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What is an Adverb?

An adverb is a word that is used to change or qualify the meaning of an adjective, a verb, a clause, another adverb, or any other type of word or phrase with the exception of determiners and adjectives that directly modify nouns.

Traditionally considered to be a single part of speech, adverbs perform a wide variety of functions, which makes it difficult to treat them as a single, unified category. Adverbs normally carry out these functions by answering questions such as:

  • When? She always arrives early.
  • How? He drives carefully.
  • Where? They go everywhere together.
  • In what way? She eats slowly.
  • To what extent? It is terribly hot.

This is called adverbial function and may be accomplished by adverbial clauses and adverbial phrases as well as by adverbs that stand alone.

There are many rules for using adverbs, and these rules often depend upon which type of adverb you are using. Remember these basics, and using adverbs to make sentences more meaningful will be easier for you.

  • Adverbs can always be used to modify verbs. Notice that the second of these two sentences is much more interesting simply because it contains an adverb:
    • The dog ran. (You can picture a dog running, but you don't really know much more about the scene.)
    • The dog ran excitedly. (You can picture a dog running, wagging its tail, panting happily, and looking glad to see its owner. You can paint a much more interesting picture in your head when you know how or why the dog is running.)
  • Adverbs are often formed by adding the letters "-ly" to adjectives. This makes is very easy to identify adverbs in sentences. There are many exceptions to this rule; everywhere, nowhere, and upstairs are a few examples.
  • An adverb can be used to modify an adjective and intensify the meaning it conveys. For example:
    • He plays tennis well. (He knows how to play tennis and sometimes he wins.)
    • He plays tennis extremely well. (He knows how to play tennis so well that he wins often.)

As you read the following adverb examples, you'll notice how these useful words modify other words and phrases by providing information about the place, time, manner, certainty, frequency, or other circumstances of activity denoted by the verbs or verb phrases in the sentences.

Examples of Adverbs

As you read each of the following adverb examples, note that the adverbs have been italicized for easy identification. Consider how replacing the existing adverbs with different ones would change the meaning of each sentence.

  1. She was walking rapidly.
  2. The kids love playing together in the sandbox.
  3. Please come inside now.
  4. His jokes are always very funny.
  5. You don’t really care, do you?