40 How to use tricky words ending in LY suffix

Did you know that HARDLY means not the same as HARD or LATELY has a completely different meaning from LATE? Figure out how to use tricky words ending in -ly suffix with our new episode.

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In this episode, I am teaching you how to use tricky words ending in -ly suffix. If you use one of these words in the wrong context, you could be completely misunderstood. People will hear a different message from the one you were willing to say.

And we don’t want this to happen, right? We want to be understood, and it’s even more important if English is not your native language.

Some grammar context

Most words ending with -ly are adverbs formed from nouns. They describe manner of actions.

For example:

loud (what kind?)loudly (how)

  • I have a loud voice. – I speak loudly.
  • Please be quiet. – Can you talk more quietly?
  • She is a beautiful girl. – She walks beautifully.

But there are some exceptions.

Adverbs which are not connected with their adjectives

Think about pairs like HARD and HARDLY, RIGHT and RIGHTLY, HIGH and HIGHLY etc. They have the same base but different meanings.

There are not so many words like that but the fact that they mean different things sometimes is confusing for non-natives when they speak English.

1/ HARD – HARD (with a lot of effort) // HARDLY (rarely, almost not)


I am a hard worker.
This is a hard task.
English is hard.
English is a hard language.

At the same time,

I work hard. (=I work a lot) 
I will have to think hard to solve this task.


I hardly (ever) go to the beach. (=I almost never go to the beach)
We hardly know our neighbours.
This problem is hardly a secret. (This is not a secret at all)

Check your knowledge of English prepositions with our free quiz >>>

2/ HIGH – HIGH (to a great height) // HIGHLY (extremely)


This is high above the ground.
It’s a high standard.


He lifted her high over his head.
Birds flying high… (a famous song)
The airplane is flying high in the sky.


highly appreciated, highly acceptable, highly paid, highly contagious, highly controversial, highly enjoyable, highly flexible, highly qualified, highly skilled, highly personal, highly recommended etc.

This disease is highly contagious. 
She is a highly educated person.
Arsenic is highly toxic.

3/ FREE – FREE (without responsibility, without paying) // FREELY (without limitation or control)

It’s a free book.
It’s a free course.
Uber gives you a free ride if you recommend the app to your friends.


You can eat here for free. 
We got into this concert free.
Buy two and get the third one free! (an ad)


I was riding freely across the field – nothing could stop me.
You can speak freely about all your troubles.
Sheep roam freely over the hills.

4/ LATE – LATE (not on time, not early) // LATELY (recently)

It’s a late meeting.
It’s too late to say if he gets through.
I am going to be so late.

At the same time,

We met too late. 
The plane arrived late due to bad weather.
We had to meet late at night to discuss our problems.


I have read a lot of books lately. 
I haven’t been myself lately.
She’s been rather ill lately.

Other words like this:

DIRECT – DIRECT (without stopping) // DIRECTLY (immediately)

RIGHT – RIGHT (direction or correctly) // RIGHTLY (the right thing to do)

DEEP – DEEP (to a great depth) // DEEPLY (very)

CLOSE – CLOSE (not far) // CLOSELY (tightly, very much)

I hope now you understand the difference in meaning for these words. You can also do a free quiz below to check your knowledge.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask in the comments! See you in the next episode!

Learn about the most common mistakes in English speaking

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