If you’re going to be a grammar pedant, learn to play fair…

“Hang tough”. “Eat fresh”. “Look good”. These are all perfectly good Standard English, as we all know.

It pays to analyse them, however, because some adverb pedants are making fools of themselves over similar usage!

One case reported this week was of a family who, led by a 15-year old, complained vehemently about the slogan “Barks as bad as it bites”. The slogan is perfectly good Standard English, for the same reason as the first three examples in this post are!

An adverb describes a verb or, typically when placed initially or finally, an entire clause. This can lead to quite different meanings – “He went hopefully to the station” (describing the verb – he was hopeful as he went) is very different from “Hopefully he went to the station” (describing the clause – essentially I, the speaker, was hopeful).

However, in the case of “hang tough”, “eat fresh”, “look good” or even “barks bad”, we have no adverbs. “Tough” and so on do not describe the verb or the clause; they are effectively adjectives (with an implicit noun omitted because the meaning is clear – “hang a tough time”, “eat a fresh sandwich”, “look a good sight”, “bark a bad sound”).

The slogan absolutely does not mean that that the “bark” is “bad”, but that the outcome of it is. It is not an adverb but an adjective. If you’re a pedant, it pays to play fair…

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