EESE 3/1998

'Putting it mildly':
The Interrelation between Adverbs of Manner and Adverbs of Degree

Rolf Herwig (Jena)

There is a long, yet by no means outdated tradition in English studies to explore the rich potential that is available to users of English for emphasizing and intensifying their ideas. Our world is not such that we could best talk about it in plain, straightforward, clear-cut notions. (Or at least in our culture we do not see our world like this.) Its description and conceptualization requires rather a sophisticated, complex language able to express subtle distinctions and finer shades of meaning. Grading, intensifying and minimizing are therefore almost constant characteristics of our speech.

The phenomenon of intensification has been approached from different angles. The question can be raised as to the multitude of language means that can potentially contribute to intensification. This paper will focus on (representatives of) the special group of adjectives and adverbs that are capable of expressing the concept of DEGREE in addition to the concept of MANNER, but it will disregard all further lexical and phrasal sets such as nouns, phraseological units etc. It is not the aim of this paper to provide an exhaustive catalogue of English intensifiers as such (it would take volumes of books to do this), nor will it include those rhetorical figures (e.g. similes), syntactic structures (e.g. emphatic DO) or prosodic means (e.g. pitch movement) that are also capable of expressing or at least contributing to intensification.

The paper will concentrate on meaning transitions in expressions like these:

The reason for choosing these and excluding other items of intensification are both trivial and well-considered. It is obvious that for a paper like this a selection has to be made, almost any could be justified. Another reason, not at all trivial, but following from the method of the study is that the application of electronically stored corpora still has its limits if your search-item is not surface-marked or tagged. The word-class and part-of-speech tagging that both the BNC and COBUILDDirect provide and that is available to the general user of such corpora does not go far enough for the identification of the primarily semantic category of intensification.

The alternative - retrieving concordance lines for selected lexical representatives of the class of intensifiers from a relatively large corpus - hopefully helps to achieve the aims of

The most important reason for choosing DEGREE adjectives/adverbs for the study of meaning transition lies in their unsettled nature (cf. BOLINGER 1972, 18) which again and again has challenged linguists to trace them back to their origins and catalogue and systematize them. In other words: The ability of some adjectives/adverbs to add a DEGREE meaning potential to their original MANNER meaning reflects the more general phenomenon of a constantly changing language.

Change in language has been a challenge to linguistic research for various reasons:

As it refers directly to the problem of this paper, the often quoted complaint by Lord Chesterfield is again repeated here:

STOFFEL also reports a writer in Blackwoods's Magazine of 1867 saying about the use of quite in expressions like quite warm, quite clever:

In BORST's famous essay on degree adverbs (1902), the writer finds an explanation for the need for subtle differentiations of DEGREE which shows what we today would call an elitist position: The common people's judgement lacks the ability to go beyond simply accepting or opposing an idea. It takes convention and etiquette to reach a certain hyperculture of expression and apply meaning nuances. In the common people's language, adverbs of quality are therefore degraded (!) to mere expressions of quantity, such as awfully good, frightfully glad (BORST 1902, 3; 22/23).

The enormous increase in the use of adverbs expressing DEGREE has been reported by BORST for the beginning of this century and by SPITZBARDT for the mid-fifties. BORST 1902 gives a numerical growth of 140 new intensives in modern English as compared to 53 new items in Middle English and a basic stock of 26 only in Old English. SPITZBARDT 1954 even speaks of 900 "quasi-gradadverbiale Möglichkeiten der Ausdrucksverstärkung" (286) that have evolved over the last 900 years. Even if we acknowledge that part of this "increase" is due to the fact that the outlook on usage has changed amongst linguists and that therefore domains of use have been included in the research that used to be excluded (e.g. American English; vulgar language, cf.BÄCKLUND 1973: 9), we nevertheless have sufficient proof of the vitality of this means of language innovation. The quickly changing preferences for certain fad-words such as jolly, awfully, lousy, fabulous, colossally are another indication of the practical relevance of our concern with this phenomenon.

For this study, the following positions are taken as its starting point:

At least for some period of transition it can be expected that such newly formed adverbs of degree preferably combine with semantically related expressions. BOLINGER 1972 establishes a link between the restricted compatibility of some intensifiers with the item to which they are attached on the one hand and their degree of grammaticalization on the other. According to him, there are less or scarcely grammaticized intensifiers that extend their territories only into certain semantic directions (cf.18; 22).


 (1)  (2) 
 disgusting  amused 
 much  exciting 

with the second column showing only mental or cognitive states or activities. Grammaticalization and delexicalization are parallel developments. Meaning transition can involve categorial change.

