Seldom or seldomly? Tricky English adverbs explained

Most English adverbs end with ‘ly’…But not all of them. How can you tell? And what the hell is a ‘flat adverb’?

My coworker wrote to me recently about a question for a survey she was writing. She wanted to check which was correct:

“The bootcamp is awesome! But it happens too seldomly
OR “The bootcamp is awesome! But is happens too seldom

Seldom.

I can totally see why you’d go with ‘seldomly’. Normally you would just take the adjective, and bung an ‘ly’ on the end. Like ‘happy’ turns into ‘happily’. Think: Happily, sadly, slowly, quickly, carefully, randomly…

But seldom is an exception. Yup, there’s a lot of those when it comes to English grammar. Think: Often, never, far, fast, now, soon…

Now here’s where it gets difficult (or interesting, depending on your outlook). Some of those look like adjectives. You can say “I have travelled far”, where ‘far’ is an adverb to go with the verb ‘travelled’. But you can also say “I swam to the far side of the lake”, where ‘far’ is an adjective, to go with the noun ‘side’.

Words like ‘far’ and ‘seldom’ that look the same as both an adjective and an adverb are called ‘flat adverbs’.

Ok, cool, so now we’ve talked about flat adverbs, you’ll know why I told my coworker to write ‘seldom’… except I didn’t.

‘Seldom’ is grammatically correct, but in the great scheme of things, it’s pretty old-fashioned, and a bit obscure for a survey where I knew most the people answering don’t speak English as their first language.

So I suggested:

“The bootcamp is awesome! But I wish it happened more often.”

I also skipped straight to this bit, because my coworker is a busy lady with shit to do. But in my spare time, flat adverbs are cool.

Copywriter, content strategist, certified word nerd

Copywriter, content strategist, certified word nerd