Adverb identification

Applying the semantic and structural criteria for adverbs

In this activity, students work through the criteria for identifying adverbs.


  • Practise identifying adverbs.
  • Recognise linguistic criteria for identifying adverbs.
  • Remember the list of adverb criteria for use and application later on.

Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students move beyond what is called the notional or semantic way of identifying adverbs as words that describe verbs, adjectives, clauses, or other adverbs, to instead explore grammatical ways of identifying adverbs. Although notional definitions can be useful, they do not always work. For example, adjectives can also be said to be 'describing words'. Beginning with notional or semantic definitions is useful for younger students and beginners, but older students should move further into the kind of grammatical analysis presented here.

Activity 1

In Activity 1, in the right hand menu, Slide 1 asks students to categorise a series of tiles as adverbs or not adverbs. They should use their intuition and what they've already learned. A third column is for uncertain cases.

In Slide 2, students are presented with the classic notional definition of an adverb, and asked to categorise the words again.

Then, in Slide 3, students are presented with the first important grammatical criterion for defining adjectives. Some adverbs can take the comparative -er suffix and the superlative -est suffix if the adverb is two syllables or fewer. Note that nouns, verbs, conjunctions, and prepositions cannot take comparative or superlative suffixes. Adjectives can, though, (and not all adverbs can) so this criterion isn't foolproof! The students can now group the tiles using this piece of knowledge.

In Slide 4, students see another criterion for defining adverbs, and are asked to group the word tiles again. This time, they should consider that adverbs cannot be plural - they cannot fit into a phrase like two ___s or three ___s.

In Slide 5, the criterion states that adverbs cannot show tense with the -ed suffix. Only verbs can do that.

Finally, in Slide 6, students see that adverbs cannot be in predicative position. In predicative position, words like adjectives occur after a form of be (or seem, appear, etc.), as in the shoe is big. Note that the shoe is quickly is not acceptable because quickly is an adverb.

Some students may notice ambiguity with some example words. For example, faster can be an adjective, as in That rabbit is faster than the other one, but can also be an adverb, as in This rabbit is running faster than the turtle. What does this mean? This illustrates the important point that some word forms can represent multiple meanings and multiple word classes

Activity 2

In Activity 2, students are provided with an example sentence and a highlighted word in context. Below the example is a list of the criteria for identifying adverbs. Students should ask each question, and determine whether the word in context is an adverb.

Moving forward, students should remember these criteria for labelling adverbs, and use the criteria for identifying adverbs in future work and in exams. Repeated practice like that provided in this lesson should help students retain the criteria.

Teachers' Notes

Not all adverbs will fit every criterion, but a word that fits most criteria is probably an adverb. Much of the detective work in grammatical analysis comes from the borderline cases and difficult words. For example, some adverbs, including many in the exercise, cannot take an -er or -est suffix. Professional linguists continue to debate some difficult words, and there may not be a final answer on some of the most tricky ones. With that in mind, the criteria here allow you to analyse a word systematically, and you can be sure that if the word class that a word belongs to is difficult to determine based on these criteria, then it just isn't easy to analyse at all!


Englicious is totally free for everyone to use!

But in exchange, we ask that you register for an account on our site.

If you’ve already registered, you can log in straight away.

Since this is your first visit today, you can see this page by clicking the button below.


Englicious (C) Survey of English Usage, UCL, 2012-21 | Supported by the AHRC and EPSRC. | Privacy | Cookies