Research into such semantic compatibilities of intensifiers has been a major point of interest in the second half of our century. (GREENBAUM, BÄCKLUND, PETERS)

  • The transition from MANNER to DEGREE in adverbs is constrained by the semantic class of the underlying adjective. Quality-descriptive adjectives allow intensification and grading and are extremely productive as a basis of adverbs of degree.

    Often classifying adjectives (electric light; plenary meeting) do not allow intensification or grading. If they are graded by an intensifying modifier, they are often made gradable.

    (Cf.QUIRK et al 1989: John is more English than the English, 470; COBUILD Grammar: Kashmir is largely muslim state, 1990, 95.)

  • What makes quality-descriptive adjectives such as mild, sad, absurd, amazing, terrible, loose, stout ... a potential basis of DEGREE expressions is that by describing a certain quality they necessarily also delimit this quality, even if only indirectly. Applying the label absurd intuitively requires operations of comparing and rating against a scale of related values (from the simple stupid to the more severe and connotated ludicrous) in order to choose what along this scale seems to be most appropriate.

    BOLINGER has found a nice metaphor for this phenomenon and speaks of the general tendency of all colorful adverbs to be swept through the intensive gate. (1972, 53)

  • The constraint is not only semantically determined. BOLINGER sees an inherent intensive meaning in virtually any adverb if it is used in the function as a modifier of an adjective, and argues that any limitation of a quality tends to augment or reduce the scope of the quality (cf. 1972, 23).

    What is unnaturally long is so long that it seems unnatural, given a conventional or personal scale of measurement. It is this subjective or even ideosyncratic judgment according to an underlying scale which adds the speaker's attitude to the statement and which explains QUIRK et al's classification of expressions like unnaturally long as disjunct adverbs (cf.1998, 448). This overlap of qualification and intensification is also reflected in VERMEIRE's subclass of qualifying degree adverbs, i.e. manner adverbs with an inherent intensity feature. (1979,46, quoted in PETERS 1993)

  • The actual use of the degree adverb in a given context is of course further constrained by the semantic character of the modified item, which has to be gradable too. Examples such as more English or largely muslim indicate that the status of gradability is not at all fixed. Simply by grading an otherwise non-gradable entity, we can alter the way in which we normally conceptualize it.

  • The process of transition from MANNER to DEGREE meaning is not adequately described by losing and gaining. In real language use, the overlap of different (shades of) meaning concepts contributes to the expressive and stylistic versatility of the intensifiers.

    The interrelation of the semantic categories and the ease with which we see the same adverbial expressing one or another (or more than one simultaneously) is not, of course, a weakness but rather one of the great sources of the adverbial's communicative strength." (QUIRK et al 1989, 486)

  • The polysemy of the adjectives/adverbs under consideration is the methodological starting point of the analysis. Their meaning potential has been derived from the corpora findings and arranged in "collocational SETs". Each SET contains all collocations which can be listed under the same meaning. (The meaning paraphrases of all the SETs are given in the appendix.)

    The material

    The following usage profiles of a few selected adverbs of degree are the result of work with COBUILDDirect, the on-line service providing access to a 50 million word selection from the Bank of English. For the purposes of this study, the British English subcorpora were chosen. At the time of access to the corpus, these were:

    Texts of altogether 31 million words were analysed with the help of COBUILDDirect Concordance Program. The collocations are presented in a form that may remind the reader more of the classical dictionary citation than a concordance line. The reason for this is that for the presentation in this study I did not use an equal span of e.g. say five or ten words to the left and right of the search-word, but I chose as much collocating context as I thought necessary to ensure comprehension. The application of this principle has led to differing lengths of the collocations quoted.

    The final selection of the individual adverbs for analysis followed some loose principles. One was that they are all contained in KIRCHNER's list of "Gradadverbien", which he had published in 1955. Those which were finally chosen are all commented on by KIRCHNER as being in the process of transition from adverbs of Manner to adverbs of DEGREE. The idea was to find out whether after 50 years of language development, KIRCHNER's predictions can be verified or not. As Gustav KIRCHNER was one of my academic teachers at Jena University, I am perhaps more than only academically interested in this subject.

    The findings


    The following figures give the number of MILD/MILDLY collocational types. The number of collocational tokens has been disregarded. They would be of interest for a textual analysis rather than a discussion of the intensifying potential of MILD/MILDLY.


    Taking the adjective as the starting-point, a division can be made between the collocational SETs 1-4 (mainly indicating QUALITY DESCRIPTION, for details see below) and SETs 5-7 (DEGREE as a predominant meaning element).

    SET 8 only records adverbial use in MANNER meaning syntactically functioning as adjuncts and disjuncts.

