This month we look at flat adverbs, which are increasingly popular but often ruffle feathers because they seem to break the rules. Also, if you’ve ever wondered whether ‘that’ or ‘which’ is the right word to introduce a clause you’ll find out in this month’s issue of On Words.
Take it easy. Sleep tight. What do these sentences have in common? Both feature flat adverbs (easy and tight). Flat adverbs don’t end in ‘ly,’ and so may seem like adjectives but yet still retain their adverbial function.
“Near is called a ‘flat adverb,’ with the ly clipped off and morphing into the same form as its related adjective. ’Drive slow, think different, do right, hang tough.’ Don’t let this dual use get you down; the flat adverb is one of English’s little confusions, and it sure (or surely–pick one) doesn’t worry usagists.”
– William Safire, (“Don’t Call Me, ‘Near Elderly.'” No Uncertain Terms: More Writing From the Popular “On Language” Column. Simon and Schuster, 2003)
More common are adverbs that require the ‘ly’ ending, as in “She thought carefully before responding.” The following words are some of those that can appear as flat adverbs: bright, clean, close, deep, far, fast, flat, hard, kind, quick, right, sharp, slow, soon and tough. It may be surprising to learn that ‘drive slow’ is generally as accepted now as the more common ‘drive slowly.’ In business, you’ve likely heard the popular term ‘real quick’ as in “Let’s meet real quick before the meeting starts.”
Tip: Typically, flat adverbs are used primarily only in casual speech. A flat adverb is likely not the best choice for use in a formal business presentation or communication.
That or Which?
Often it doesn’t matter if these words are used interchangeably. In the sentence, “I don’t like films that go on for three hours,” ‘that’, a restrictive pronoun, refers directly to the noun ‘films’ it follows. ‘Which’ can be used in many restrictive relative clauses, including the example above: “I don’t like films which go on for three hours.” In general, ‘which’ – more commonly used to introduce non-restrictive relative clauses – is a more ambiguous, flexible word. “The dog that is barking …” could just as easily be “The dog which is barking …”
Simple, right? As oxforddictionaries.com observes, restrictive relative clauses are clauses that contain essential information about the noun that precede them. They can be introduced by that, which, whose, who, or whom. So, in the examples above, ‘that’ or ‘which’ could be used interchangeably. Non-restrictive relative clauses contain information that could be left out because it is not essential to the prime meaning, as in “They enjoyed the dinner party, which was set up on the dock.”
Tip: Non-restrictive relative clauses should NEVER be introduced by the restrictive pronoun, ‘that’. And that’s the issue with ‘that’: it’s often used incorrectly to start a non-restrictive clause. The following sentences show the correct usage for ‘that’ and ‘which’:
“I bought a 40-foot yacht, which I will sail down the coast.”
“I’m on the 40-foot yacht that I’m going to sail down the coast.”
“I’m on the 40-foot yacht which I’m going to sail down the coast.”
Did you notice? Tip: Non-restrictive clauses are preceded by a comma, to isolate the extra information in the sentence. Here’s another useful tip from grammar-monster.com to remember the difference: ‘Which’ qualifies, while ‘that’ restricts.
For more on that vs. which, check out the following short video from Merriam-Webster Ask the Editor: That or Which?
More words and explanations adapted from The New American Dictionary of Difficult Words:
Economic/Economical –While both mean thrifty or cost-conscious, as in an economic/ economical vacation, only economic also means pertaining to an economy or economics, or profitable (an economic advantage).
Elusive/Illusive – Elusive means out of reach – physically hard to grasp, or mentally challenging, as in an elusive math solution, or hard to identify, like an elusive medical cause. Illusive means false, deceptive, or not based on fact, as in the illusive promise of eternal youth.
Empathy/Sympathy – It’s surprising how often these two are confused. Both mean caring about others’ feelings. But empathy means caring because you relate to what people are experiencing, while sympathy means you are sorry for or concerned for their feelings.
Enervate/Energize – These are similar words with polar opposite meanings. We know energize as meaning to pump up, enliven, or invigorate. Conversely, enervate means to dissipate or lessen, as in “that long shift enervated me.”