Literally Pesky Adverbs

Adverbs can be a bother. It starts with them being quite an idiosyncratic bunch with words thrown in that actually seem to somehow not belong anywhere – such as actually.

Let’s not worry for now, about the intricacies of classification of adverbs and similar advanced topics, much has been written about this by experts, let’s just say, they can make life hard, for the native as and especially for the non-native speaker.  Literally.

Native speakers like to misuse “literally” by using it frequently in a context where whatever they suggest should be taken literally isn’t actually true, literally.

“Oh dear, we literally shopped til we dropped when we were in Vegas.”  Unless you really collapsed on the street or in the store you didn’t literally shop til you dropped, you likely just wore yourself out.

“I literally don’t have anything to wear.”  – no comment needed

“I literally haven’t eaten ice cream in a year.” – while that could, literally, be true it most likely isn’t and the person is just trying to make a point.

So, what is a person trying to learn English supposed to do with literally? Ignore, use correctly, use casually but incorrectly just like the native speakers?  That is really a decision everybody has to make for themselves.  I use literally and I use it incorrectly at times but I do so knowingly.  If called on the topic I would concede that point and acknowledge my ungrammatical ways.  However, why be more catholic than the pope, why try and keep the language purer that the native speakers care to?

Part of becoming fluent in both business as well as casual English is to use the language just as the native speakers do (which can be very different in California and Texas, let along England or Australia) and that includes to a certain extent to adopt idiosyncratic (read: wrong) uses of words.  It’s good to know what is wrong and what is correct and it is also very important not to overdo it such as adopting a specific slang of a group one doesn’t belong to.  Ebonics sounds weird on the overwhelming majority of kids from Stuttgart, Sydney or Shanghai (and most other places).

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