The German correspondent of “Another invented rule” writes with another teacher-inspired query, going back to when he was a senior in high school. His story (lightly edited):
I had an English teacher back then, who abhorred (still abhors) AmE, and preferred BrE. He is neither American nor is he British. He’s German. According to him, Americans cannot speak English.
One day, we were asked to write a letter. We had to create a story of two people who are pen pals and who love sharing each other’s everyday stories.
I made up a story, wrote it down, and in one line I had written “.. I was laughing out loud….“
After a few days we got our homework back. What struck me the most was that he had marked “laughing out loud“ as a mistake. Above, he he had written “laughing out loudly“.
Now that I’ve checked on the Corpus of Contemporary American English, there is no entry with an “-ly“ ending. But when I type “laugh out loud“, I get many results.
My question for you is : Was my teacher correct? If not, why is it wrong to say “laughing out loudly”?
High marks to my correspondent for checking COCA, rather than relying on raw googling, since web searches will yield a respectable number of instances of laughing out loudly (and even a few of laughing aloudly), though these are wildly outnumbered by the standard English (Br or Am) laughing out loud.
A classic error of teachers, pedants, and self-appointed usage authorities: appealing to an explicitly formulated rule, rather than relying on Sprachgefühl or consulting the actual usage of serious writers and speakers. The “rule” in question is that adverbs — or, at least, manner adverbs related to adjectives — require the derivational suffix -ly (with a handful of exceptions, like fast); things like They did the job easy (though quite frequent in vernacular speech and writing) are stigmatized as non-standard. Applying this “rule” thoughtlessly leads to the non-standard, hypercorrect laugh out loudly (and laugh aloudly).
The problem with the rule in this case is a fairly subtle one, since the problem follows from the very important distinction between expressions with the *syntactic function* Adverbial and expressions belonging to the *syntactic category* Adverb. Like with a loud noise or in a loud voice, out loud and aloud are Adverbial in function but not Adverbs in category (this is a separate issue, but they’re probably to be categorized as unusual sorts of PPs — prepositional phrases). The point is that though the rule the teacher was implicitly referring to is for the most part applicable in standard English, it simply doesn’t apply to Adverbials, even Manner Adverbials.
(There’s literature on other, different, instances of hypercorrection in the choice between flat, unsuffixed Adverbs — actual Adverbs in category — and those in -ly, especially for bad vs. badly in contexts like feel bad(ly), though this case is quite complicated. See the MWDEU entry and Mark Liberman’s postings on Language Log, here and here.)