When local television news viewers start calling out meteorologists on their weather-specific grammar, you know people are in that end-of-winter, dark, gloomy, living-in-their-long-johns state of mind. Allow me to come to the defense of on-air weather personalities everywhere to say that “bitter cold” and “bitterly cold” are both correct.
However, there is a difference to be aware of.
We all know of that words ending in “-ly” are often adverbs—and by this statement, golly, holy moly, I don’t mean to imply or shilly-shally around the dastardly, grisly folly that “-ly” words are only adverbs—moreover, this spelling difference is our first clue between “bitter cold” vs. “bitterly cold.”
- “Bitter” is an adjective, which modifies nouns.
- “Bitterly” is an adverb, which modifies adjectives or other adverbs.
Both “bitter cold” and “bitterly cold” can be correct because “cold” itself can be both a noun or an adjective.
If you’re talking about the cold, you could talk about the bitter cold of February.
If you’re talking about the cold weather, you could talk about the bitterly cold weather of February.
I don’t know if this breaks the ice on the on-air word choice conversation or whether suddenly it will all get more frigid. Either way, though, at least you know the difference.
Perhaps I should retitle this writing tip, “Is it Spring Yet?” What do you think?
Happy writing, folks.
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