How to Convert an Adjective to an Adverb

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How do you determine whether the adverbial form of an adjective should end in -ly or -ally?

For most adjectives, the reason to use -ally, rather than -ly, is that you’re adding -ly to a noun plus the inflection -al, which forms the adjective, as in emotionally, musically, or traditionally. You’re starting with emotion, music, or tradition, converting the noun to an adjective (emotional, musical, or traditional), and then adding -ly.

But this process isn’t consistent. The adjectival form of romance is romantic, not romantical, nor are academical or sarcastical adjectival forms. But you can distinguish these exceptions by noting that the noun form of these words is not the word minus -al; those forms are the adjectival ones, and the noun forms are irregular: Romantic is derived from romance, not romant; academic comes from academy, not academ; and sarcastic stems from sarcasm, not sarcast.

A generalization is that -ally follows words that end with the letter c; however, the adverbial form of public is publicly, not publically, and there may be other exceptions. In addition, some words bereft of the letter c, like sentimentally, are anomalously constructed.

Note, too, that other major parts of speech include words that end in -ly: for example, the nouns ally and bully, the adjectives friendly and lonely, and the verbs apply and supply. (Also, adjectives ending in -ly have no adverbial form.)

To summarize, if an adjective ends in -al, append -ly to produce its adverbial form. If an adjective does not end in -al, attach -ly — without inserting -al first — to transform it into an adverb.

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6 thoughts on “How to Convert an Adjective to an Adverb”

  1. Ah, the cursed adverb. Like a scurvy dog, you come back to haunt me.

    Good work here,love the article and I’ll be sure to share this piece. There are far too many people who adverb wrong, so I can’t wait to see what they have to say. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You wrote, in part, the following:

    “In addition, some words bereft of the letter c, like sentimentally, are anomalously constructed.”

    What am I missing? How is sentimentally “anomalously constructed”? Doesn’t it follow the patter of “emotionally” and “traditionally,” which you note in the second paragraph. That is, isn’t it “sentiment” (noun), “sentimental” (adjective), and “sentimentally” (adverb), just as it is “emotion” and “tradition” (nouns), “emotional” and “traditional” (adjectives), and “emotionally” and “traditionally” (adverbs)?

    Beyond that, doesn’t “sentimentally” follow the rule you describe in the final paragraph? That is, the adjectival form ends in “-al”–“sentimental.” As a result, the adverbial form is created by adding “-ly”–“sentimentally.”

    Again, what’s the point of that second sentence in the fourth paragraph?

  3. “-al” causes ambiguities even when constructing an adjective. We usually prefer “psychiatric findings” rather than “psychiatrical”, but we prefer “psychological findings” over “psychologic”. We would never refer to someone as a “medic doctor”. Go figure; and be sympathetic to those learning English as a second language.

  4. Thanks Frank for mention…’be sympathetic to those learning English as a second language’. I’m one of those!!! In this sentence: ‘…who adverb wrong…’ I would think that it is said: …who adverb wrongly…or, is ‘wrong’ and adverb already? Hope someone can write about my uncertainty, thanks

  5. Thanks Mark Nichol, I have read, understood and saved the suggested post. How amazing grammar is!

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