    The total adjectival use of MILD with 149 types in the collocational SETS 1-4 clearly exceeds the total adverbial use of 8 types within these SETs. (18.6:1)

    The total adjectival use of MILD in the collocational SETs 5-7 shows a different proportion if related to the corresponding adverb. With 117 adjective types : 58 adverb types (= 2:1), the adverb in these SETs is significantly more frequent than in the 1-4 SETs, with salient differences between the subcorpora.

    The proportion is even more in favour of adverbs if only SETs 6 and 7 are considered: 58 adjectival types : 55 adverbial types (1:1).

    The reason for excluding SET 5 here is that MILDLY (with reference to the seriousness of diseases and their symptoms, cf. appendix) does not behave in the same way as SETs 6 and 7. The use of MILDLY in 6 is extremely rare (three adverbial collocational types only as compared to 62 adjectival ones):

     mildly paranoidukbooks
     mildly androgenic hormones Time
     mildly hallucinogenic amphetamineTimes

    In addition, the productivity of this SET seems to be further restricted to the specialist language of medical science.

    The only examples of MILDLY closer to DEGREE in meaning than MANNER that OED 1992 gives also belongs to this SET:

    1899 Allbutt's Syst. Med. VII. 681 The patient became mildly demented.

    Taking into account the closely related meaning concepts of SETs 6 and 7, one can hypothesize that MILDLY in its function of indicating the intensity, degree or range of such qualities that are not connected with the conventional referential domains of the adjective MILD (food, weather, colours, manners, illnesses) is most frequent.

    In other words, the development of MILDLY as an adverb of degree utilizes an inherent meaning element that is differently prominent in the various collocational SETs. In doing so it moves away from the more concrete, quality-descriptive usage of the adjective MILD. The gain of the potential to express abstract DEGREE is paid for by the loss of the potential to express concrete QUALITY. Mildly as a degree adverb is the result of a delexicalization process.

    Another general conclusion is that MILD/MILDLY obviously is much less an item of the spoken than the written language:

      13 mio words
    of ukspok,
    18 mio words of
    ukmags, ukbooks
    ekephem, Times
    spoken :
    mild SETs1-416 types1331 : 8
    mild SETs5-719991 : 5
    mild SETs1-4171 : 7
    mild SETs5-73 581 : 19
    mild SET8191 : 9

    The nature of the spoken language of the BBC recordings (news, current affairs and general interest programmes) relativizes the figures concerning the spoken language even more.

    The sparse use of MILDLY in the spoken language supports BORST's assumption that in everyday speech (which at the time he called the language of "the common people" 1902,3) little need is felt for more subtle differentiation of degrees. Other collocations containing degree adverbs of the type "high/low degree (+ expressive intensifications)" are much more strongly represented in ukspoken than MILDLY:

     sort of (not only in adverbial use)17405
     bloody (adv.)107
     damn (adv.)41

    All findings taken together, the usage profile of MILDLY can perhaps be best described as predominantly expressing a degree meaning. This usage becomes more likely, the more MILDLY is used in semantic neighbourhoods other than those indicating the manner in which phenomena such as taste, substance, colour, weather, and personality are qualified.

    Semantically, the usage of MILDLY as an adverb of DEGREE is focused on

    1. collocational contexts referring to emotional, mental or cognitive states or actions, largely excluding reference to illnesses
    2. a wide range of semantically unrelated, gradable states or actions.

    The usage of MILD/MILDLY in its various collocational SETs

    SET 1 (reference to food, medicine, cosmetics ...)

    The collocations of this SET (both with the adjective and the adverb) show a certain overlap of the DEGREE and the QUALITY DESCRIPTION/MANNER concepts, although not equally strong in all cases. In its reference to food, medicine, cosmetics etc the adjective seems to be primarily quality-descriptive.

     ukmagsa mild facial soap
     a mild, frequent-wash shampoo
     ukephema pleasantly mild and nutty flavour
    (said of Emmental cheese)

    If quoted as one quality besides several others, MILD can easily take a medium position on an intensity scale. In such cases, a very strong element of DEGREE is added.

     ukmagsEnzyme Assister, Boilie Hardener,
    Mild Sweetener, Intense Sweetener
     ukmags three new curry blends for you to try -
    Mild Malaysian, Medium Bombay and Hot Thai

    Referring to food, medicine, cosmetics etc, the adverb MILDLY is rarely used in situations which clearly allow the reading of MANNER.

     ukephemLachsschinken. This is mildly cured
    and smoked loin of pork

    The interpretation as "cured and smoked in a mild manner" rather than "cured and smoked to some slight degree" appears to be more sensible. (Wouldn't meat that is cured to some degree only be likely to rot? Different users, however, may apply different interpretations.) Also

     ukmagsThese beans are mildly spiced

    is ambiguous and can finally be interpreted adequately only by the cook herself: Did she use mild spices (such as oregano) or not too much pepper?

