Copy Editor’s Corner: Take those speed bumps slow-ly

Copy Editor’s Corner: Take those speed bumps slow-ly

“Our street has speed bumps, so drive slow,” your friend advises before you leave for her house. You’re itching to say, “Thanks, I will drive slowly.

Before you correct her – even with good nature – let’s explore the flat adverb. Many of us are familiar with adverbs in general, which very often come in -ly constructions like slowly: hopefully, thankfully, quickly, rudely, badly.

According to Merriam-Webster, a flat adverb is “an adverb that has the same form as its related adjective” and used to be much more common. In a video on the topic, an associate editor said, “In Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe spoke of weather that was ‘violent hot.’”

Modern examples include bright and brightly, slow and slowly, and easy and easily. In all of these examples, it’s okay to use either – it’s not wrong to use brightly any more than it’s wrong to use bright. But sometimes it’s preferable to use the flat adverb to avoid sounding stiff – or just plain weird. We know the expression to be “Good night, sleep tight,” and you won’t tell your friend you’ll be there “soonly” – especially since you’ll be driving so slow over those speed bumps.

Alison Dotson