For my regular column at Macmillan Dictionary Blog, I’ve been writing about flat adverbs and how our use of the word do has changed since Early Modern English.
I’ll start with the latter. Much ado about ‘do’ summarises the main uses of this complicated verb, then considers how modern usage compares with Shakespeare’s. Here’s a short excerpt:
Sometimes auxiliary do is inessential but included anyway. In ‘Conscience does make cowards of us all’, from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, it is semantically superfluous, since the meaning of Conscience makes cowards of us all is basically the same. But do in this position was common in Shakespeare’s time, as Lane Greene notes. Nowadays it often serves to emphasise the verb following it – see sense 3 in Macmillan’s entry.
Next up: Is adverbial ‘deep’ used wrong? is a defence of flat adverbs – adverbs that look just like their associated adjectives, such as deep and wrong. The resemblance leads to some muddled thinking and misguided claims:
Confusion is especially likely when the two words are synonyms. No one would argue that They arrived late should be They arrived lately, because late and lately mean different things. But people often claim that Drive slow should be Drive slowly, even though both are fully grammatical. Some insist that I’m good should be I’m well, though the meanings here differ a little. On a recent newspaper article about commonly misused words […], a reader commented that the phrase used wrong should be used wrongly because ‘an adverb is needed’.
Such groundless complaints are typical of amateur language policing. I describe it as ‘adoption of a half-remembered rule that was dubious to begin with’, followed by dogmatic repetition of the rule without bothering to look it up first.
When you assume you’re an expert, you’re apt to go wrong.