly" when the "ly" is added. What people fail to realize is that "badly" is a synonym for "poorly." So if someone wants to win "really badly," they are literally saying they want to do a bad job at winning, which is exactly the opposite of what they mean. Same thing with "I need a hug really badly!" This sentence actually isn't grammatically logical. You can't really need something in a particular way; the verb "need" is usually followed with a noun, the thing the speaker needs. "Need" isn't generally followed with an adverb. You can have a dire need, but in this case "need" is a noun, and adverbs don't describe nouns; adverbs only ever describe verbs. So getting back to "badly": unless you are trying to express the poor manner in which you want to do something (a sentiment almost no one will ever express, because who wants to do a bad job at something?), what you should say is "I want to win really bad," or "I want that car bad."
The second widely misused adverb is "hopefully." "Hopefully" means to do something in a hopeful manner, to do something with hope." Ninety-nine percent of the time, when someone uses "hopefully" they actually mean "I hope." "Hopefully I will find the title to my car," and any other similar use of the word "hopefully" is incorrect. "I hope I will find the title to my car" is correct. The actual correct use of "hopefully" is to use it thusly: "I will hopefully look for the title to my car," meaning "I will search with hope that I will find my title." "Sara hopefully searched for her missing cat," means Sara looked for her cat in the hopes that she would find it.
It is my sincere hope that from now on you will always use adverbs correctly, and never badly write sentences by substituting adjectives for adverbs.