When an adjective already has an “ly” ending, how do we make it into an adverb without turning it into a tongue twister?
University of Michigan English Professor Ann Curzan has a colleague whose interest has been piqued by this conundrum, so she decided to look into it.
For example, if you’re a leisurely person, you might also walk leisurely.
Does that feel kind of awkward? Curzan thought so too, so she consulted some online usage databases to see if people really use “leisurely” as an adverb.
“In fact, they do,” Curzan said. “In other places [though], it sounds less awkward to me.”
Some of the examples Curzan found such as “they strolled leisurely” and “they were moving leisurely” are probably a little easier on the ears.
“The adverb goes back to 1486, according to the Oxford English Dictionary,” she said. “About 150 years later, the adjective shows up as in ‘a leisurely walk.’ The word ‘leisure’ goes back to French, 1303, and one of the things I like is that we’re seeing a French word with a native English suffix.”
So, how did a French word get paired up with a Germanic, native-English suffix? Curzan said we can thank history for that.
“In old English, the adjective ending was ‘lic’ which was pronounced ‘leach.’ To make it an adverb, you’d add an ‘e,’” she said. “Over time, we lost the final ‘e’ and the final ‘ch’ sound which meant we had the equivalent of ‘ly’ for both adjectives and adverbs.”
“Over time, the “ly” has come to be the adverb ending, but we still have all these “ly” adjectives floating around in the language,” Curzan said.
Like “friendly.” If somebody greets you as a friend would, how do you describe how they’re greeting you?
You’d say “friendlily.”
Actually, you’d probably say “warmly” or something equally less difficult to pronounce and leave it at that.
That said, “ly” adjectives are serious business, and if you’ve got a better adverb for friendly, we’d love to hear it!