Lately, I’ve noticed that the distinction between adjectives and adverbs is dissapearing from American English. This has largely been true of spoken English for some time, but the written form seems to be under similar assault (e.g. This car is built strong.)

Now I reconginze that languages are living things; they evolve. I’m not posting this so that I may stomp about in my best Vogon-ish manner flaming those who break “the rules” of English. My question: is a distinction between adverbs and adjectives needed in modern English?

I sit quiet awaiting your collective wisdom…

As time passes, English is becoming less inflected (like Latin), and more synthetic (like Chinese). Word order and context are critical in synthetic languages. In the same way that gerunds take a genetive (as in “I appreciate your being here,”) it is a quite natural synthesis to modify whole predicates with adjectives when the predicates behave like nouns. Thus, this car is — what? — “built” — what kind of built? — the “strong” kind: “This car is built strong”.

I’m glad that you recognize that languages evolve naturally without any controlling authority, L’Academie Francaise notwithstanding. Language is the primary example cited by F. A. Hayek in his Theory of Spontaneous Order.

Personally, i dont see why a strict division between the two is needed now. They both work to modify other words (basically). And even if you dont use an adverb where it is needed, most people do understand what you mean. However, as long as we keep the -ly ending, there will always be true adverbs around (yes I know, not all adverbs end in -ly).

In some languages, AFAIK, the distinction really is not clear at all. I believe that in Tagalog, there really isn’t a distinction at all (i’m no expert so don’t quote me on that).

You needn’t go all the way the the South Pacific to find an example. One of English’s closest relatives, German, has no distintion between the two. That’s actually one of the things that got me to thinking on this subject.

Can anyone come up with an example of a sentance where the meaning is muddled by interchanging an adverb for an adjective (or visa versa)?

It seems to me that in a sentence like this

Using “strong” as an adjective is not only acceptable, but appropriate. I don’t think that “strong” is modifying “built.” It’s modifying “car.” The sentence is just a truncation of something along the lines of

If you say, “This car is built strongly,” I get an image of some kind of assembly line out of a Madonna video, with lots of strapping guys grunting and bending metal beams with their bare hands and whatnot.

Likewise, let’s say we have a liberal barbarian king. He makes two statements:


The sentences above have an adjective (which modifies “I”) and an adverb (which modifies “against”) in them, respectively, which makes the first the boast of a mighty warrior and the second just a policy statement.