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Your English: Word grammar: low

Type: Article

There’s no need to feel low; Tim Bowen is here to lift your spirits with another dose of Word grammar.

The word low is most commonly used as an adjective, but it can also function as an adverb and a noun and, in a very restricted way, as a verb.

Apart from its main adjectival meanings of ‘small in height, amount or level’, low can also mean ‘feeling unhappy and lacking hope or confidence’, as in ‘She’s in low spirits today’ and ‘without much energy’, as in ‘The illness left him feeling low for a few days’.

As an adverb it is often used to describe a position, as in ‘The plane was flying very low’ or a sound, as in ‘She can sing high or low’. It is also used adverbially in the idiomatic expression to sink or stoop so low, as in ‘Just how low is the government prepared to stoop in order to win votes’, meaning to do something very unfair or dishonest.

As a noun, low can be used to refer to the lowest level, value or price, as in ‘The euro fell to a new low against the dollar yesterday’, to temperatures, as in ‘Overnight lows will be around five degrees Celsius’, and to bad times in your life, as in ‘He has experienced all the highs and lows of an actor’s life’.

The expression an all-time low is used to refer to a particularly bad time, as in ‘The game was one of the all-time lows in the club’s history’. The lowest of the low is used to describe someone who behaves in a very dishonest or immoral way, e.g. ‘People who steal money from a charity for sick children are the lowest of the low’.  

As a verb, low has just a single meaning, namely the sound that cows make, as in ‘She was woken at dawn by the sound of cows lowing in the meadow below the castle’.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Very concise and informative for teachers of ESL. Thank you.

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