This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Search BBC
BBC World Service
BBC BBC News BBC Sport BBC Weather BBC World Service Worldservice languages
spacer gif
You are in: Home > Grammar, Vocabulary & Pronunciation > Ask about English
Learning English
spacer gif
Irregular adjectives and adverbs
  Young ladies

Syed Aqil Shah from Pakistan writes

I'm confused about adjectives and adverbs like expensive, dear, costly, dearly, etc. Can you please explain them to me?

Roger Woodham replies:

Expensive / dear / costly

These adjectives are all synonyms though they are used in slightly different ways and in different collocations. It is also the case that dear as an adjective has two meanings, it means both expensive and well-liked, as well as featuring in expressions such as Oh dear! or in letters as in Dear Sir. The problem with costly may be that it looks like an adverb as it ends in -ly. This is confusing as most adverbs end in -ly, but costly is an exception and is an adjective. Compare the following uses and collocations in these examples:

  • It was an expensive suit, but if you want to work for this firm, you have to dress well.

  • These are very nice. ~ They're a bit too dear / expensive, I'm afraid. Haven't you got anything cheaper?

  • Agatha is a dear friend of mine. She is so kind and gentle in everything she does.

  • Oh dear! I've forgotten to bring my ID and I shan't be allowed to take the IELTS test.

  • It was a costly mistake and it meant I wouldn't have another chance until the autumn.


Dearly can only be used as an adverb and normally collocates with the verbs love / like and in this sense means a lot or very much:

  • He's such a nice man. I love him dearly.

  • I would dearly like / love to be in your shoes and to have the whole summer free to travel around Europe.

Common adjectives ending in -ly

There are not very many, but other common adjectives apart from costly ending in -ly include: friendly, lively, lovely, silly, ugly, unlikely:

  • It was a lively party and there were lots of very friendly people there.

  • He was really quite ugly and unlikely to succeed in the blind date competition.

Adverbs formed by adding -ly

As you no doubt know, most adverbs are formed by adding -ly to the adjective:

  • He is a slow and careful driver.
    He drives slowly and carefully.

  • I'm going to give a house a thorough clean.
    I'm going to thoroughly clean the house.

But note that we cannot form adverbs in this way when the adjective ends in -ly. We cannot say: friendlily or uglily or sillily. We have to find some other way of modifying the verb, e.g.:

  • They greeted us in a very friendly / silly manner.

Adjective and adverb with the same form

A number of adverbs have the same form as adjectives. The most common include: hard, fast, straight, early:

  • I know he has a fast car, but he doesn't need to drive so fast.

  • It's hard work, but if you work hard and really concentrate, you'll finish it by bedtime.

  • I caught the early bus to be sure of arriving early.

  • The Aurelian Way is a very straight Roman road which goes straight from Rome to Pisa.

Adverbs with two forms

Some adverbs have two forms. Sometimes there is a difference in meaning. Sometimes there is not very much difference. Compare the following:

  • I haven't seen very much of you lately (lately = recently).

  • You always seem to come home late from work.(late = arriving after the expected time)

  • Mary can jump really high on the trampoline.(high = vertical distance)

  • Yesterday she jumped right off it. It was highly amusing. (highly = very)

  • Alfonso can eat free in the restaurant where he works. (free = without paying)

  • You can speak freely. Nobody can hear us. (freely = without feeling restricted)

  • Can you please be waiting for me outside at nine o' clock sharp? (sharp = punctually)

  • I thought she spoke to him rather sharply. (sharply = in a harsh tone)

  • Don't talk so loud. Everybody in the room can hear you. (loud = informal usage)

  • Jonathan spoke loudly and convincingly about the advantages of leasing rather than buying cars. (loudly = more formal usage)

If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

more questions

BBC copyright
Learning English | News English | Business English | Watch and Listen
Grammar and Vocabulary | Communicate | Quizzes | For teachers
Downloads | FAQ | Contact us