30 Archaic Adjectives and Adverbs

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The words below are either obsolete, archaic, or old-fashioned, and though those in the latter category can still be found in modern writing, use all with caution. Sparing use keeps these words alive and adds a whimsical or quaint note, but too frequent recourse to such antiquities will have you sounding like a Renaissance Faire refugee. (Most are adjectives or adverbs or both; some can function as other parts of speech as well, as indicated.)

1. Anon (adv.): soon, or later (“They will arrive anon”; “I will reveal more anon”)
2. Aright (adv.): correctly (“Did I hear aright?”)
3. Athwart (adj., prep.): across (“The locked chest lay athwart the planks”)
4. Belike (adv.): probably (“Belike we are more similar than you think”)
5. Enow (adj., adv.): enough (“If I had loved enow, I would be a happier man”)
6. Fain (adj., adv.): willing, compelled, inclined, pleased (“Fain am I to hear you sing”)
7. Forsooth (adv.): indeed (“Forsooth, I do believe you envy him”)
8. Forthwith (adv.): immediately (“Carry this message forthwith”)
9. Froward (adj.): contrary, adverse (“His horse was froward, and threw him when he set his spurs”)
10. Heretofore (adv.): up to this time (“Heretofore, I had not believed it possible”)
11. Hither (adj., adv.): to this place (“Come hither when you are able”)
12. Hitherto: see heretofore
13. Lief (adj., adv.): beloved (“You are my lief friend”); willing (“I would as lief be beside you now”)
14. Mayhap (adv.): perhaps (“Mayhap we shall see them tomorrow”)
15. Meet (adv.): appropriate (“It is meet that you do so”)
16. Nary (adj.): not any or not one (“Nary a sign have I seen of him”)
17. Natheless (adv.): nevertheless (“Though it is dangerous, natheless will I go)
18. Needs (adv.): necessarily (“I must needs be heard so that all shall know”)
19. Nigh (adj., adv.; prep.): near, nearly, direct (“Those who pursue are nigh upon us”)
20. Peradventure (adj., adv., prep.): see mayhap (also n.: a doubt or chance)
21. Posthaste (adj., adv., n.): immediate (“Your posthaste reply is appreciated”); as quickly as possible (“We will arrive posthaste”)
22. Puissant (adj.): powerful (“She is a puissant adversary”)
23. Sith (adv.): since (“Sith that time, I have wept often over the memory”)
24. Strait (adj., adv.): narrow, or strict or rigorous (“I would have you be strait in your habits”)
25. Thither (adj., adv.): there, on the other or farther side (“Our host took us thither”; “What you seek is in the thither valley”)
26. Verily (adv.): certainly, truly, with confidence (“Verily, I did see it with my own eyes”)
27. Whereof (adv., conj.): of what (“Whereof have you seen in the world?”)
28. Withal (adv., prep.): besides, nevertheless (“Though you may be right, I withal must see for myself”)
29. Yare (adj.): agile, handy, ready (“She’s a yare vessel, all right”)
30. Yon (adj., adv., pron.): over there (“I ride to yon village”; “What do you see yon?”)

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11 thoughts on “30 Archaic Adjectives and Adverbs”

  1. Thanks Mark, a very interesting compilation.
    There’s just a tiny misspell at item #5 (“Froward”). In the example the adj. becomes “forward”.

  2. A handy list to have when reading medieval/Renaissance (or pseudo medieval/Renaissance) literature. The presence of “hither” and “thither” in the list argues for the inclusion of “whither” too, as well as “hence” (its “from here” meaning), “thence,” and “whence.”

  3. Thanks for the notes about the typo in #9. Forward in the example sentence has been corrected to froward.


  4. I love salting my speech and writing with these. It makes my readers and listeners *concentrate* on what I have to say.

    (Either that or they ignore me – and that’s *their* loss :D)

  5. Blast, drat and daggers to it all. If only this came out when I was writing my piece and needed some of these fine retired words. Oh verily…

    Thanks for the list, always great to see these up! They stimulate the creative juices so well.

  6. My great-grandmother from Suffolk (England) once surprised me by quite naturally coming out with ‘I’d as lief take poison’.

    As Stevie Carroll says, not all these are yet defunct in Britain. You’ll hear ‘anon’ quite often, and ‘yon’ is common in some areas (I even use it myself, along with ‘yonder’). ‘Nary’ is not dead either! ‘Froward’ as in ‘She always was a froward child’, while not usual, is not unheard.

    Your example, Mark, at #27 strikes me as very odd. It is more usually found in sentences such as, ‘The occasion whereof you speak’. Very formal, though.

  7. @Mark … Ouch … You mean: “I be like busy …” which is bad grammar unless you twist it into a subjunctive.

    Some of these are heard fairly often … “nigh time”; nary is fairly common. I just saw someone note yare the other day.

  8. Some of these are still pretty popular in parts of Canada too, often in more formal speech. “Posthaste” is still used by parliamentarians, lawyers, and others of that ilk; you’ll hear the phrase “hither and thither” sometimes, as well as “must needs be”, “heretofore”, and “nary”. “Nary” often gets used by people criticising someone else’s conservative views (“films with nary a sex scene in them were still decried as obscene”).

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