    With MILD, we frequently find recursive modification of a noun head.

     ukephema mild and delicate taste
      a pleasantly mild and nutty flavour
      the smooth, mild and elegant wines
      mild and smoothing (cleansing)
      a very mild, pleasant scent
      mild and creamy hair wash
      a mild and "grapey" flavour
      mild and comfortable temperatures (SET 2)
      mild and dry but gloomy (weather) (SET 2)
     ukbooksa mild and rather boring salad
      mild and gentle Sammy (SET 3)
     ukspokenmeek and mild (SET 3)

    The parallel use of MILD with another quality-descriptive adjective leads to the exclusion of the DEGREE meaning element. In this case, a particular meaning and a particular structure go very closely together. Interestingly, the six subcorpora only have one example of this recursive use of MILDLY:

     ukbooksthey are arguing mildly and pensively

    Also here, the co-occurrence of MILDLY with pensively heavily supports the reading of MILDLY as expressing MANNER and not DEGREE.

    Whereas QUALITY DESCRIPTIONI is quite common for adjectives of SET 1, the majority of cases of the adverb MILDLY shows that the DEGREE concept is more prominent here.

     Timesit's very mildly gamey and fairly tender (said of meat)
     ukmagsyour child's teeth have been cleaned as they're mildly acidic
     ukbooksmildly venomous (said of snakes)
     ukephemcedarwood is mildly astringent and anticeptic
      a taste that ranges from slightly sour to mildly piquant

    Notice the parallel use of slightly and mildly and it repercussions on the meaning of mildly.

    Any statement about the presence or the absence of the one or the other concept should be made with caution. It should again be recognized that different users are likely to give different interpretations of what they feel dominates. This seeming lack of clarity may be of interest to the stylistician, practically it is irrelevant for communicative purposes, if not even an advantage. The highest degree of disambiguity is not necessarily what speakers wish to achieve. Rather, the efficacy of the expression is based on the double association that let's say the dish is both mild and to some degree piquant: mildly piquant.

    Replacing mildly by an expression such as slightly/a bit/weakly would lead to the loss of the implicit meaning element of QUALITY DESCRIPTION in the degree adverb mildly. What offers itself more readily as a synonym is the equally positively connotated pleasantly piquant.

    For (one of) the core meaning(s) of MILD (describing the quality of softness, soothingness of food, medicine, cosmetics etc.) we can tentatively summarize that the degree adverb MILDLY has not yet reached a high level of delexicalization. The specific collocational environments of MILDLY in such contexts help to retain traces of the core meaning even if the adverb is used predominantly with DEGREE function.

    SETs 2 and 4 (reference to weather, colours, sounds ...)

    In spite of the high frequency of the adjective in the six subcorpora in the SETs 2 and 4 (53) there are no occurrences of MILDLY SET 2 in any meaning and only one in SET 4:

     BBCa mildly-toned report on human rights conditions

    Although a collocation such as was raining mildly could potentially be formed, there are obviously usage restrictions against this use of MILDLY in our corpora. How generally these restrictions operate would have to be shown by means of a larger or different corpus.

    SET 3 (reference to manners or personality features)

    It is again striking that there is not a single case of adverbial use in this SET. There are, however, altogether 20 tokens of the type mild-mannered/mild mannered in the corpora.

    SET 5 (reference to diseases)

    Taking into account the strong potential of MILD in SET 5 to express a point on an intensity scale, the noticeable absence of MILDLY in DEGREE meaning comes as a surprise (for the few examples see above). There is no language-internal reason to be seen why modified nouns such as mild indigestion, mild depression, mild hallucination, mild contractions, mild fatigue, mild addictions, mild handicaps, mild shock conditions etc. should not have one single verb-adjunct counterpart in the whole corpus.

    Two explanations are possible. One is that the specifics of the text-type we find represented in the corpus seem to require a predominantly nominal style. The three examples

     mildly paranoid
     mildly androgenic hormones
     mildly hallucinogenic amphetamine

    are an indication of the technical nature of the language used. It is left to be shown if texts of say narrative character would give more space to adverbial collocations of SET 6. On the other hand the lack of findings for MILDLY in the function of indicating DEGREE is actually in line with our hypothesis stated before: MILDLY in its function of indicating intensity, degree or range is most frequent if used to modify such qualities that are not connected with the conventional referential domains of the adjective MILD (food, weather, colours, manners, illnesses).

    SETs 6 and 7

    These two SETs show the largest number of occurrences of both MILD and MILDLY. If the fact is added that with SET 7 we have an onomasiologically unlimited range of qualities, phenomena or activities that can be modified by the use of MILD/MILDLY, it becomes evident that the intensity/degree-indicating potential of our node-word is very productive and is its major form of occurrence.

