An adverb is a word used to modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. An adverb usually modifies by telling how, when, where, why, under what conditions, or to what degree. An adverb is often formed by adding -ly to an adjective.
Conjunctive adverbs form a separate category because they serve as both conjunctions (they connect) and adverbs (they modify). Groups of words can also function as adverb phrases or adverb clauses.
(In the examples below, the adverb is in bold and the modified word is underlined.)
1. An adverb can modify a verb.
The girls ran quickly but happily through the puddle. (The adverbs quickly and happily modify the verb ran by telling how.)
Go to the administration office first, and then come to class. (The adverb first modifies the verb go, and the adverb then modifies the verb come. Both modify the verbs by telling when.)
They are moving her office upstairs. (The adverb upstairs modifies the verb moving by telling where.)
2. An adverb can modify an adjective. The adverb usually clarifies the degree or intensity of the adjective.
Maria was almost finished when they brought her an exceptionally delicious dessert. (The adverb almost modifies the adjective finished and exceptionally modifies delicious by describing the degree or intensity of the adjectives.)
He was very happy about being so good at such an extremely challenging sport. (The adverb very modifies the adjective happy, so modifies good, and extremely modifies challenging by describing the degree or intensity of the adjectives.)
Students are often entertained and sometimes confused, but never bored in that class. (The adverb often modifies the adjective entertained, sometimes modifies confused, and never modifies bored by describing the degree or intensity of the adjectives.)
3. An adverb can modify another adverb. The modifying adverb usually clarifies the degree or intensity of the adverb.
Eating her lunch somewhat cautiously, Carolyn tried to ignore the commotion. (The adverb somewhat modifies the adverb cautiously by telling to what degree.)
Stan can discuss the English language very thoroughly. (The adverb very modifies the adverb thoroughly by telling to what degree.)
Even in the other room, Vickilee was never completely unaware of the crying kittens. (The adverb never modifies the adverb completely by telling to what degree.)
Additional Notes on Adverbs
In addition to the rules that apply to the use of adverbs, the following points further discuss their formation and function.
- Adverbs are often made by adding -ly to an adjective.
adjective: slow adverb: slowly
adjective: deep adverb: deeply
adjective: fair adverb: fairly
Ø However, not all words that end in -ly are adverbs!
nouns: family, homily, rally, lily
adjectives: friendly, worldly, lovely, sly
- Some common adverbs do not originate from adjectives.
Some adverbs modify by negating a statement. These are referred to as negative adverbs.
Ø When using negative adverbs, be careful to avoid a double negative.
(Incorrect double negative)
He can’t hardly understand the words of the speaker.
He can hardly understand the words of the speaker.
(See TIP Sheet “Avoiding Modifier Problems” regarding “limiters” for further information on negative adverbs.)
- In order to form the comparative or superlative forms of adverbs, add the ending of -er or -est to certain adverbs of only one syllable (fast, faster, fastest). However, all adverbs which end in -ly and most adverbs of more than one syllable form the comparative and superlative with the addition of more or most.
Todd drives faster than I do, but I get there sooner and more efficiently by taking a shorter route. Amy drives most slowly of all of us.
Words that function as adverbs (telling how, when, where, why, under what conditions, or to what degree) and which also function as conjunctions (joining grammatical parts) are called conjunctive adverbs.
- Conjunctive adverbs
accordingly finally likewise similarly
also furthermore meanwhile specifically
anyway hence moreover still
besides however nevertheless subsequently
certainly incidentally next then
consequently indeed nonetheless therefore
conversely instead otherwise thus
Conjunctive adverbs join and create transitions between independent clauses. A conjunctive adverb may begin a sentence and is often followed by a comma. When place between independent clauses, a conjunctive adverb is preceded by a semicolon and is usually followed by a comma.
Her husband is a rice farmer; consequently, these days he is busy from sunrise until nightfall. Nevertheless, he is still home every night to read his sons a story.
Adverb Phrases and Adverb Clauses
Sometimes groups of words function together to form an adverb phrase or adverb clause.
- Adverb prepositional phrase
The puppy is sleeping under my desk. (Under my desk is a prepositional phrase that functions as an adverb because it modifies the verb sleeping by telling where.)
- Adverb infinitive phrase
To prevent the theft of your food, use a locked cabinet to store your camp supplies. (To prevent the theft of your food is an infinitive phrase that functions as an adverb because it modifies the verb use by telling why.)
- Adverb dependent clause
Marco departed before the storm arrived. (Before the storm arrived is a dependent clause that modifies the verb departed by telling when.)