The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







An adverb is a part of speech that usually serves to modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, clauses, and sentences. Adverbs answer such questions as how?, when?, where?, in what way?, or how often?

In English, adverbs often have the suffix -ly, but so do many adjectives. The -ly is a common, but not reliable marker of an adverb.

Some others use the suffix -wise. It competed with a related form -ways and won out against it. In a few words, like sideways, -ways survives; words like crosswise show the transition.

Some other adverbs are identical in form to their adjectives. Otherwise, other adverbs are derived from adjectives. The comparative and superlative forms of adverbs that are identical to their adjectives are generated by adding -er and -est. The comparative and superlative forms of most other adverbs (except in poetic forms like wiselier) use more or most. Adverbs also take comparisons with as ... as, less, and least. The usual form pertaining to adjectives or adverbs is called the positive. Thus the three grades are positive "happy", comparative "happier", and superlative "happiest".


Non-English Adverbs

Other languages may form adverbs in different ways, if they are used at all:

  • In German, adverbs have the basic form of their corresponding adjectives and are not inflected (except for comparation).
  • Romance languages form adverbs by adding -mente (Spanish, etc) or -ment (French).
  • In Esperanto, adverbs are not formed from adjectives but are made by adding -e directly to the word root. Thus, from bon are derived bone, "well", and bona, "good".
  • Austronesian languages appear to form comparative adverbs by repeating the root (as in WikiWiki), similarly to the plural noun.


The following examples are in English, because that is the language of this text. Examples in other languages may be added, especially to show language independent properties of adverbs.

as a verb-modifier

(1) In the following examples, the adverb, as a verb-modifier, is highlighted in bold. The verb that it modifies is shown in italics.

  • It is tiring to run quickly.
  • My sister laughs loudly.
  • The sun shone brightly.
  • The captain went boldly.
  • The farmer worked hard. (NB: Not hardly)
  • The minister spoke well. (NB: Not goodly)

as an adjective-modifier

(2) In the following examples, the adverb, as an adjective-modifier, is highlighted in bold. The adjective it modifies is shown in italics.

  • His poetry is very beautiful.
  • The meaning of this passage is abundantly clear.
  • That sign is hardly visible.

as an adverb-modifier

(3) In the following examples, the adverb, as an adverb-modifier, is highlighted in bold. The adverb that it modifies is shown in italics.

  • I know that he can write more clearly.
  • The sun came out quite suddenly.
  • This species is the slightly slower growing one.

adverb modifies a whole sentence

(4) In the following examples the adverb modifies a whole sentence.

  • Finally, she went home.
  • Suddenly, the cat came in.
  • Today, we can go on a day trip.

Four groups of adverbs

Adverbs can be put into 4 groups:

1. Adverbs of manner (adverbs that tell how) Examples: happily, quickly, slowly, badly

2. Adverbs of time (adverbs that tell when) Examples: then, now, soon

3. Adverbs of place (adverbs that tell where) Examples: there, here, nowhere

4. Adverbs of degree (adverbs that tell to what extent) Examples: more, very, barely, vaguely

English does not make any grammatical distinction between these four groups of adverbs, but some languages do. For example, in German, if a sentence contains multiple adverbs, they should appear in a particular order: time, manner, place.

Adverbs as a catch all category

Adverbs are considered a part of speech in traditional English grammar, which is derived from Latin grammar, and are still included as a part of speech in grammar taught in schools and used in dictionaries. However, modern grammarians recognize that words traditionally grouped together as adverbs serve a number of different functions. Some would go so far as to call adverbs a "catch all" category that includes all words that don't belong to one of the other parts of speech.

A more logical approach to dividing words into classes relies on recognizing which words can be used in a certain context. For example, a noun is a word that can be inserted in the following template to form a grammatical sentence:

The ____ is red.

When this approach is taken, it is seen that adverbs fall into a number of different categories.

For example, some adverbs can be used to modify an entire sentence, whereas others can not. Even when a sentential adverb has other functions, the meaning is often not the same. For example, in the sentences She gave birth naturally and Naturally, she gave birth, the word naturally has different meanings (actually the first sentence could be interpreted in the same way as the second, but context makes it clear which is meant). Naturally as a sentential adverb means something like "of course" and as a verb-modifying adverb means "in a natural manner". The "hopefully" controversy (described below) demonstrates that the class of sentential adverbs is a closed class (there is resistance to adding new words to the class), whereas the class of adverbs that modify verbs is not.

Words like very and particularly afford another useful example. We can say Jim is very fast, but not Jim very won the race. These words can modify adjectives but not verbs. On the other hand, there are words like here and there that cannot modify adjectives. We can say The sofa looks good there but not It is a there beautiful sofa. The fact that many adverbs can be used in more than one of these functions can confuse this issue, and it may seem like splitting hairs to say that a single adverb is really two or more words that serve different functions. However, this distinction can be useful, especially considering adverbs like naturally that have different meanings in their different functions.

Not is an interesting case. Grammarians have a difficult time categorizing it, and it probably belongs in its own class.

Last updated: 05-10-2005 02:23:01
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13