    It is obvious that for expressions to be intensified or graded these have to be gradable. All expressions modified in this way share the semantic feature of gradability.

     ukbooksmild purgative effects
     mild amusement
     I felt mildly reassured
     their name which seems mildly daunting
     Timesmildly reformist and consumer-oriented communism

    Gradability is, however, not the only meaning element contained. Associations of the mildness of the underlying process are reported to be present in some speakers' minds and "connotate" the DEGREE meaning. There is again overlap of concepts. This can be shown if "pure" intensifiers replace MILD/MILDLY, which leaves certain connotative features unexpressed:

     I was partly/nearly/slightly/somewhat/a little amused.
     slightly/weakly/to some extent reformist ... communism

    In these examples, the process of delexicalization is by no means complete. Various meaning elements are interrelated, each contributing to the communicative force of the item in question.

    There are also instances of the use of MILD/MILDLY where any connotation of softness, soothingness or gentleness seems to be ruled out by the very nature of the modified element (mild bombardment; mildly stirring acid ocean; mild panic). On looking more closely, however, at the larger context, thesource, the text-type, the writer's possible communicative intention, you find the writer must have been aware of the estrangement effect of the metaphorical use of the item (inverted commas; special register conventions; ironic distancing).

     ukbooksOn the 7th, soldiers from the Lincolns,
    Northumberland Fusiliers and Bedfords left
    their trenches in frightened flight.
    Haig later learned that the bombardment at the time had been 'mild'.
      When wind of Lloyd George's intentions reached GHQ, a mild panic ensued.
      (Gerard de Groot: Douglas Haig, 1862-1928. Unwin Hyman 1988.)
     ukmagsBegins in the vein of those spoken veteran
    Chicago classics with near-whispered expressions,
    moves into slow-trance gear before being cast
    into a mildly stirring acid ocean full of
    analogue melodies, proving that Harthouse's
    Hardfloor don't have a copyright on all the
    killer acid hooks.
    (New Musical Express: 11th Sept.1993. IPC Magazines Ltd. Music: Rock and Pop enthusiasts)

    Such examples are another proof of the productivity and communicative strength of MILD/MILDLY's intensifying function.

    In its co-occurrence with extremely, MILDLY loses most of its MANNER associations:

     ukephemrange from being mildly unpleasant to extremely unpleasant

    There are further collocations which show that the potential to express DEGREE can be utilised without drawing on the conventional meaning elements of QUALITY DESCRIPTION/MANNER. This is especially the case when the modified element hardly seems to contain any meaning element that would seem to be compatible with the QUALITY DESCRIPTION of MILD or the MANNER meaning of MILDLY.

     ukmagsa mildly corked bottle
     a mildly mistaken newspaper report
     mildly pissed off
     the killer has been on the screen almost from
    the start. Mildly dated, but still capable of
    exerting a tight grip.
     the mildly sexy 'Bonita Applebum'
     ukbooksmildly bonkers
     Timesmildly risky
     ukephema mildly mystic experience
     ukspokenAre you a soccer fan? I've never asked you.
    Mildly. Bit of Spurs girl.

    In terms of meaning, there is a long way from a mild shampoo, a mild man, or mildly-toned report to a mildly corked bottle or to being mildly piqued by the vulgarity of the boss' strategy.

    SET 8 (reference to the MANNER in which processes happen)

    On the scale from definitely MANNER in meaning to a clear DEGREE meaning, SET 8 provides the largest number of examples of the first although also here the overlap reported for the other SETs is not totally absent.

     ukbookssaid mildly
      The child was looking at him mildly
     questioned (however mildly) Haig's tactics
     mildly pointing out that
     while they were arguing mildly and pensively
     he complained mildly
     he was mildly reprimanded by the King
     and was mildly rebuked Mrs Gandhi

    At least the last two examples are likely to be interpreted as containing a certain DEGREE element.

    Taking the semantic load of reprimand, rebuke and also complain into consideration, these processes can be seen as gradable, whereas saying, arguing, looking, pointing out are definitely not. A soon as the verb meaning allows gradability, the intensifier MILDLY tends to take on DEGREE meaning. With nongradable verbs we register MANNER adjuncts.

    Quirk et al. report rather subtle cases of nongradable verbs becoming "gradable when the focus is on the result of the process rather than on the process itself [...] He drank up his beer completely" (1989, 595). With the last two examples above we have at least two candidates for verbs that can be made gradable in appropriate collocational contexts. DEGREE is again associated with MANNER (or vice versa).

