What is an Adverb?
An adverb is a word that is used to change, modify or qualify several types of words including an adjective, a verb, a clause, another adverb, or any other type of word or phrase, with the exception of determiners and adjectives, that directly modify nouns. A good way to understand adverbs is to think about them as the words that provide context. Specifically, adverbs provide a description of how, where, when, in what manner and to what extent something is done or happens. Normally, we can spot an adverb by the fact that it often ends in –ly, but there are lots of adverbs that don’t end in this way. Moreover, adverbs can be used in many combinations with each other.
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Traditionally considered a single part of speech, adverbs perform a wide variety of functions, making it difficult to treat them as a single, unified category. However, spotting an adverb, especially one that ends in -ly is easy. Adverbs normally help paint a fuller picture by describing how something happens, such as
- When? She always arrives early.
- How? He drives carefully.
- Where? They go everywhere together.
- In what way? She eats slowly.
- To what extent? It is terribly hot.
This function of providing more information about how something is done is called the adverbial function, and it may be accomplished by using adverbial clauses and adverbial phrases as well as by adverbs that stand alone.
There are many rules for using adverbs, and these rules often depend upon which type of adverb you are using. Remember these basics and using adverbs to make sentences more meaningful will be easier for you.
- Adverbs can always be used to modify verbs. Notice that the second of these two sentences is much more interesting simply because it contains an adverb:
- The dog ran. (You can picture a dog running, but you don’t really know much more about the scene.)
- The dog ran excitedly. (You can picture a dog running, wagging its tail, panting happily, and looking glad to see its owner. You can paint a much more interesting picture in your head when you know how or why the dog is running.)
- Adverbs are often formed by adding the letters “-ly” to adjectives. This makes it very easy to identify adverbs in sentences. There are many exceptions to this rule; everywhere, nowhere, and upstairs are a few examples.
- An adverb can be used to modify an adjective and intensify the meaning it conveys. For example:
- He plays tennis well. (He knows how to play tennis and sometimes he wins.)
- He plays tennis extremely well. (He knows how to play tennis so well that he wins often.)
As you read the following adverb examples, you’ll notice how these useful words modify other words and phrases by providing information about the place, time, manner, certainty, frequency, or other circumstances of activity denoted by the verbs or verb phrases in the sentences.
Types of Adverbs
Adverbs of Manner
An adverb of manner will explain how an action is carried out. Very often adverbs of manner are adjectives with -ly added to the end, but this is certainly not always the case. In fact, some adverbs of manner will have the same spelling as the adjective form.
Some examples of adverbs of manner include:
Adverb of manner examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- She passed the exam easily.
- They walk quickly to catch the train.
- The dinner party went badly.
- John answered the question correctly.
Notice how the adverbs are formed by adding -ly to the adjectives bad, correct and quick, although there is a slight spelling change when forming an adverb with the adjective easy.
As mentioned, some adverbs of manner take the same spelling as the adjective and never add an -ly to the end:
- The boys had worked hard.
- The car drives
- Julia dances well.
Adverbs of place
An adverb of place, sometimes called spatial adverbs, will help explain where an action happens. Adverbs of place will be associated with the action of the verb in a sentence, providing context for direction, distance and position: southeast, everywhere, up, left, close by, back, inside, around. These terms don’t usually end in -ly.
Adverbs of place examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- New York is located north of Philadelphia.
- They traveled down the mountainside.
- First, I looked here, and then I looked there, but I can’t find them anywhere.
Notice that here and there are often used at the beginning of a sentence to express emphasis or in exclamation.
- Here comes the sun.
- There is love in the air.
- Here you are!
Many times, adverbs of place can be used as prepositions as well. The difference is, when the phrase is used as an adverb, it is modifying a verb; when it is used as a preposition, it is always followed by a noun.
- New York is located north of Philadelphia -> New York is on the map.
- They travelled down river -> They travelled in the first compartment.
- That puppy was walking around by itself-> We put a collar around its neck.
- There was a deli
- Jane is moving far away.
- Carly is sitting close to me.
- The treasure lies underneath the box.
- The cat is sleeping on the bed.
- Why are you standing in the middle of the dancefloor?
In addition, some adverbs of position will refer to a direction of movement. These often end in -ward or -wards.
- Oscar travelled onward to Los Angeles.
- Hannah looked upwards to the heavens.
- Molly, move forward to the front of the queue, please.
Adverbs of Frequency
Adverbs of frequency are used to express time or how often something occurs. Adverbs of frequency can be split two main groups. The first, adverbs of indefinite frequency, are terms that have an unclear meaning as to how long are how often something occurs: usually, always, normally. These adverbs will usually be placed after the main verb or between the auxiliary verb and infinitive.
Adverbs of frequency examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- The adverb is usually placed before the main verb.
- I can normally make the shot.
- I will always love
Adverbs of definite frequency will usually be placed at the end of the sentence.
- We get paid hourly.
- I come here
- The situation seems to change monthly.
- The newspaper is bought daily.
