A Text from a recent (excellent) Dr.Who episode:

"One day you will linger in the same place too long. You will sit too still or sleep too deep - and when, too late, you rise to go, you will notice a second shadow next to yours. Your life will then be over."

To sit "still-ly" isn't possible, I know, "still" is used as the adverb here, but what about the "deep"? Is there a difference between "sleep too deep" or "sleep too deeply"? Why isn't the adverb used here?

  • Deeply is also a synonym for intensely, so it can have a different meaning than deep. The idiom would be: out cold.
    – lurker
    Jan 3, 2016 at 0:47

2 Answers 2


deep is used as an adverb. See deep:


21) in a deep way or to a deep extent; far down, far in, far back, etc." ⇒ to dig deep"


Your expectation of the use of deeply as the appropriate -ly adverb in your example is well founded as a modifier for sleep

He slept deeply

meaning that he had a deep sleep.

However, there are a few other things going on:

Dr. Who is a very stylized programme on BBC1 and I believe it is with this aesthetic that the text is coloured. The excerpt is poetic in nature: too long, too still, too deep, too late. That life is full of stationary time: linger, sit, sleep. That by actively being too inactive, we have not risen to the challenges, nor grasped the opportunities, nor fully embraced all the life has to offer. That in this way, life creeps at a petty pace. That when we finally do rouse ourselves, it is too late, and then we exit.

The allusion of the second shadow is that of the Grim Reaper when our time is over. Where as in life, one faces and moves toward the light, at this point we are facing away from the light. How else would we be able to notice the second shadow?

To maintain the cadence of sit/still, sleep/deep only single syllable words are used, deeply would break this poetic cadence. Then also consider if it is really possible to sit too still or sleep too deep? A possible alternative might be

...sit motionlessly or sleep heavily...

but it would not have the same feel or rythm as the original.

In your example, deep is used as an adverb, though it is not usually used in this way. It is because the verb, sleep, is being used in an active sense: wilfully sleeping too much.

Dr. Who is an English programme. Please do remember it is their language.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .