TWTS: Testing "positive" vs. testing "positively" | Michigan Radio
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TWTS: Testing "positive" vs. testing "positively"

Apr 19, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised a lot of questions about testing for the novel coronavirus – including some that are grammar-related.

A listener named Alan Ardanowski asked: "If someone gets a positive test result for COVID-19, do they test 'positive' or test 'positively?'"


Doctors will tell you that someone tests either “positive” or “negative." If you look to the media, you'll generally find the same answer – “test positive” far outweighs “test positively” in coverage both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What we really have here is a question of how the verb “test” is functioning. If “test” has an object, use the adverb. For example, "We can't test people reliably."

If you're talking about what kind of results people are getting, "test" functions as a linking verb. In other words, it links the subject to information that follows the verb. For example, "I tested positive for COVID-19," or, similarly, "I am positive for COVID-19."

In other pandemic-related questions, a listener named Kevin English wanted know which is correct, "uncharted" or "unchartered." To hear the answer, listen to the audio above, and keep your questions coming!