laughing out loudly

The German correspondent of “Another invented rule” writes with another teacher-inspired query, going back to when he was a senior in high school. His story (lightly edited):

I had an English teacher back then, who abhorred (still abhors) AmE, and preferred BrE. He is neither American nor is he British. He’s German. According to him, Americans cannot speak English.

One day, we were asked to write a letter. We had to create a story of two people who are pen pals and who love sharing each other’s everyday stories.

I made up a story, wrote it down, and in one line I had written.. I was laughing out loud….

After a few days we got our homework back. What struck me the most was that he had marked laughing out loud as a mistake. Above, he he had written laughing out loudly.

Now that I’ve checked on the Corpus of Contemporary American English, there is no entry with an -ly ending. But when I type laugh out loud, I get many results.

My question for you is : Was my teacher correct? If not, why is it wrong to say “laughing out loudly”?

High marks to my correspondent for checking COCA, rather than relying on raw googling, since web searches will yield a respectable number of instances of laughing out loudly (and even a few of laughing aloudly), though these are wildly outnumbered by the standard English (Br or Am) laughing out loud.

A classic error of teachers, pedants, and self-appointed usage authorities: appealing to an explicitly formulated rule, rather than relying on Sprachgefühl or consulting the actual usage of serious writers and speakers. The “rule” in question is that adverbs — or, at least, manner adverbs related to adjectives — require the derivational suffix -ly (with a handful of exceptions, like fast); things like They did the job easy (though quite frequent in vernacular speech and writing) are stigmatized as non-standard. Applying this “rule” thoughtlessly leads to the non-standard, hypercorrect laugh out loudly (and laugh aloudly).

The problem with the rule in this case is a fairly subtle one, since the problem follows from the very important distinction between expressions with the *syntactic function* Adverbial and expressions belonging to the *syntactic category* Adverb. Like with a loud noise or in a loud voice, out loud and aloud are Adverbial in function but not Adverbs in category (this is a separate issue, but they’re probably to be categorized as unusual sorts of PPs — prepositional phrases). The point is that though the rule the teacher was implicitly referring to is for the most part applicable in standard English, it simply doesn’t apply to Adverbials, even Manner Adverbials.

(There’s literature on other, different, instances of hypercorrection in the choice between flat, unsuffixed Adverbs — actual Adverbs in category — and those in -ly, especially for bad vs. badly in contexts like feel bad(ly), though this case is quite complicated. See the MWDEU entry and Mark Liberman’s postings on Language Log, here and here.)

6 Responses to “laughing out loudly”

  1. Z Says:

    I’ve read Mark Liberman’s second posting. He wrote:
    “Of course, if enough people engage often enough in a particular hypercorrection, it may become part of the norms of the language.”

    My ex-English teacher is one of those people! I knew it. His classes were nothing but a waste of time. Gosh, I’m so glad that I don’t have to see him anymore. I’d sit in his class, and often I’d feel as if we’d rather learn “Denglish” than English. -> “It’s not easy for them, yes? You have to walk a mile in their shoes to really understand what they’re going through, yes?”
    Also, a teacher who claims that the term “like” should be abandoned, because it’s “bad English”, can’t be deemed proficient.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Rick Wojcik on Facebook:

    It is interesting that “out loud” means something different from “loudly”. It implies that the agent was acting without restraint or spontaneously. Speaking out loud and speaking out loudly mean two very different things. It is less clear with “laugh”, because the expression “laugh out” doesn’t seem to occur very often as a particle verb, although you can say “laugh it out loud” vs “laugh it out loudly.”

    Speaking out loud is speaking + Adverbial out loud, while speaking out loudly is speaking out (V + Prt) + Adverb loudly.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    Dion Gladish on Facebook:

    Instead of saying “goodbye” or “take it easy” my Dad says “take it easily” because he wants to be grammatically correct.

    Sigh. The idiom take it easy has an Adj complement, so the Adv easily is a hypercorrection.

    • Z Says:

      Next time I meet my friends from the military base, I’ll use “take it easily” just to see how they react to it.

  4. Chris Says:

    I think that the choice between “first” and “firstly” fits in here too. I tend to prefer “first”, “second”, “third”, and so forth to “firstly”, “secondly”, and so on. I am not dogmatic about it in others, as both forms are found and have long histories of usage. But for myself, I prefer the non -ly form. I went so far as to change one instance in Masonic ritual at which I was presiding to remove the “-ly”, as it just didn’t sound right to me.

    A final thought: although it’s rare to have a written or spoken list to much further than “third”, I believe that few would say, perhaps, “nineteenthly”, and a quick Google reveals that out of fewer than 20K entries, the first five or six refer to someone who has taken the user name “Nineteenthly” on twitter and other venues. I wouldn’t say it would be wrong if one had a list that long, but “twenty-firstly”, for example?

    • Z Says:

      In his book “Garner’s Modern American Usage” Bryan A. Garner says that (I quote) “firstly, secondly, thirdly, etc. are today considered inferior to first, second, third, etc. Many stylists prefer to first over firstly even when the remaining signposts are secondly and thirdly”.
      This is what John Algeo has found out:
      “…CIC data supports the foregoing conclusions: the ratios of British to American iptmw of ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’, and ‘thirdly’ are, respectively, 115.5 to 2.2, 181.8 to 56.3, and 51.2 to 7. On the other hand, those of ‘first of all’ and ‘second of all’ are respectively 159.3 to 176.3 and 0.3 to 6.1…”

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