adverb

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Starbucks coffee cup
On this label, the word extremely is an adverb that modifies the adjective hot. James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

Definition

An adverb is the part of speech (or word class) that's primarily used to modify a verb, adjective, or other adverb. Adverbs can also modify prepositional phrases, subordinate clauses, and complete sentences. Adjective: adverbial.

Positions of an Adverb
An adverb that modifies an adjective ("quite sad") or another adverb ("very carelessly") appears immediately in front of the word it modifies.

An adverb that modifies a verb is generally more flexible: it may appear before or after the verb it modifies ("softly sang" or "sang softly"), or it may appear at the beginning of the sentence ("Softly she sang to the baby"). The position of the adverb may have an effect on the meaning of the sentence.

Functions and Types of Adverbs
Adverbs have traditionally been classified according to meaning. These broad categories include the following:

Forms of Adverbs
Many adverbs—especially adverbs of manner—are formed from adjectives by the addition of the ending -ly (easily, dependably). But many common adverbs (just, still, almost, not) do not end in -ly, and not all words that end in -ly (friendly, neighborly) are adverbs.



See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Exercises

See also:

Etymology
From the Latin, "in relation to" + "word"

Examples

  • "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."
    (Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, 1881)
  • "War puts its questions stupidly, peace mysteriously."
    (Andre Malraux)
     
  • "Mr. McCrindle had a very surprised look on his face. His eyes were wide open, but he was, apparently, dead."
    (Magnus Mills, The Restraint of Beasts. Flamingo, 1998)
     
  • "Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk."
    (Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry, 1927)
     
  • "I will not torment the emotionally frail."
    (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)
     
  • "Life is that which--pressingly, persistently, unfailingly, imperially--interrupts."
    (Cynthia Ozick, "Pear Tree and Polar Bear," Esquire, August 1985)
     
  • "In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong."
    (John Kenneth Galbraith)
     
  • "It was a frightfully hot day. We'd jammed an absolutely perfect barricade across the bridge. It was simply priceless."
    (Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925)

     
  • "Fielding regarded gloomily an aged porter who was prodding tentatively at a trunk in the hope, apparently, of provoking it to spontaneous movement."
    (Edmund Crispin [Bruce Montgomery], Holy Disorders, 1945)
     
  • "The thought came gently and stealthily . . .; but just as my spirit came at length properly to feel and entertain it, the figures of the judges vanished, as if magically, from before me; the tall candles sank into nothingness; their flames went out utterly; the blackness of darkness supervened; all sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades."
    (Edgar Allan Poe, "The Pit and the Pendulum," 1842)
     
  • "In the heat of a political lifetime, Ronald Reagan innocently squirrels away tidbits of misinformation and then, sometimes years later, casually drops them into his public discourse, like gum balls in a quiche."
    (Lucy Howard)
     
  • "And now, when Danforth and I saw the freshly glistening and reflectively iridescent black slime which clung thickly to those headless bodies and stank obscenely with that new unknown odor whose cause only a diseased fancy could envisage—clung to those bodies and sparkled less voluminously on a smooth part of accursedly resculptured wall in a series of grouped dots--we understood the quality of cosmic fear to its uttermost depths."
    (H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness, 1936)
     

Observations

  • "A few adverbs exist without the benefit of the ly identity tag. . . . The words include: late, very, well, not, there, fast, quick, slow, close, deep, direct, fair, fine, hard, high, low, right, wrong, straight, tight, loud."
    (Val Dumond, Grammar for Grownups. Harper, 1993)
     
  • Distinguishing Between Adjectives and Adverbs
    Sometimes the same word can be both an adjective and and an adverb. In order to distinguish between them, it is important to look at the context of the word and its function in a sentence:
    The fast train from London to Cardiff leaves at three o'clock.
    The sprinter took the bend fast.

