Been an awful good girl!!

Today we discuss adjectives and adverbs.  Now that we are well into the Christmas season, I’m sure that you’ve all heard Eartha Kitt’s song “Santa Baby” dozens of times.  It begins, “Santa Baby, slip a sable under the tree, for me. Been an awful good girl, Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.”

If you’re not grammatically inclined, you may have mistaken the phrase “been an awful good girl” to mean “been an awfully good girl,” as in “a really good girl.”  But Eartha, being an awfully clever girl, instead uses two adjectives: “awful” and “good.”  This creates a bit of a play on words for those clever enough to catch it—has she been awful?  Has she been good?  Has she been both?

Simply put, the difference between adjectives and adverbs is this:  adjectives modify nouns, and adverbs modify verbs and adjectives.  This chart might help explain the difference a little better:

Form Word Example What is being modified? Question
Adjective Awful Been an awful good girl Girl (noun) What kind of girl has she been?  Awful and good.
Adverb Awfully Been an awfully good girl Good (adjective) How good has she been?  Awfully good.

Ask your kid what the difference between an adjective and an adverb is, and she might reply, “adverbs end in –ly!”  (Or she might reply, “I don’t understand the question.  Can I have a pillow pet for Christmas?”)  The rule we were taught in school—that adverbs end in –ly—is an incredibly confusing myth.  The rule works for most adjectives, e.g., nice – nicely; merry – merrily; drunken – drunkenly.  But some adjectives end in –ly, e.g., jolly, chilly, friendly.  And not all adverbs end in –ly, for example, the adjective “good” becomes the adverb “well.”

When in doubt as to how to form an adverb out of an adjective, it’s best to consult a dictionary, which will helpfully list the various forms of the word.  Be sure you’re aware of the distinction in meanings when using an adverb versus an adjective in your writing—you wouldn’t want to inadvertently imply to Santa that you haven’t been all that good this year, would you now?  We’ll leave that to Eartha.

That is all for now …

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