Tales from the Man who would be King

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English – Part 7: Adverbs

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In Part 6, we looked at verbs. This time, we'll look at adverbs. According to Wikipedia, an adverb (abbrev. adv.) is "a word that modifies a verb, adjective, another adverb, determiner, noun phrase, clause, or sentence. Adverbs typically express manner, place, time, frequency, degree, level of certainty, etc., answering questions such as how?, in what way?, when?, where?, and to what extent?."

I freely admit that adverbs are the part of speech with which I was least knowledgeable, until, that is, the time I started researching this essay. So, it's never too late to learn, even at age 63!

Some Examples

Modifying a verb:

  • The boy ran fast. (fast modifies the verb ran; it says how he ran)
  • It rained yesterday. (yesterday modifies the verb rained; it says when it rained)
  • We keep it there. (there modifies the verb phrase keep it; it says where we keep it)
  • He hardly eats anything. (hardly modifies the verb eats; it describes the degree to which he eats)


Modifying an adjective:

  • The light was quite bright. (quite modifies the adjective bright; it describes the degree of brightness)


Modifying another adverb:

  • The tortoise moved very slowly. (very modifies the adverb slowly; it says how slow the tortoise moved)


Modifying a determiner:

  • I have only this. (only modifies the determiner this)


Modifying a noun phrase:

  • They each brought only one piece of luggage. (only modifies the noun phrase one piece of luggage)


Modifying a sentence:

  • Certainly, we have to find a way to feed the refugees. (certainly modifies the whole sentence)

Single- and Multi-Word Forms

In all of the examples above, the adverb is a single word. However, a phrase or clause can take on the role of an adverb. Consider the following:

  • He'll fix the flat tire tomorrow.
  • He'll fix the flat tire in a few hours.
  • He'll fix the flat tire whenever he gets around to it.


In the first case, the adverb tomorrow is a single word. In the second sentence, the adverbial phrase in a few hours acts as an adverb even though that phrase contains no adverbs. In the third case, we see an adverbial clause.

Adverbs Enhance

Consider the following sentence: I swim.

From a grammatical viewpoint, it is complete, and sensible. The verb swim is intransitive, in the present tense, in the first-person singular, and it agrees with the subject. However, it says absolutely nothing about how, when, where, or why I swim. We can make such a sentence convey more information by adding one or more adverbs, adverbial phrases, or adverbial clauses. For example:

I swim for exercise for an hour non-stop every Thursday morning at the town pool.


In many cases, we can add the suffix -ly to an adjective to form the corresponding adverb. For example, amazing/amazingly, certain/certainly, honest/honestly, usual/usually, and extreme/extremely. But, of course, that doesn't mean that all words ending in ly are adverbs. For example, friendly is an adjective. However, we can use the adverbs more, less, or very, to modify that adjective.

Position and Ordering

Consider the following pairs of sentences:

  • I walked to work yesterday. Yesterday, I walked to work.
  • There are many islands in the Caribbean. In the Caribbean, there are many islands.


Both are correct. As to which you use comes down to whether you want special emphasis, by starting with the adverb or adverbial phrase.

Normally, adverbs don't go between a verb and its object. However, if there is no object, an adverb can follow the verb. If multiple adverbs are used to modify the same target, their usual order is manner, place, and time. For example, I ran very fast at the track yesterday.

Beware of Dangling Adverbs

Consider the following sentence:

At the age of five, my father bought me a two-wheel bike.

Here, the adverbial phrase at the age of five is attached to my father, not to me and my bike, and I very much doubt that when he was five, he bought me anything! To correct this, we can rewrite the sentence, as follows:

At the age of five, I got a two-wheel bike from my father.


When I was five, my father bought me a two-wheel bike.


Although adverbs are often not well understood, we use them all the time! How many times today did you use the following: almost, before, certainly, during, equally, fortunately, generally, how, indeed, just, later, monthly, nearly, obviously, possibly, quite, really, simply, together, up, vaguely, while, and yet?

In some future conversations, try dropping in the following adverbs: anon, hither, holus-bolus, fain, forsooth, sharpish, thereof, and yon.