    The rest of the examples of SET 8 are clearly adjuncts of MANNER. to put it mildly (with overlapping MANNER and DEGREE meanings) expresses a comment on how the utterance is worded and is used as a standard phrase in disjunct function.

     ukbooksI found a situation that was, to put it mildly, awful
    (altogether 23 tokens)

    For the transition of MILDLY from an adverb of manner to an adverb of degree it can be stated that various different processes are at work in the polysemous lexical item: the blending of DEGREE with QUALITY DESCRIPTION/MANNER, metaphorization, the loss of original meaning components, the embedding in semantically almost unlimited collocational sets, all of which finally leads to the delexicalized means of expressing a certain point on a scale of intensity.

    2) SAD/SADLY

    The COBUILDDirect corpora findings were ordered in four (for SAD) and three (for SADLY) collocational sets (see appendix). The general survey shows an uneven distribution of the SAD/SADLY collocational types over the different SETs.

    221338 tokens
    Even if granted that classifying the collocations inevitably will include a certain number of subjective decisions, among other things also due to the overlap of emotional and rational meaning contents in many uses of SAD/SADLY, it becomes clear that
    1. uses going beyond the original reference to an emotional state of mind are in no way exceptional, neither in SAD nor in SADLY

    2. in terms of tokens, SADLY has the highest frequency

    3. with only three types of SET 3 SADLY in ukspoken and only two in BBC, the use of the DEGREE adverb SADLY can be considered as being more or less restricted to the written medium.

    Both ajectival SET 3 and adverbial SET 3 show a considerable distance in meaning from the original semantic content of SAD/SADLY (ie referring to the emotional state of "unhappiness", "sorrowfulness").

    Examples SET 3 SAD:

     What a sad anticlimax!ukmags
     furnishes sad proofukmags
     it is very sad because people in the media shouldukspoken
     sad but trueukspoken
     was a bit of a sad occasion for a couple of reasonsukmags
     sorry to see an occupying army go SAd, sadBBC

    In the adjective, we find the concept of "sadness" complemented or even outweighed by the less emotional, more rational negative descriptive labels "unsatisfactory" or "regrettable" or even "shabby". The link to rational thought can be explicitly indicated (cf.proof, because, reasons).

    More important even, many uses of SAD in SET 3 show the tendency of grading, which the uses in other SETs do not. Rather, SETs 1 and 4 tend to add related or opposite descriptive adjectives to the immediate collocational range of SAD, thus strengthening the emotional character of the statements.

    The grading is as clearly present in the SET 3 samples as it is vague in its reference. What is expressed in e.g. 'What a sad anticlimax!' is no more (but also no less) than that of all possible anticlimaxes, the one in question is situated rather low on an implicit scale the speaker presupposes the hearer will share with him/her: so low that it is already sad.

    Examples SETs 1, 2, 4 SAD:

     When men get sad they get angryukspoken
     this sad, lost, little girlukbooks
     some sad, melancholy tuneukbooks
     sad and aloneukbooks
     sad mad addiction cornerukspoken
     towns and villages often sad and decrepit after forty years of neglectBBC
     I felt miserable, sad and lonelyTimes

    The collocational range of SET 3 SADLY, i.e. the DEGREE adverb, shows expressions of "need" or "want", but no restriction to "negative" collocates is noticeable. This observation had already been made by KIRCHNER 1955 (66).

    This wide range of semantically unrelated expressions amongst the collocates and especially the loss of the original MANNER meaning in favour of DEGREE in some uses of SADLY point to the fact that the grammaticalization process is well advanced. This view is also supported by the fact that SADLY is almost stereotyped in collocations with lack and miss.

    This finding goes beyond what OED 1992 contains. It does not explicitly record a DEGREE meaning of SADLY. Together with other examples that indicate MANNER, a few examples are listed in which intensification is at least as strongly represented as MANNER:

    1782Cowper Friendsh. 87 Authors Are sadly prone to quarrel.
    1782F. Burney Cecilia iii. viiiO, he is so ill! indeed I am sadly, sadly afraid
    he will never be well again!
    1857Ruskin Arrows of Chace (1880) I. 47I have written you a sadly long letter,
    but I could not manage to get it shorter.
    1863W.C.Baldwin Afr. Hunting viii.340The flies torment us sadly.
    1879Huxley Hume x. 196Metaphysicians, as a rule, are sadly
    deficient in the sense of humour.

    /Footnote: This interpretation is shared by PETERS 1993, 200/


    The COBUILDDirect corpora findings were ordered in five (for WARM) and four (for WARMLY) collocational sets (see appendix). The bulk of the over 2,000 occurrences (tokens) of WARM exemplify

      the core meaning with reference to temperature and

    1. the figurative use with reference to "friendliness, warmheartedness".

