I’ve noticed recently that certain constructions with present active participles (meaning, -ing forms acting adjectivally) prefer to be modified by adjectives rather than by adverbs.
For example, it sounds better to say:
- a rough-looking neighborhood
than it does to say:
- a *roughly looking neighborhood
even though rough, an adjective, is clearly modifying looking, another adjectival word.
Is there any rule that explains this? Or is this just a strange corner case of English?
It’s because sense verbs like look, sounds, tastes, smells, and feels customarily take adjectives rather than adverbs. Notice how normally it is good that goes with each of them, and how using well there would mean something altogether different.
- She really looks good in that new outfit.
- That only sounds good over the headphones.
- Boy does this ever taste good!
- Last week’s garbage doesn’t smell so good.
- A good night’s sleep always feels good.
Now go back and swap in well for each good in the five example sentences above. In all cases it changes the meaning significantly, and in most cases it is sheer nonsense.
This is even more apparent if you try it with poorly.