How to spell: words ending in -ly, -ely and -lly

Do you ever have problems spelling words ending in -ly?

If you do, you’re not alone. Adverbs such as definitely, probably, absolutely, likely, reasonably and hopefully often cause problems when it comes to spelling. We often ask ourselves the same questions:

Is it -ly or -lly?
Do we write -ely, or just -ly?

Normally we just add -ly to an adjective to get the adverb: quick becomes quickly, dangerous becomes dangerously.

The problem is when an adjective ends in -e or -le. What do we do in such cases? Do we keep or remove the ‘e’ before adding ‘ly’?

These short and simple rules should help you.

Forming adverbs from adjectives ending in -e, -l and -le
When an adjective ends in -e, we simply add ly to form the adverb:

polite » politely,
definite » definitely,
absolute » absolutely,
complete » completely.
Be careful when an adjective ends in -le. We remove the e and add y to form the adverb:

probable » probably,
possible » possibly,
terrible » terribly,
reasonable » reasonably.
Don't be confused by adjectives that end in -l. Simply add ly and the adverb will then end in -lly:

hopeful » hopefully,
beautiful » beautifully,
helpful » helpfully,
careful » carefully.

spelling words ending in ly speakspeak.com

Which words do you find difficult to spell? Let me know in the comments below.

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. See all posts by Stuart

14 Comments

  1. cleyse - October 7, 2013, 12:16 pm Reply

    Its very nice to learn a little bit more English with Stuart Cook. Especially That Im Brazilian speaker.

  2. kamal - October 13, 2013, 11:38 pm Reply

    nice site to learn

  3. niko - December 5, 2013, 4:07 pm Reply

    You can add
    “when an adjective ends -y, We change the -y to -i and add -ly to form the adverb.”
    Example:
    Easy => Easily
    Lazy => Lazily

  4. Michael - February 27, 2014, 3:57 am Reply

    What about words like automatic, which get turned into automatic + “ally”? Is there a rule for those?

    • Stuart Cook - March 2, 2014, 10:29 pm Reply

      For adjectives ending -ic, we simply add -ally to form the adverb:
      economic ➝ economically,
      dramatic ➝ dramatically,
      classic ➝ classically, etc.

      • Michael - March 2, 2014, 11:19 pm Reply

        Thanks!

      • Anonymous - October 18, 2015, 2:08 pm Reply

        Thank u

  5. Eli - November 13, 2014, 1:53 pm Reply

    What about words that end -lly (eg: tally, jolly) and words that end -lley (eg: valley, trolley): is there a rule to help decide whether it should be -lly or -lley?

    • Richard Coe - July 1, 2016, 1:18 pm Reply

      These are nouns, so doesn’t apply.

  6. Jules - April 27, 2015, 9:34 am Reply

    Clear and helpful, thanks for this great site.

    For Eli
    Eli this is a discussion about changing adjectives to adverbs so from your examples that would just be “jolly” (the nouns valley and trolley follow the usual rules for nouns ending in ey – just add s)
    You’re right Eli “jollily or sillily ” would be difficult to say so we avoid it .
    (You can say “It was done in a silly/jolly way” if you must describe an action using these kinds of adjectives)

  7. Anonymous - September 19, 2015, 5:21 am Reply

    Please how about a words like absolutely?

    • Anonymous - October 8, 2015, 4:38 am Reply

      Absolutely is already an adverb. The adjective is absolute

  8. Anonymous - November 28, 2015, 7:00 pm Reply

    Would there be a situation where an adverb would end in ley rather than ely?

    Thanks
    Jane

  9. flossy010 - January 23, 2016, 2:18 pm Reply

    I like your website and it is very helpful

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