6.4.1 An adverb is a word or phrase that we use to describe or give more information about a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.
verb: We ran quickly.
adjective: The film was absolutely rubbish.
adverb: We ran rather quickly.
Using an adverb makes the sentence more interesting, because it adds relevant and potentially helpful information. For example:
without an adverb: He walked away.
with an adverb: He walked away angrily.
6.4.2 What is the difference between adjectives and adverbs? An adjective describes a noun or noun phrase, whereas an adverb describes a verb, an adjective or another adverb. For example:
adjective: Her dad was kind.
adverb: Her dad spoke to me kindly.
6.4.3 Adverbs represent a large class of words in English. They can be content words or function words. We often think about adverbs as words that end with the suffix ‘-ly’ – for example, quickly, usually, hopefully. However, lots of words that you wouldn’t expect are adverbs – for example, soon, quite, there, and already. Even ‘however’ at the start of the previous sentence is an adverb. Even ‘even’ can be an adverb. You get the idea!
100 Words You Didn’t Know Were Adverbs – Ordered by Type
We tend to think of adverbs as words like easily, gladly, and calmly, which are adverbs of manner, or words like frequently, usually, and rarely, which are adverbs of frequency. We may focus on adverbs of frequency at beginner and elementary levels because they connect well with elementary tenses like present simple. But there is more to adverbs than these two groups, as we shall see below.
An adverb will have one of three forms:
with the suffix ‘-ly’, e.g. completely
with the same form as an adjective, e.g. fast | a fast car (adjective) | the car was driven fast (adverb)
neither of the above, e.g. too. This category includes function words such as here and there, as well as prepositional adverbs (adverbs which look like prepositions) such as in and off (see 6.4.11)
Some grammar experts claim that if a content word cannot easily be identified as a noun, verb, adjective, or preposition, it is probably an adverb. Equally, we can say that if a word or phrase modifies something other than a noun, it’s probably an adverb. Adverbs are perhaps the only class of word in English which are non-essential. For example, we can make a sentence without an adverb, but not without a verb:
6.4.4 Word order: there are three main positions for an adverb in a clause – front, middle, and end:
Front: Fortunately we had time to finish the project.
Middle: The project was too difficult to finish.
End: I finished the project easily.
6.4.5 These are the most common kinds of adverb:
- Adverbs of manner give information about how we do something.
Common examples: quickly, happily, badly, fast, well, hard, so, loud
Word order: adverbs of manner often come at the end of a clause. In SVOPT word order adverbs of manner come after the object and before the place and time:
SVOPT becomes SVOMPT: subject – verb – object – manner – place – time.
We can add an adverb of frequency before the main verb (or after if the main verb is BE):
- Adverbs of time give information about when something happens.
Common examples: then, now, soon, late, later, already, yesterday, today, tonight, tomorrow, daily, early
Word order: adverbs of time often come at the end of a clause.
- Adverbs of place give information about where something happens.
Common examples: here, there, abroad, somewhere, everywhere, anywhere, nowhere, back, backward, forward, inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, north, south, east, west, together
Word order: adverbs of place often come at the end of a clause.
- Adverbs of frequency give information about how often something happens.
Common examples: always, frequently, usually, normally, often, sometimes, seldom, rarely, never, ever, once, twice
Word order: middle – adverbs of frequency come before the main verb, unless it is BE, when they come after.
- Adverbs of probability give information about how likely something is to happen.
Common examples: maybe, perhaps, possibly, probably, definitely, undoubtedly, certainly, clearly
Word order: middle – adverbs of probability usually come before the main verb, unless it is BE, when they come after. Perhaps and maybe normally come at the beginning of a clause.
- Adverbs of duration give information about how long something will take / last.
Common examples: briefly, temporarily, long, permanently, forever
Word order: adverbs of duration usually come at the end of a clause.
- Adverbs of degree give information about to what degree something happens.
Common examples: largely, greatly, almost, as, even, too, very, still, enough, hardly, totally, completely, entirely, enormously, pretty, nearly, less, little, more, most, much, no, not, wide
Word order: adverbs of degree usually come in the middle part of the clause, before the modified word or phrase.
- Adverbs of emphasis – also known as intensifiers – give emphasis to a word or phrase.
Common examples: just, quite, really, simply, absolutely, positively, undoubtedly
Word order: adverbs of emphasis usually come in the middle part of the clause, before the modified word or phrase.
- Adverbs of viewpoint – also known as commenting adverbs – give information about the speaker’s or writer’s point of view.
