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I have a dear friend who, by his own admission, never met an adverb he liked! You can easily see what I mean by noting some of the statements he makes:

“All of you need to respond to this serious.”

“Don’t take this personal.”

Some of you may wonder what’s wrong in these sentences. What’s wrong is that “serious” and “personal” are both adjectives, not adverbs. Adverbs are words that qualify or add something to the meaning of verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. In our two examples, “serious” modifies the verb “respond” and “personal” modifies the verb “take.” But “serious” and “personal” are adjectives which, among other things, answer the question, what kind? So, what kind of man is he? He is a “serious” man. What kind of a matter is this? It is a “personal” matter. In these two instances both “serious” and “personal” are adjectives and modify nouns (“man” in the first sentence and “matter” in the second).

Thus, my friend should have said:

“All of you need to respond to this seriously.”

“Don’t take this personally.”

“Seriously” tells us how you need to respond, just as “personally” tells you how not to take this.

Another illustration of the proper use of the adverb is in the statement: “The sophomore turned in her assignment quickly. The professor told her she had done very well.” Thus adverbs tell you how, where, in what manner, or when an action is performed.

Often times an adverb can be identified by the “ly” suffix. There is a large billboard along I-35 here in Oklahoma City that promotes a particular soft drink. It reads:

“Drink slow.”

They may have made a deliberate grammatical error in order to draw your attention to the ad. In any case, it should read, “Drink slowly.”

My friend Dean Bertsch, who assists me with these posts, told me of his experience while driving on Rt. 15 in Pennsylvania. He saw a sign that read:

“Drive Safe on Rt. 15.”

No, please don’t. I’d rather you drove “safely.”

If this edition of Grammatical Gripes is too much for you, I suggest you read it slowly (not “slow” as in the title above!) and carefully and not quickly. Patiently reflect on what was said. Then boldly suggest to those who abuse the adverb that they need to reform their ways!

This isn’t all that can be said about adverbs, but it is a good start.

(with assistance from Dean Bertsch)


Here is the response, taken from the website of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar.

Easy is an adverb as well as an adjective, and it means "without difficulty." So in another context, something like "sleep easy" is grammatical (even if some people say it's not).

So is it an adverb or a noun here?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "over easy" is a 79-year-old idiom that works as an adjective. That means it's modifying the noun "eggs." It's in a special class of adjectives the OED calls postmodifiers, which means it's a phrase follows what it modifies, limiting the meaning of the original word.

Here's the definition:


Of a fried egg: turned over when almost cooked and fried briefly on the reverse side. Also occas. of other fried foods. Cf. sunny side up at SUNNY adj. 5b(c), once over lightly at ONCE adv., conj., adj., and n. Phrases 11. Chiefly as postmodifier.

1930 Newark (Ohio) Advocate & Amer. Tribune 30 Aug. 4 Mikos, a restaurant owner, received an order for ‘two over easy’. He broke one egg into a pan and it was perfect. But the next egg, on being broken, yielded no yolk. 1945 California Folklore Q. 4 53 ‘Sunny side up’ and ‘Over easy’ are used in many American homes. 1946 Amer. Speech 21 88/2 Over easy, eggs fried lightly on both sides. 1972 J. MITCHELL Barangrill (song) in Compl. Poems & Lyrics (1997) 89 Ah, her mind's on her boyfriend And eggs over easy. 1994 Trav. & Leisure Dec. 67/1 A menu that includes over-easy fried porcupine, deep-boiled ox,..and fried silk worms. 2000 Elle Sept. 79/1 Sarah Jessica slithers into a seat and orders two eggs over easy, bacon and a toasted bagel.

So, the optometrist is being funny by being hypercorrect. But it's the kind of funny that means he probably shouldn't quit his day job.

When asked "How do you want your egg?", respond "over easily." Watch what kind of look you get from your server.

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