    What can be taken as the starting-point of a DEGREE meaning is such few cases which have been tentatively classified under 4 ("lively, passionate") and in which WARM as "friendly" is supplemented or occasionally perhaps even dominated by the intensifying meaning element "passionate" or "strong":

     nodding, not with warm approval,
    but perhaps a crumb of feeling that he wasn't
     Mr Bush was warm in his praise of the progress madeBBC
     it is an exciting and involving production and
    warm praise is due to all concerned
     Brokers gave a warm response to full-year
    figures from Commercial Union
     the leaders paid warm tribute both toBBC
     Alternatively warm and serious, he turns apologetic whenukmags

    The transition between the subtle meaning differences is fluid. Even the same collocation can stress either the "friendly" or the "strong" meaning shade of WARM differently in different contexts. Whereas in the example Brokers gave a warm response to full-year figures the emphasis is obviously on their enthusiasm and on how much response the brokers gave, in other contexts the focus seems to be more on the warmheartedness:

     you can be sure of a warm response
    when you express your true feelings

    Enumeration of related or synonymous qualities helps to distinguish between otherwise easily overlapping meanings:

     a warm, affectionate appealukmags
     Warm, affectionate, single African male, 45, seeks whiteukmags
     they're warm and open and friendlyukmags
     a warm and caring manukmags
     her warm and friendly homeukmags

    Though WARM could not be found to take the meaning of a full-fledged adjective of DEGREE, it has at least a potential of being used with an intensifying connotation.

    Various uses of WARMLY exploit this potential. WARMLY, apart from its uses with reference to temperature and colour, light and sounds (SETs 1 and 3) is relatively rare: There are no occurrences at all in the ukspoken subcorpus, only 21 types of SET 2 ("in a friendly, cordial manner") and 14 types of SET 4 ("intensively, strongly"), with fuzzy borderlines between them.

    In some cases, the quality-description ("in a friendly manner") is closely linked with the presuppostion of a relatively high quantity of the gradable phenomenon or activity: How warm applause is will first of all be measured in quantities (of the time, of the degree of loudness ...): friendly, welcoming because strong and continuous.

     Mr Alexander Yakolev was warmly applauded whenBBC
     some form of associate membership of NATO,
    warmly supported in London today

    The closeness of DEGREE indications to the original quality-descriptive function of WARMLY can be stated for the cases of word-play found in the corpus. The two meaning elements are obviously sufficiently active and alive for the user to mix them and partly de-metaphorize them for stylistic effects.

     By turns warmly human and chillingly disturbingukephem
     This photograph pleased me in two ways,
    once warmly for love, once in a hot mean way

    Some examples very clearly prove that WARMLY is indeed used as an adverb of DEGREE.

     comedian Kenny Everett warmly endorsing
    a Tory party rally in the person of
     Warmly disposed to the natural, generous and open, HiassenTimes
     I'd recommend it warmly to all teenagersukmags
     this voucher will be warmly accepted as paymentukephem
     by promoting very much more warmly
    than he had done before the idea of
     Christine Botes is a warmly vulnerable CharlotteTimes

    The corpus findings are, however, not so richly varied as the OED citations to which thwy were compared. Although again, as was the case with SADLY and MILDLY, no DEGREE meanings are explicitly defined, there are several examples that very strongly indicate a degree of intensification in WARMLY not found in the COBUILDDirect corpora.

    Fervently, earnestly.

    1766Goldsmith, Vicar W. xxxiiMy son's bride warmly insisted
    that Lady Thornhill (that was to be) should take the lead.
    1888Poor Nellie 145On a matter I have warmly at heart.

    With controversial ardour, eagerly.

    1665 Boyle Occas. Refl. vi. iv. (1848) 352There are not many [controversies]
    that have been more curiously and warmly disputed,
    than the Question, Whether [etc.].
    1739Hardwicke Let. in G. Harris Life (1847) I. 424Points, on which our friends may be likely warmly to differ.
    1830D'Israeli Chas. I, III. vi. 90The King and he often warmly disputed
    on the principles of a good Government.

    With warmth of temper.

    1799Ht. Lee Canterb. T., Frenchm. T. (ed. 2) I. 200'Let us not talk of him,' interrupted Dorsain, warmly.
    1838Lytton Leila i. iiThe young king spoke warmly and bitterly.
    1873W. Black Pr. Thule xvi. 254And if he has, whose fault is it?'
    the girl said, warmly.

    With reference to attack or defence: Fiercely, vigorously.

    1684Scanderbeg Rediv. vi. 149They came briskly on, and Charged
    very desperately, but being as warmly received, the Infidels
    were put to Flight.
    1708Lond. Gaz. No. 4493/2The Germans receiv'd him so warmly,
    that few of his Men escaped with their Lives.
    1797in Nicolas Disp. Nelson (1845) III. 188No person has a right to know
    that the Culloden was not as warmly engaged
    as any Ship in the Squadron.

