In junior high school I had a wonderful English teacher who I remember for her out-of-the-box red hair and amazing blue eyes. I don’t believe colored contacts had been invented yet, so despite the hair, she gets a ten for those eyes.
There are actually many great things I remember about her, except her name, and one of those things is how and when to use –ly when writing and speaking. Mrs. What’s Her Name always used the example of “I feel badly,” and then she would pretend to touch stuff on her desk as if she’d been on a three-day drunk. It was hilarious, and it got the point across.
So, today’s The Weight of Words is devoted to Mrs. Boy I Wish I Could Remember Her Name and what a little –ly can do, or not do, for your writing.
Let’s start at that point when you’re wondering whether or not to add an –ly to your word by taking a moment to refresh on adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns. They may come before the word they describe: “That is an adorable kitten.” Adjectives may also follow the word they describe: “That kitten is adorable.” Adverbs modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. If an adverb answers how and can have an –ly attached to it, place it there.
She walks quickly.
We sang poorly.
He moves fast.
But wait, you say…there’s no –ly on fast in that last sentence. You are correct: Fast may be either an adjective or an adverb. In this example, fast answers how she thinks. Besides, there is no such word as fastly.
As for comparing, don’t drop the –ly, simply add more or less to your sentence.
Earl speaks more loudly than Joe.
Now for a tricky rule courtesy of our peculiar English grammar: if the verb is one of these four senses—taste, smell, look, feel—don’t ask how. Instead, ask if the sense verb is used actively. If so, attach the –ly. If the sense verb is not used actively, which is more common, don’t attach –ly.
Perfume smells sweet. Does perfume actively smell with a nose? No, so no –ly.
The dog looked angry. Is the dog actively looking with its eyes? No, only its appearance is being described. So, no –ly.
She feels bad about the news. She is not feeling with fingers, so no –ly.
She feels badly since burning her fingers. She feels with her fingers here, so the adverb (–ly form) is used.
That last ridiculous sentence is in honor of Mrs. If Only I Could Remember Her Name.