When I noticed that English, Spanish, Italian, and French use the "mind" metaphor to turn certain adjectives into adverbs (not all, cf "-ly" from English). That is, as it was explained to me by a Spanish professor, "Rapidamente literally means 'of fast mind.'" I did a brief search to see what other languages did this this morning after I realized that "-wise" is no different.

The mind metaphor doesn't seem to be universal. I understand that modern Hebrew does it like "in [noun-form of adjective]," Swedish "-ligen," as a word on its own, seems to mean "literally." I can't tell the etymology of "-о́" in Russian, nor "地" for Chinese. German "-erweise" comes from "way/manner."

Two coupled questions: How many languages use the mind metaphor for adverbial adjectives, and why do those that do, do?

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    Swedish -ligen is not a word in itself and doesn’t mean ‘literally’. It is the adverbial form of the adjectival suffix -lig, which is cognate with English -ly, so originally meaning ‘body/shape/form’ (as opposed to ‘mind’, though still fairly close). Chinese 地 de is simply a particle; it has no certain etymology beyond that (possibly same word as 的 de, which itself is of unknown etymology, or possibly from 地 ‘place’). Commented May 6, 2020 at 18:52

1 Answer 1


Quite a few, and they mostly inherited it from Proto-Romance.

In Classical Latin (the Latin written by Vergil and Cicero), there were a few different ways of forming adverbs, using the suffixes -e and -iter. For example, "sad" was tristis, and "sadly" was triste.

In Vulgar Latin (the Latin spoken on the streets of Rome), however, these suffixes were rare except in a few specific formulas. Instead of doing something "sadly" triste, you would do it "with a sad mind" tristi mente. Eventually, people didn't think of the mente part as a separate word meaning "mind" any more—it was just something you stuck onto adjectives to make adverbs.

And thus we end up with forms like French tristement, Spanish and Italian tristemente, and so on. Most Romance languages now form their adverbs this way, just because they inherited it from Vulgar Latin/Proto-Romance.

English "-wise", as far as I know, is a separate issue. It comes from "wise", an archaic noun meaning "way" or "method". And it's now used mostly on nouns, not on adjectives, to form adverbs meaning "pertaining to".

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    Really -ly is closer to the Romance way than -wise – it refers to shape/form/body rather than mind, but other than that it’s the same. Commented May 6, 2020 at 18:54
  • Really? I'd have expected -modo to play a role here.
    – vectory
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 10:46
  • I agree that "(other)wise" is a separate issue. But etymologically "wise" in the sense "manner, the way something is perceived" (German Weise) is from the same root as "wise" "full of wisdom".
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 15:46

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