Adverb of Manner in Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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June Casagrande advises us to "[w]atch out for manner adverbs that add no solid information".

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In English grammar, an adverb of manner is an adverb (such as quickly or slowly) that describes how and in what way an action, denoted by a verb, is carried out. These adverbs are also called manner adverbs or manner adverbials.

Most adverbs of manner are formed by adding -ly to adjectives, but there are important exceptions (such as well). In most cases, the comparative and superlative of manner adverbs are formed with more (or less) and most (or least), respectively.

Adverbs of manner most often appear ​after a verb or at the end of a verb phrase (but see the notes on positioning below)."It is adverbs of manner," says Rodney Huddleston, "that are most freely modified by other adverbs (normally of degree): She spoke very quietly," (Huddleston 1984).

Examples and Observations

This list gives several examples of adverbs of manner from literature. As you read through these, practice identifying which actions are being modified.

  • "Fenweather spoke sharply, and brought his head around towards me," (Chandler 1988).
  • Mr. Legree walked slowly to the front of the room and spoke to the children softly but firmly.
  • My grandmother complained loudly about the temperature of the room.
  • When President Madison sent troops into West Florida in 1810, Federalists loudly complained about the expansive use of presidential power.
  • Plantings that had been carefully arranged to frame natural or architectural features were carelessly cleared away.
  • "Cautiously, gently, I touch the slide," (Gavell 2001).
  • "She flushed and, as people will do who are unable, or are too young to discuss impersonally subjects on which they hold strong opinions, she spoke aggressively,"​ (Waugh 2012).
  • "Here the excellent tenor player, Prince Robinson, holds forth for three-quarters of a chorus, easily demonstrating why Coleman Hawkins and other musicians thought so highly of him. Not quite as consistently energetic as Hawkins, he could at times match him in inventiveness," (Schuller 1989).

Positioning Manner Adverbs

Author Eva Engels explains that manner adverbs are somewhat restricted in where they may be placed in a sentence. "Certain types of adverbs are excluded from certain positions. For example, a manner adverb may immediately precede the main verb, following a nonfinite auxiliary (1.7a), but it cannot precede a finite or non-finite auxiliary (1.7b,c).

(1.7a) The prisoner has been loudly proclaiming his innocence.
(1.7b) *The prisoner has loudly been proclaiming his innocence.
(1.7c) *The prisoner loudly has been proclaiming his innocence.

... Nevertheless, a manner adverb may occur in a clause-initial position:

(1.81) Loudly, the prisoner has been proclaiming his innocence," (Engels 2012).

Manner Adverbs That Modify Clauses

Manner adverbs have some flexibility in where they are placed, but precisely where they are positioned determines their function. Based on placement alone, the same manner adverbs can take on slightly (or drastically) different meanings. Here's what Ron Cowan has to say about this. "Adverbs can also modify clauses. Compare the two sentences in (61).

(61a) He answered the question foolishly.
(61b) Foolishly, he answered the question.

In (61a), foolishly is a manner adverbial. It describes how he answered the question, that is, he gave a foolish answer. However, in (61b) foolishly is not a manner adverb. It is an evaluation of what he did. Answering the question was a foolish act. We do not know why it was foolish to do this, but the speaker feels that it was. Adverbs that make a comment about the entire sentence are called adjuncts,"
(Cowan 2008).

See another example of manner adverbials modifying clauses from Personality: A Cognitive Approach: "If we all behaved rationally, presumably we would all reach similar conclusions on the basis of the same available information," (Brunas-Wagstaff 1998).

Avoiding Filler Manner Adverbs

If you want to be a strong writer, don't just use adverbs of manner whenever you can. Some manner adverbs are more useful than others, and June Casagrande gives a helpful word of warning about this. "Watch out for manner adverbs that add no solid information: extremely, very, really, incredibly, unbelievably, astonishingly, totally, truly, currently, presently, formerly, previously.

Also watch out for ones that try too hard to add impact to actions: cruelly, happily, wantonly, angrily, sexily, alluringly, menacingly, blissfully. All these words have their place. They appear in the best writing, but more often they're found in the worst writing. So consider them red flags and weigh their use carefully," (Casagrande 2010).

Classroom Activity With Manner Adverbs

Looking for a way to incorporate manner adverbs into your English teaching? Try this activity from Penny Ur. "One student goes outside, and the others choose a manner adverb (for example, 'quickly' or 'angrily'). The student returns and orders one of the members of the class to do an action by saying, for example, 'Stand up!' or 'Write your name on the board!' or 'Open the door!' The person addressed has to carry out the command according to the manner adverb chosen: to stand up quickly, or write their name angrily, for example. The student has to guess what the manner adverb was," (Ur 1992).

Sources

  • Brunas-Wagstaff, Jo. Personality: A Cognitive Approach. Routledge, 1998
  • Casagrande, June. It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences. 1st ed., Ten Speed Press, 2010.
  • Chandler, Raymond. "Finger Man." Trouble Is My Business. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1988.
  • Cowan, Ron. The Teacher's Grammar of English: A Course Book and Reference Guide. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Engels, Eva. Optimizing Adverb Positions. John Benjamins, 2012.
  • Gavell, Mary Ladd. "The Rotifer." I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly. 1st ed., Random House, 2001.
  • Huddleston, Rodney. Introduction to the Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 1984.
  • Schuller, Gunther. The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945. Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Ur, Penny. Five-Minute Activities: A Resource Book of Short Activities. 23rd ed., Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Waugh, Alec. Kept: A Story of Post-War London. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.