Can 'Wrong' Be an Adverb?


A reader named Ed e-mailed me recently with this question:

"In the column that ran this past Sunday ... the following sentence/ phrase appears:  "thanks to all the horrible people... who just won't stop using the word 'over'  wrong. "

Isn't the last word of that sentence intended as an adverb and shouldn't it then be "wrongly" ?

Just a thought!

Is it just me, or is it astounding that someone would think this. Unless Ed travels in some truly unusual circles, I'm guessing he never hears "wrongly" modifying verbs: You're doing it wrongly. I answered the test question wrongly. And so on.

"Wrong" is so standard in these situations as to be nearly universal. Yet while reading a grammar column, taking a moment to focus on all things grammar, we can start to second guess our understanding of our own mother tongue. And of course, when we get the answer to Ed's question, we see once again that, in language, first instincts are usually better than trying to apply the incomplete education on grammar most of us got in school. By that I mean that, though Ed learned well that adverbs modify actions, no one taught him that adverbs aren't just words ending in "ly." Nor did anyone teach him where to find answers to questions like these. All he had to do was open a dictionary and he could have seen that "wrong" isn't just an adjective. It's also an adverb.

Here's what I told Ed:

Actually, "wrong" is an adverb, as well as an adjective and a noun. So is "right." So it's 100% acceptable to say stuff like "You're doing it wrong" and "You're doing it right." 

True,"ly" forms are often adverbs and if you drop the "ly" you often end up with an adjective, but that's not universal. Sometimes there's redundancy in the language, giving us "wrong" and "wrongly" both as adverbs. Of course, over time, the uses often sort of differentiate themselves. And nowadays, "wrongly" more commonly modifies adjectives and participles: wrongly accused, wrongly imprisoned.  So what you're observing is one of the many interesting quirks of the language!



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