    It seems as if the English of the 17th to 19th century made use of intensifying WARMLY to a larger extent than is usual today. Interestingly, the collocational type receive warmly appears in 10 tokens in the corpora, but - contrary to all receive-citations in the OED - these are exclusively positively connotated.

     General Aideed has been warmly received
    by several key military and political figures
     Mr Heath has been warmly received by the Iraqis,
    last night he spent more than
     their last warmly-received Lord Darnley showukmags
     important in stimulating economic development
    and are warmly received by rural villagers

    Judging from today's perspective, KIRCHNER's prediction concerning WARMLY ("Dies Modaladv. geht in ein Intensivum über." 1955, 84) has failed to prove true. Intensifying WARMLY seems to be on the retreat rather than follow the trend of delexicalization. A larger corpus and one allowing for a historical dimension would be necessary to verify the hypothesis of a delexicalization process of WARMLY as a degree adverb.


    In English studies, linguistic description has repeatedly been centred on the richness of expression for the meaning concept of DEGREE. The interest is motivated by the fact that this class of expressions is open to constant change and addition. The study reports on research into such DEGREE adverbs ending in -ly (disregarding other lexical and phrasal sets of intensifiers, rhetorical figures or syntactic structures) that orginally denoted MANNER but increasingly have acquired the potential to express DEGREE, either in addition or exclusively.

    The investigation is based on a limited number of adjectives and their corresponding adverbs. Mild/mildly, warm/warmly and sad/sadly are analysed in detail, the findings are presented in "usage profiles". The polysemy of the lexical items in question is the methodological starting point of the analysis. The various meanings of each are derived from the collocations as they were found in the 31 million-word subcorpora ukmags, ukbooks, Times, BBC, ukephem, ukspoken of the COBUILDDirect corpus. The collocations were ordered in (mainly onomasiologically defined) collocational SETs.

    The question is raised if and to what extent the meaning concept of DEGREE can be registered for the various SETs and how it overlaps with MANNER or other meaning concepts. It was found that the process of diversification of meaning goes hand in hand with that of delexicalization. This process is, however, not a straightforward one and does not simply lead from the richness of the adjectival and adverbial meanings to merely marking a certain point on a scale of intensity, ie a grammatical item. Rather, the process is very complex and involves blending of meaning, metaphorization, and the extension of use into semantically almost unlimited collocational SETs.

    Appendix: Meaning paraphrases


    1. describing the quality of softness or soothingness of products or substances (eg food, medicine, cosmetics ...)

    2. describing a specific quality of weather/climate

    3. describing a specific quality of manners or personality features (e.g. kindliness, gentleness)

    4. describing a specific quality of sensations (colours, sounds, flavours ...)

    5. indicating a specific degree of seriousness (that of moderation, average quality) of a disease/a symptom of a disease or disease-like state

    6. indicating the intensity of feelings, mental or cognitive states (ie as temperate, not excessive)

    7. generally indicating the degree of a quality or the intensity of an attitude or a phenomenon (others than 1-6)


    1. expressing the meaning of manner with reference to properties of products or substances (e.g. food, medicine, cosmetics ...)

    2. expressing the meaning of manner with reference to the quality of weather/climate

    3. expressing the meaning of manner with reference to the quality of social behaviour or personality features

    4. expressing the meaning of manner with reference to the quality of sensations (eg colours, sounds, flavours ...)

    5. indicating the degree of seriousness of symptoms of a disease or disease-like state

    6. indicating the intensity of emotional, mental or cognitive states or actions

    7. indicating the degree of a quality or the intensity of an action (others than 1-6)

    8. describing the manner in which processes/actions happen

    9. special use: putting it mildly


      emotional state of mind: feeling unhappy

    1. quality of an event causing the feeling of sadness

    2. sadness mixed with the idea of inappropriateness of or (the more rational judgement of) dissatisfaction with a situation

    3. sadness mixed with related concepts such as loneliness or boredom [
    4. in ukspoken only: connected with the prosodic feature of laughter, which can be seen as an indication that the frequent use of the word has weakened its emotional load and made it a cliché.]


    1. the manner in which an action is performed

    2. disjunct evaluating the content of an utterance ("sentence adverbial")

    3. intensifying the content of adjective/verb X:
      X to such a degree that it makes you feel sad


    1. be/feel/keep warm (moderate degree of temperature)

    2. of behaviour: friendly, making you feel comfortable

    3. of colours, light or sounds: pleasant

    4. lively, passionate

    5. clear, unmistakable


    1. in a warm manner so that you do not feel cold

    2. in a friendly, cordial manner; with affection

    3. with reference to colours, light etc: in a pleasant manner

    4. intensively, eagerly


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