The word “goodly” in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

One of the first things non-native English speakers learn is that the adverbial form of “good” is irregular. We don’t say, for example, “he sings very goodly”; we say “he sings very well”. It may come as a surprise, then, that the word “goodly” also exists in English and was quite common in the past (but it does not mean the same as “well”).

“Goodly” is an adjective, not an adverb, and has two different meanings, both of which are rather formal or archaic. The only meaning that is still used today to a certain extent is “quite large in number or quantity”, as in

I had to pay a goodly sum for the car.
I know a goodly number of people who disagree with you.

The other meaning of “goodly”, which is almost never used in modern English but can be found in older literature, is “of pleasing or fine appearance”, e.g.

Loyalty to a sovereign is the mark of a goodly knight.

For the sake of completeness, we should mention that “goodly” has a third meaning, “graciously” (in which case it is an adverb), but this meaning is only found in literature so old that the word “goodly” will be of least concern, such as in the following excerpt from The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser:

Goodly they all that knight do entertaine,
  Right glad with him to have increast their crew:
  But to Duess’ each one himselfe did paine
  All kindnesse and faire courtesie to shew

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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