Adverbs of Time
Adverbs of time, while seemingly similar to adverbs of frequency, tell us when something happens. Adverbs of time are usually placed at the end of a sentence.
Adverbs of time examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- I will see you
- Harvey forgot his lunch yesterday and again today.
- I have to go now.
- We first met Julie last year.
While it’s almost always correct to have the adverb of time at the end of the sentence, you can place it at the start of the sentence to put a different emphasis on the time if it is important to the context.
- Last year was the worst year of my life.
- Tomorrow our fate will be sealed.
- Yesterday my troubles seemed so far away.
Adverbs of Purpose
Adverbs of purpose, sometimes called adverbs of reason, help to describe why something happened. They can come in the form of individual words – so, since, thus, because – but also clauses – so that, in order to. Notice in the examples that the adverbs of purpose are used to connect sentences that wouldn’t make sense if they were formed alone.
Adverbs of purpose examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- I was sick, thus didn’t go to work today.
- I started jogging so that I wouldn’t be late.
- Because I was late, I jogged a little faster.
- Since it’s your birthday, I will buy you a gift.
Positions of Adverbs
The positions of adverbs are not a fixed or set thing. As you have seen, adverbs can appear in different position in a sentence. However, there are some rules that help us decide where an adverb should be positioned. The rules will be different depending on whether the adverb is acting to modify an adjective or another adverb, a verb or what type of adverb it is.
Positional adverb examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
Adverb position with adjectives and other adverbs
These adverbs will usually be placed before the adjective or adverb being modified:
- We gave them a really tough match. The adverb really modifies the adjective tough.
- It was quite windy that night. The adverb quite modifies the adjective windy.
- We don’t go to the movies terribly often. The adverb terribly modifies the adverb often.
Adverb position with verbs
This can be a bit trickier because, it will depend on the type of adverb – place, position, time etc. – and there are many exceptions to the rules. However, a basic set of guidelines is shown below:
Adverbs of manner or place are usually positioned at the end of the sentence:
- She laughed timidly.
- I stroked the cat gently.
- Janine lived here.
- There is money everywhere.
As mentioned, if the adverb is of definite time it will be placed at the end of the sentence.
- I did it yesterday.
- We can discuss it tomorrow.
- Let’s go to Paris next week.
However, if it is an indefinite period of time, it will go between the subject and main verb.
- We often go to Paris in the springtime.
- Debbie regularly swims here.
- Bobby and Audrey always loved fishing by the lake.
Order of Adverbs
Adverb order is so important it has clear rules. It’s already mentioned that some adverbs will act to modify another, but how do you decide the structure of a sentence with several adverbs? Thankfully, there is a simple set of rules to follow, called the order of adverbs. Handily, the order of adverbs, sometimes also called the royal order of adverbs, can help us determine sentence structure too. In short, the adverbs get preference (are placed first) in the following order:
- Adverbs of manner.
- Adverbs of place.
- Adverbs of frequency.
- Adverbs of time.
- Adverbs of purpose.
Consider this sentence:
I run (verb) quickly (manner) down the road (place) every morning (frequency) before school (time) because (purpose) I might miss the bus.
While it is good to remember the order of adverbs, there is always flexibility with language, and we have already mentioned that adverbs of time and frequency can be placed at the start of a sentence to change the emphasis. So, bottom line: think of the order of adverbs as more of a guideline than a rule that can’t be broken.
Examples of Adverbs
As you read each of the following adverb examples, note that the adverbs have been italicized for easy identification. Consider how replacing the existing adverbs with different ones would change the meaning of each sentence.
- She was walking rapidly.
- The kids love playing together in the sandbox.
- Please come inside now.
- His jokes are always very
- You don’t really care, do you?
The following exercises will help you gain greater understanding about how adverbs work. Choose the best answer to complete each sentence.
- The driver stopped the bus _______________.
Answer: C. The driver stopped the bus abruptly.
- During autumn, colorful leaves can be seen falling ______________ from trees.
Answer: C. During autumn, colorful leaves can be seen falling gently from trees.
- My grandmother always smiled _______________.
Answer: A. My grandmother always smiled cheerfully.
- After the party, confetti was strewn _________________.
Answer: B. After the party, confetti was strewn everywhere.
- It’s time to go ____________.
Answer: B. It’s time to go now.
There are many different words that function as adverbs. The following list is broken down into segments which list adverbs by function. After reading, you will be able to think of additional adverbs to add to your own list – after all, there are thousands.
Many adverbs end in “-ly”. This makes it very easy to spot the adverbs in most sentences.
Some adverbs tell us where the action happened. These are known as adverbs of place.
Certain adverbs let us know when or how often the action happened. These are known as adverbs of time and adverbs of frequency.
Many adverbs tell us the extent of the action.
Some adverbs are used as intensifiers.
Certain adverbs called adverbs of manner tell us about the way in which something was done.
Some groups of words serve the same functions as adverbs. These are known as adverb clauses. Be sure to read the adverb clause section to learn new ways to make your sentences even more interesting.