Adverbs

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What is an Adverb?

An adverb is a word that modifies the meaning of a verbOpens in new window, adjectiveOpens in new window or another adverb.

Adverbs provide information about how, when, where, or to what extent an action is performed or an attribute is possessed. They often answer questions such as "how," "when," "where," and "to what degree."

Consider the following examples:
    • She talks fast.
    • (modifying the verb talks)

    • She talks very fast
    • (modifying the adverb very)

    • The kolanut was very bitter.
    • (modifying the adjective bitter)

Adverbs primarily provide further information about how, where, when, why, and to what extent something or action occurs.

If you carefully glance at the examples again, you may see that in the first sentence, the adverb fast modifies the verb talks; it tells how or in what manner she talks.

In the second, the adverb very modifies the other adverb fast.

In the third sentence, the adverb very, modifies the adjective bitter and tells us how bitter the kolanut was.

Adverbs, most times, may consist of a single word, which is known as simple adverb, or contain two words joined together—known as compound adverb, or adverbial phrase, as it's also called.

In some occasion an adverb may modify a whole clause or sentence. See the sentences below:

  • Impressively the audience were well entertained.
  • Unfortunately, our friend didn’t turn up.

Most adverbs are formed by adding an –ly ending to an adjective, as:

brilliantly, slowly, immensely, tactically, etc.

However, in some cases the spelling of the adjectival stem may alter with the addition of the adverbial ending as with “easily,” “truly,” etc. Moreso, some adverbs retain their adjectival form and do not require an –ly ending, as with “arrive,” “fast,” “late,” etc.

Important! 

Note that some adverbs can be used in comparative and superlative forms as with — more completely,” “less quietly,” “most richly decorated” and may have specific comparative and superlative forms as with — fast and hard“fast/faster/fastest,” “hard/harder/hardest”.

Some may have irregular comparative and superlative forms as with “well/better/best,” “badly/worse/worst”.

Phrases that Act as Adverbs

PhrasesOpens in new window can sometimes take the role of adverbs in English. Some of these include:

  1. Adverbial clause

    When a group of words which contains a subjectOpens in new window and a verbOpens in new window functions as adverb and modifies a verb in the sentence, it is known as adverbial clauseOpens in new window.

    • When the class teacher comes, she will teach us a new topic.
    • Andy seems so intelligent because he spent more time on studies.
  2. Adverbial phrase

    When a group of words without a subjectOpens in new window and a verbOpens in new window functions as an adverb; it takes the place of adverbial phraseOpens in new window in a sentence.

    For Example:
    • After his team lost, he came home sitting in silence.
    • I met an old-time friend last night.
  3. Prepositional phrase

    A prepositional phrase is a group of words which contains a prepositionOpens in new window and a nounOpens in new window or noun phraseOpens in new window functions as an adverb of timeOpens in new window, or adverb of placeOpens in new window to modify the verbOpens in new window.

    For Example:
    • They went through the back door.
    • She visits on weekends.
  4. Infinitive phrase

    An infinitive phrase is when a group of words that contains the infinitive toOpens in new window plus the base formOpens in new window of a verbOpens in new window either with or without a modifier or complement takes the role of adverb in a sentence.

    For Example:
    • She hurried home to prepare dinner
    • He came often on weekends to see us.

The Holy Grail Order of Adverbs

Naturally, adverbs are flexible and can appear anywhere in a sentence. However, in cases where adverbs in a sentence are more than one, there is a basic order—as shown below—in which the adverbs will appear. Remember that these guidelines are not strict rules, and the order of adverbs can be adjusted for emphasis or clarity. Additionally, some adverbs can function in multiple ways, so their placement may vary based on the intended meaning of the sentence.

  1. Verb
  2. Manner
  3. Place
  4. Frequency
  5. Time
  6. Purpose

The following sentences has been constructed in the above order.

Example I
  • Andy exercises | passionately | at home | every morning | before dawn | to keep in shape.
Observe the order below:
  1. Verb — Andy exercises
  2. Manner — passionately
  3. Place — at home
  4. Frequency — every morning
  5. Time — before dawn
  6. Purpose — to keep in shape
Example II
  • Gretchen studies | intensively | in the library | every day | at break time | to improve her grades.
Observe the order below:
  1. Verb — Gretchen studies
  2. Manner — intensively
  3. Place — in the library
  4. Frequency — every day
  5. Time — at break time
  6. Purpose — to improve her grades
Example III
  • She spoke | enthusiastically | on TV | [-] | during the weekend show | to encourage her audience.
Observe the order below:
  1. Verb — She spoke
  2. Manner — enthusiastically
  3. Place — on TV
  4. Frequency — [-]
  5. Time — during the weekend show
  6. Purpose — to encourage her audience
Example IV
  • Mum visits | [-] | the mall | every day | after work | to buy groceries.
Observe the order below:
  1. Verb — Mum visits
  2. Manner — [-]
  3. Place — the mall
  4. Frequency — every day
  5. Time — after work
  6. Purpose — to buy groceries
Example V
  • Shane reads | quietly | in his room | every evening | before dinner | to improve his vocabularies.
Observe the order below:
  1. Verb — Shane reads
  2. Manner — quietly
  3. Place — in his room
  4. Frequency — every evening
  5. Time — before dinner
  6. Purpose — to improve his vocabularies

In actual practice, it would be highly unusual to have a string of adverbial modifiers beyond two or three (at the most).

Because the placement of adverbs is so flexible, one or two of the modifiers would probably move to the beginning of the sentenceOpens in new window.

When that happens, the introductory adverbial modifiers are usually set off with a comma.

For Example:
  • Every afternoon before supper, Dad impatiently walks into town to get a newspaper.

More Guides on Adverbs Order

As a general principle, shorter adverbial phrases precede longer adverbial phrases, regardless of content.

In the following sentence (notice that a bar separates the adverbs), an adverb of time precedes an adverb of frequency because it is shorter (and simpler):

  • Dad takes a brisk walk before breakfast | every day of his life.

A second principle is this: among similar adverbial phrases of kind (manner, place, frequency, etc.), the more specific adverbial phrase comes first:

  • My grandmother was born in a sod house | on the plains of northern Nebraska.

Bringing an adverbial modifier to the beginning of the sentence can place special emphasis on that modifier. This is particularly useful with adverbs of manner:

  • Slowly, ever so carefully, Jesse filled the coffee cup up to the brim, even above the brim.
  • Occasionally, but only occasionally, one of these lemons will get by the inspectors.
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