Drive Safe vs Drive Safely: Another Flat Adverbs Question


I’ve written a lot about flat adverbs in the past. But the subject still generates a lot of reader questions. So it's always worth revisiting. Here's an e-mail I got recently on the subject, followed by my reply.

Hi June,

Just read your column in the Burbank Leader and I have a question.  I've been telling our chauffeurs to always "Drive safely" while others tell them to "Drive safe".  As an instinctive grammarian, I feel comfortable saying safely, but am I right?



Here's how I replied to Gary:

"Drive safely" is more proper. You use an adverb because you're actually modifying the action -- describing how the driving is to be done. (In other words, "drive" is not a linking verb. It's a garden-variety action verb.)

HOWEVER, there exist things call "flat adverbs" -- adverbs without the ly tail -- that are also acceptable. So "Drive safe" is arguably okay. Though personally, I don't recommend it in formal contexts. A lot of people think it's an error and so it may not be worth the grief!


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3 Responses to “Drive Safe vs Drive Safely: Another Flat Adverbs Question”

  1. Great information. I always thought Safely was the proper grammar, but now that I know about "flat adverbs" I feel a bit better about Drive Safe even though I still think Drive Safely is the most proper and effective way to use the term.

  2. Above you stated "But the subject still generates a lot of reader questions." Why wouldn't you say ...a lot of reader's questions...? Thanks, Allen

  3. Allen R.: Sorry it took so long to reply. Both "readers' questions" and "reader questions" are acceptable. In "reader questions," I'm just choosing to use "reader" adjectivally instead of as a possessive. (Both valid forms.) There's a term for this, "attributive noun." Just like the noun "hat" works as an adjective in "hat store," lots of nouns can sometimes modify other nouns, making them "attributive" (aka like adjectives). Note, however, that your question using "reader's" would be appropriate only if we were talking about just one reader because you need the plural possessive readers' to show possession by more than one.