Adverbs are words that typically modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb or an entire sentence:

  • ‘I keep hoping they'll come back,’ Tanya said despairingly. [W2F-006 #244]

In this case the adverb modifies the verb said.

  • It’s a very fast road all the way. [S1A-021 #195]

In this case the adverb modifies the adjective fast.

In the next example the adverb very modifies the adverb rarely, and in turn very rarely is an adverb phrase that modifies the verb worked:

  • And we very rarely worked with disabled. [S1A-002 #64]

Finally, in the example below the adverb unfortunately modifies the whole sentence:

  • Unfortunately, his emotion appeared to get in the way of his reasoning. [W1B-013 #65]

Many adverbs end in -ly and this is a form test that can be often applied to them. But not all do, and there are also some words that end in -ly that aren’t adverbs (lonely, ugly, silly).

What you may also notice is that many adverbs are composed by adding -ly to adjectives. Examples of -ly adverbs like this are:


Many adverbs, like adjectives, are gradable. Gradable adverbs can be modified with very and extremely:

  • Apply it very slowly.[S2A-054 #23]
  • Trim and wash the leeks extremely thoroughly to remove any sand or dirt. [W2D-020 #133]

Here, the adverbs very and extremely modify the adverbs slowly and thoroughly. Very and extremely are called degree adverbs because they tell us to what degree the adverb applies.

Other examples of degree adverbs are shown below:

  • Negotiations were conducted almost exclusively at this level. [W2B-016 #59]
  • It was absolutely totally idiotic. [S1A-056 #286]
  • Tanya appeared quite relieved as the telephone rang. [W2F-006 #173]

Many adverbs can also be formed into comparative and superlative forms with the addition or -er or -est, examples being:

  • John works hard — Mary works harder — I work hardest

However, many don't take such forms, and therefore need to be used with more or most in front of them instead.

Examples of adverbs needing more and most are:

  • You learn how to behave more generally. [S1B-003 #116]
  • The implication is that physical illnesses can be diagnosed more reliably than can mental illnesses. [W1A-007 #66]
  • This is expressed most effectively by the main character among the boys... [W1B-013 #18]
  • He wasn’t sure which loss he would feel most keenly. [W2F-012 #89]
  • Buckton was by far the most seriously injured. [W2C-014 #132]

Adverbs can express many different types of meanings. The following are just a few examples.

  • direction: They moved forward/sideways/ahead.
  • frequency: He always/never/often exercises before breakfast.
  • manner: She did her work slowly/cheerfully/carefully.
  • time: I’ll call her now/soon/later.
  • place: I’ll wait here/downstairs/outside.

See also: adverb phrase.


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