Common Errors in Spoken English: Speaking Correct

How to Speak Correct

by Owen Fourie

What’s wrong? The title? Why? What is the error?

If you were to ask how someone is speaking, the answer would require an adverb.

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, and if they can answer the question “how?” they usually end with the suffix -ly.

To be without error, the title of this article should be “How to Speak Correctly.”

Flat adverbs

Too often, when speaking English, people tend to drop the -ly from adverbs. This turns them into flat adverbs.

Flat adverbs take the form of an adjective, but they relate to the verb–something that an adjective cannot do.

This problem occurs where the adverb answers the question “how?” which is being asked of the verb, the adjective, or another adverb.

Using flat adverbs

The following examples use flat adverbs, which are italicized here:

  1. Emma speaks slow.
  2. Justin talks fast.
  3. Ryan was sure lucky to win that competition.
  4. Strike it hard, and the noise will stop.
  5. Chloe’s friend speaks English bad, but he is learning quick.
  6. … I lay down to sleep, the weather being excessive hot …
  7. Chloe looked grateful at her new painting.

If you are steeped in the accepted form of adverbs, you would have detected the awkwardness of the odd-numbered examples. The first two even-numbered examples are correct. Number 6 does not sound right, but it is found in classical literature.

Replacing some flat adverbs with adverbs

Here are these sentences again with the odd-numbered examples corrected:

  1. Emma speaks slowly.
  2. Justin talks fast.
  3. Ryan was surely lucky to win that competition.
  4. Strike it hard, and the noise will stop.
  5. Chloe’s friend speaks English badly, but he is learning quickly.
  6. … I lay down to sleep, the weather being excessive hot …
  7. Chloe looked gratefully at her new painting.

Explaining the usage of -ly adverbs

Here are some notes regarding these examples:

  1. How does Emma speak? Slowly, an adverb modifying the verb speaks.
  2. How does Justin talk? Fast, a flat adverb modifying the verb talks. Fastly does exist but not for this purpose (see the separate note below). If the sentence were Justin talks quick, it would be better to say Justin talks quickly.
  3. Ryan was lucky. Lucky is a predicate adjective describing Ryan. How lucky was Ryan? Surely, an adverb modifying the adjective lucky. Replace sure or surely with a synonym. You would not say Ryan was certain lucky. You would say Ryan was certainly lucky.
  4. How must you strike it? Hard, a flat adverb modifying the verb strike. If you say strike it hardly, it would sound odd, and it could mean barely striking it!
  5. How does Chloe’s friend speak English? Badly, an adverb modifying speaks. How is he learning? Quickly, an adverb modifying learning.
  6. How hot was the weather? Excessive, a flat adverb modifying the adjective hot. This is a line from Robinson Crusoe’s journal on November 4, 1659, from the classic tale by Daniel Defoe (c.1660 – 1731).
  7. Did Chloe actively use her sense of sight? Yes. How did she actively look at her painting? Gratefully, an adverb modifying looked.

The adverb fastly does exist. If it is used at all, it is not associated with the idea of speed. It refers rather to something being firm, sure, or secure. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary lists it as archaic–meaning that it is out of date and not in current usage.

In Part Two, we’ll continue by referring to the last example above, and then we’ll conclude this brief study with a few points and a twist in the saga of the -ly adverb and the flat adverb.


Have you used flat adverbs when you should have used -ly adverbs? Tell us about the reactions you have received to your flat-adverb usage. Tell us about the reactions you have received to your -ly-adverb usage? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips


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    • Christine on June 22, 2012 at 08:09

    Yay! I love English–it’s fascinating. Thank you for writing this wonderful article. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your comment, Christine! I’m glad you find English fascinating.

    • Temarigirl16 on September 28, 2011 at 19:28

    This was very helpful!
    I’ve barely noticed how many mistakes I male when I speak.
    My friend has been correcting me lately. I guess she finally got fed up.
    Anyway, This really helps me! Thank you for posting this!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Temarigirl16. I’m so pleased that this helped you.

  1. […] third error has to do with the correct use of adverbs, the subject of a separate […]

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