Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They answer the questions When? Where? How? or How much? Adverbs describe an action or state of being in greater detail and can provide a more vivid picture of what is happening.
- She always signs her name with “Ms.” (When?)
- They carried the chair downstairs. (Where?)
- Read it again slowly. (How?)
- He objected strongly to the judge’s ruling. (How much?)
Most adverbs end in ly and can be formed from the adjective. In some cases, however, the adjective and adverb both end in ly.
Types of Adverbs
Adverbs indicating time, direction, place, or degree may look the same as nouns, prepositions, or adjectives. Following are examples of these types of adverbs, including some that end in ly.
Adverbs of Time/Frequency (When?)
Adverbs of Place/Direction (Where?)
Adverbs of Degree (How Much?)
Adverbs of Manner (How?)
Adverbs—like adjectives—are used in comparisons. The positive is the base word (fast, softly). The comparative is formed by adding er or the word more (faster, more softly), and the superlative by adding est or the word most (fastest, most softly). A few adverbs have irregular forms (well, better, best).
- He drives himself hard. (positive)
- He drives himself harder than I think he should. (comparative)
- He drives himself the hardest of anyone I know. (superlative)
- I work well when I’m alone. (positive)
- I work better when I’m with others. (comparative)
- I work best late at night. (superlative)
- The tiger moves quietly through the jungle. (positive)
- The tiger moves more quietly than the deer. (comparative)
- The tiger moves the most quietly of the three big cats. (superlative)
Adverb Position and Meaning
The position of the adverb can affect the meaning of the sentence. The most common error involves misplacing the adverb only. Make sure that the adverb position conveys what you intend to say.
We only walked to the store and not the bank. (Did the speakers only walk and not run? Or did they walk only to the store and not elsewhere? The meaning is unclear.)
We walked only to the store and not to the bank.
She frequently calls the magazine editor. (Does she call the magazine editor more frequently than she calls anyone else? Or does she simply call the editor many times [frequently]?)
She calls the magazine editor frequently.
In general, avoid splitting the verb phrase when using an adverb. While this rule is not carved in stone, it is a good one to keep in mind.
I have also given the matter my attention.
I also have given the matter my attention.
He had accurately filled out the form.
He had filled out the form accurately.
Adjective or Adverb?
Some words function as either adverbs or adjectives, and many writers may confuse them. Among the most troublesome words are good, well, badly, and bad.
Good is an adjective and is always used as an adjective. Never use good to modify a verb.
- You’ve done a good job. (modifies job)
- I feel good. (predicate adjective referring to the condition of the subject)
Well is both an adjective, meaning in good health, and an adverb of manner, answering the question how something is done.
- I feel well. (predicate adjective referring to the condition of the subject)
- The reporter handled that story well. (modifies the verb handled)
- She writes well. (modifies the verb writes) (“She writes good” is incorrect.)
The adverb badly is often mistaken for the adjective bad. Badly, an adverb of manner, indicates that something is done ineptly or poorly. It often follows an action verb.
- He plays the piano badly. (modifies the verb plays and answers the question: How does he play the piano? Badly.)
- They painted the room badly. (modifies the verb painted and answers the question: How did they paint the room? Badly.)
The adjective bad means “in poor spirits” or is used to describe the degree of something. When it follows a linking verb, it is a predicate adjective describing the condition of the subject.
- She feels bad. (predicate adjective referring to the condition of the subject she)
- That was a bad mistake. (adjective modifying mistake)
Never write I feel badly or You look badly when referring to the condition of the subject. These statements say that you feel (touch someone or something) poorly or that someone looks (sees things) poorly.