What Is an Adverb?
Adverbs are confusing to both native and native speakers of English alike. One reason is that there are different types of adverbs, another is that they perform different roles, and a third reason is that they can be inserted into different places of a sentence (the beginning, the middle, or even the end).
Many of us know adverbs as words that modify verbs. They often end in 'ly' and answer questions as 'how', 'when', 'where', 'why', 'to what extent', 'how often'. Adverbs also modify adjectives (eg. a very cold day--how cold was it? very cold. The word 'very' modifies the adjective 'cold'. Adverbs also modify other adverbs.
What kinds of adverbs are there? There are at least eight different kinds of adverbs and these are adverbs of manner, adverbs of frequency, adverbs of time and place, adverbs of relative time, adverbs of degree, adverbs of quantity, adverbs that focus, adverbs that function as attitude markers.
Adverbs of Manner
Examples: carefully; slowly
What they do: These modifiers explain how something is done.
More examples: He opened the box quickly. He smacked her rigorously.
What sentence position: We find adverbs of manner most often at the end of a clause as follows:
- After a verb: You spoke persuasively.
- After an object: You described everything persuasively.
- After an adverbial: You describe everything to the board persuasively.
You can change the position of the adverb for stylistic reasons that add emphasis
- Before the subject: Slowly, she arose from the bed and began her day
- Before a verb: She slowly and carefully, took the fragile glass object from the shelf and put it on the table.
- Between an object and an adverbial: She put the glass bowl carefully into the cupboard.
Adverbs of Frequency
What they do: These adverbs tell us how frequently we do things or how often things are done.
More examples: She never takes out the garbage. They don't always attend church.
What sentence position: Generally, adverbs of frequency go right before the main verb.
More examples: She never cleans the house. They don't always participate in discussions.
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Two auxiliary verbs: Place an adverb of frequency in between two auxiliary verbs.
Example: They would often visit us when we were growing up.
- They were always the strongest students in the class.
- Is he often this late?
Front and end sentence positions.
For emphasis, adverbs such as sometimes, usually, often and occasionally can be placed at the end or the beginning of an independent clause.
- I need to visit her often.
- Sometimes he can be so infuriating
Adverbs of Relative Time
Examples: just, afterward, soon, currently, presently, recently.
What they do: These adverbs give us information about when an action took place or an occurrence of an event in relation to another point in time.
- More examples: He is currently studying in Canada. They're just leaving. I'll be home soon.
- What sentence position: Use before the main verb or between two auxiliary verbs.
- More examples: I just returned home. They just left. I have just been looking for this.
Afterward and soon. Use these adverbs at the end of a clause.
Example: We are going afterward. We'll be arriving soon.
Currently, recently and presently can
- are placed at the end of a main clause: She's trying to finish reading the book currently.
- come between two auxiliary verbs: She has recently been arriving late to work.
- go in front of a main verb: I'll presently be going to the store
- are placed at the beginning of a clause (more formal written English: Presently, she stood up and left the room.
Special adverbs: already, still, yet
The meaning of these is determined by context.
Consider: "Do you know the results?" and "Do you know the results, yet?" (The sentence indicates we are both waiting for results. The second sentence is more emphatic)
Where in the sentence?
Already, still and yet can go
- immediately before the main verb: I already knew that. I still use the earlier version.
- between the verb (to) be and the complement: They're still teenagers.
- at the end of a clause: I know already. I am using the earlier version still. I didn't know that yet.
Adverbs of Degree
These are also known as
- intensifiers (strengthen adverbs adjectives and adverbs): extremely, very, really
- and down- toners (make them weaker): fairly, quite, rather
Examples: We are very hungry. We ran fairly quickly.
- What sentence position: Used before the word it qualifies. (e.g.) very old, terribly slowly.
With modal verbs, place the adverb before the word you want to qualify. Consider the following:
- You really must get some rest.
- You must really get some rest.
Adverbs of Quantity
Examples: A lot, a little, much
What they do: Give the reader information about quantity.
Sentence position: Usually at the end of a clause
She wept a lot/a little. He doesn't each a lot/much.
Examples: even, particularly, especially, specifically, merely, only, just, also, either, purely, too.
What they do: single out information, express restriction or refer back to something. Each adverb has its own rules about what kinds of words it can be used with and where it comes in the sentence. Check with a good dictionary.
More examples: Even, only, also. The sentence position is flexible, and the position of each of these words in a sentence will change its meaning. Usually, they are placed before the item they are qualifying.
- Even: this word indicates surprise. Everyone is lying--even you.
- Only: Used to express restriction. I was only asking you for a few dollars.
- Also: This word adds information. You have to teach the positive form of verbs and also the question form.
Lecture on Adverbs
Adverbs as Attitude Markers
Examples: Apparently, hopefully, naturally, clearly.
What they do: Interpret events or convey our beliefs towards them and serve as adverbs of manner.
Sentence position: Flexible
- I'll call you, naturally.
- Clearly, you can't take direction
- Hopefully, they will arrive tomorrow
- They'll be there, hopefully.
- Obviously, no one else cared either.
- You'll naturally want your money back.
Eiddwen from Wales on November 05, 2012:
Very interesting and thanks for sharing,.
Rhonda Malomet (author) from Toronto, Canada on October 30, 2012:
One of the problems of English as I am learning in my linguistics course is the difference between "prescriptive" and "descriptive' grammar. We have all kinds of rules that certainly govern the written more than the spoken. And depending on your perspective the descriptive grammar (what we often use, as oppose to what we should use) often wins.
Brad Masters from Southern California on October 30, 2012:
Great hub, and it was organized so it is very easy to read, and understand the subject of adverb.
On a personal note, I think that the use of "badly" doesn't enhance its more common but incorrect use of the work bad.
It went very badly.
It went very bad.
Grammar aside, I think both send the send message and meaning.
Rhonda Malomet (author) from Toronto, Canada on October 30, 2012:
we all need to refresh!
RTalloni on October 30, 2012:
Nicely done and should be helpful to many who are learning to be speakers and writers of the English language. Not a bad idea for the rest of us to refresh ourselves on old lessons, either!