    The bed was hard and gave me a bad night's sleep.
    After faltering, the horses hit the fence hard.
    In the first and third sentences, the words fast and hard modify nouns. The first is an attributive adjective, coming before the noun it modifies; the second is a predicative adjective, coming after the verb to be. In the second and fourth sentences, the words fast and hard modify verbs. These are both circumstance adverbs which are in the end position."
    (Sara Thorne, Mastering Advanced Language, 2nd ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)
     
  • "The comparative and superlative inflections, -er and -est, combine with adverbs as well as with adjectives, although in a much more limited way. The comparative form of -ly adverbs, usually formed by adding more rather than -er, is fairly common. The superlative degree—most suddenly, most favorably—is rare enough in both speech and writing to have impact when used; it invariably calls attention to itself, and in most cases will have the main focus and main stress of the sentence: The committee was most favorably impressed with the proposal."
    (Martha Kolln and Robert Funk, Understanding English Grammar, 5th ed. Allyn and Bacon, 1998)
  • The Dustbin Class?
    - "Because of its heterogeneity, the adverb class is the least satisfactory of the traditional parts of speech. As a consequence, some grammarians have removed certain types of items from the class entirely and established several additional classes rather than retain these as subjects within a single adverb class."
    (Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik, A Grammar of Contemporary English. Longman, 1972)

    - "Some have likened the [adverb] to a dustbin, into which grammarians would place any words whose grammatical status was unclear. Certainly, the following words have very little structurally in common, yet all have been labeled 'adverb' in traditional grammars:
    tomorrow
    very
    no
    however
    quickly
    when
    not
    just
    the
    The, an adverb? In such contexts as The more the merrier."
    (David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2010)
     
  • Dandelions and Miracles
    - "I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs. To put it another way, they're like dandelions."
    (Stephen King, On Writing, 2000)


    - "It is not the diamonds or the birds, the people or the potatoes; it is not any of the nouns. The miracle is the adverbs, the way things are done."
    (Daniel Handler, Adverbs. Ecco, 2006)


    - "I'm glad you like adverbs—I adore them; they are the only qualifications I really much respect."
    (Henry James, letter to Miss M. Bentham Edwards, January 5, 1912; The Letters of Henry James, 1920)

     
  • The Unfaithful Inaugural Adverb (January 20, 2009)

    Nobody should be surprised that the most controversial moment in Tuesday's presidential inauguration ceremony was caused by an adverb.

    "The road to hell," Stephen King has said, "is paved with adverbs." And now Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. would likely agree.

    True, when it comes to the parts of speech, nouns and verbs are the obvious troublemakers. After all, they grab all the headlines and crawl along the bottom of the screen on the cable news channels. But for all that, nouns and verbs can generally be counted on to know exactly where they stand in a sentence.

    Not so with adverbs, which can show up almost anywhere. Adverbs are wayward, fickle, vagrant. In some ways, they're throwbacks to a wilder linguistic time when word endings in English (inflections) were more important than word order.

    Now as every American schoolchild knows, the Constitution requires a new president to say, “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States . . ..”

    On Tuesday, in front of a million or so people on the Mall in D.C., Chief Justice Roberts and Mr. Obama solemnly made it past the first adverb without much difficulty. That's often the way it goes. But just when you think you're in full command of the syntax, another adverb sneaks up on you, and—bang!—the verbal parade has suddenly been rerouted. Before you know it, tuba players are tumbling into the Aloha float, majorettes are colliding with Clydesdales, and the Suurimmaanitchuat Eskimo Dance Group has been spirited away to Columbia Heights.

    Well, not really—not at all. In most cases, a floating adverb will pass entirely unnoticed. Unless it occurs at a presidential inauguration.

    For Roberts, the oath came undone when that second adverb made an impish leap to the end of the clause: " . . . that I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully . . ..” Yes, I know. He got the preposition wrong as well. But as any second-language learner will tell you, English prepositions are pesky but rarely disruptive. No, it was that slippery adverb that broke the spell.

    Roberts then backed up in an effort to rein in the modifier, but that only appeared (or rather, appeared only) to aggravate matters: “Faithfully the office of President of the United States . . ..”

    At this point the new president graciously echoed the chief justice’s first error, sliding “faithfully” to the end: "the office of President of the United States faithfully . . .”

    Such word play could have gone on longer. By my count, the adverb "faithfully" might have shown up in another two or three spots in that same short clause—each version clear and grammatically correct. Of course only one version appears in Article Two of the United States Constitution. And that's why this evening Chief Justice Roberts was ushered into the Map Room of the White House to re-administer the oath to President Obama.

    For a little perspective on the matter, we turn to Mark Twain, writing in The Atlantic Monthly in June 1880: "To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference; it can never give me a pang. . . . There are subtleties which I cannot master at all--they confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me--and this adverb plague is one of them."

    (Grammar & Composition Blog, January 21, 2009)

 

Pronunciation: AD-vurb