Common examples: generally, obviously, clearly, luckily, fortunately, unfortunately, presumably, unbelievably, thankfully, incredibly
Word order: adverbs of viewpoint usually come at the front of the clause, but can sometimes occur before the modified word or phrase, as in the case of generally.
- Conjunctive adverbs indicate that additional information follows.
Common examples: also, besides, furthermore, moreover, next, again, similarly, meanwhile
Word order: conjunctive adverbs usually come at the front of the clause.
- Linking adverbs introduce clauses.
Common examples: firstly, secondly, thirdly, additionally, finally, however, therefore, nevertheless, though
Word order: linking adverbs usually come at the front of the clause.
- Interrogative adverbs – which are part of the group called wh question words – are used to make questions which are intended to give information rather than a yes or no answer, for example: ‘When did he arrive?’
They are: where, wherever (place), when, whenever (time), how, however (manner or degree), why (reason)
Word order: interrogative adverbs come at the front of the clause.
6.4.6 Summary of word order for adverbs in a clause. Note: this is general advice; there may be cases – such as using emphasis – when the word order can change:
6.4.7 An adverbial phrase is a phrase that works like an adverb, describing or giving more information about a verb, an adjective, or another adverb, for example in relation to time, place and frequency:
time: See you in a minute.
place: We went to the shops.
frequency: He has a cup of tea twice a day.
Here is a full list of categories of adverbial phrases with examples:
Word order: as you can see from 6.4.5, above, we can add more than one adverbial phrase to a sentence, but we generally need to follow this word order:
6.4.8 An adverbial clause is a clause that does the same job as an adverbial phrase, but is a clause in its own right, with a main verb. For example:
time: He is happy whenever his grandchildren visit.
place: Claire went to Swansea, where her mum lives.
result: Geoff loved music, so he played his guitar every day.
Here are the main categories of adverbial clause:
6.4.9 Comparative and superlative forms:
Adverbs have comparative and superlative forms, which can be categorised as follows:
a) With ‘-ly’ adverbs we use more (than) and (the) most:
- We washed the car happily
- We washed the car more happily than them.
- We washed the car the most hopefully.
- We travelled hopefully.
- We travelled more hopefully than them.
- We travelled the most hopefully.
b) Adverbs that look like adjectives have the same comparative and superlative forms as adjectives: -er and -est. For example:
- We arrived late.
- We arrived later than them.
- We arrived the latest.
- We travelled fast
- We travelled faster than them.
- We travelled the fastest.
c) Some adverbs have irregular comparative and superlative forms, for example:
- Polly did well in the exam.
- Polly did better than me in the exam.
- Polly did the best in the exam.
- We ate little.
- We ate less than you.
- We ate the least.
6.4.10 Most adverbs exist – along with adjectives, nouns, and verbs – in word families. The words in a word family often look similar because they are based on a root word + suffix. For example:
As you can see in the examples above, we can change the form of words by adding suffixes. The suffixes that we use vary by word type:
It is a good idea to learn word families as a group, rather than as four separate elements. (See exercises below.)
6.4.11 Although adverbs are often content words, many are function words (see 6.4.3), for example prepositional adverbs like:
around, away, back, down, in, off, on, out, up
…and so on. These adverbs look identical to prepositions. The difference comes in how they are used in a sentence. We can use them as particles in phrasal verbs, e.g. ‘go away!’ If a phrasal verb has an object (it is transitive), the particle will be a preposition:
‘Get on the bus!’
If a phrasal verb does not have an object (it is intransitive), the particle will be an adverb:
‘My brothers do not get on.’
Here are some more examples:
There are also some three-word phrasal verbs that use an adverb followed by a preposition, for example:
- dine out on sth
- bow out of sth
- change out of sth
- fit in with sth / sby
- put up with sth / sby
- get out of sth
6.4.12 As we said in 6.4.3, above, adverbs are often words that have a ‘-ly’ suffix. However, there is a small group of common words in everyday English that end in ‘-ly’ but are not adverbs. It is worth remembering them, so that we do not get them mixed up with adverbs. For example:
adjectives not adverbs:
cleanly, daily, early, grumbly, hourly, likely, lovely, only, silly, smelly, ugly, weekly, etc.
verbs not adverbs:
ally, apply, comply, imply, rely, reply, supply, etc.
nouns not adverbs:
ally, anomaly, assembly, family, holly, jelly, lolly, rally, Sally (proper noun), welly, etc.