What is an Adverb?


An adverb, according to The Chicago Manual of Style, is a word that usually modifies, limits, describes or qualifies another adverb, verb or adjective. In contrast with adjectives, adverbs don’t change pronouns or nouns. However, in practice, adverbs are also often used to describe words that can’t be easily labeled.

Here are some simple examples of the adverb in action:

Adam slept very gratefully. The word very qualifies the adverb gratefully.

They ate voraciously. The word voraciously qualifies the verb ate.

My mom’s dinner tasted really terrible. The word really qualifies the adjective terrible.

Most of the adverbs you will ever see and use will modify, limit, describe or qualify adverbs, verbs and adjectives. However they can also do the same with prepositions and conjunctions. Some examples:

He walked right over me. Right qualifies the preposition over.

That is precisely when I reached the summit. Precisely qualifies the conjunction when.

Adverbs can be refashioned through the use of intensifiers, such as in this sentence: the very elegantly dressed mother. Adverbs should be placed as close as possible to the word that is being modified to prevent confusion.

Adjectives, Adverbs and Suffixes

A great number of adjectives have matching adverbs where the only thing that changes is the suffix, which is usually -ly. A few examples on the table below:

Adjective

Adverb

Automatic

Automatically

Accident

Accidentally

Beautiful

Beautifully

Loving

Lovingly

Most

Mostly

Complete

Completely

Judgment

Judgmentally

Positive

Positively

Solemn

Solemnly

Although there are some rules of thumb, such as adjectives that end in -le having their suffixes replaced with -ly (simple/simply), for the most part you will have to memorize the adverbs.


Note that not all adverbs have suffixes. Almost, never, here, just, seldom, late, now, near and too do not have any distinguishable suffix.

Two kinds of adverbs exist: simple and flat. Simple adverbs are single words that qualify a single part of speech, such as in “he is very smart”. Very modifies the adjective smart. A flat adverb is an adverb that takes the form of an associated adjective—usually with words that end in -ly but without using the -ly. A simple example is sleep tight; it is not correct to say sleep tightly.

A phrasal adverb is an union between two or more adverbs that make up a single adverb. For example, as yet, at least, by all means and of late are all phrasal adverbs. A compound adverb is a compound of several words (but looks like a single word). Examples include: heretofore, hereby, thereupon and notwithstanding.

Adverbial Degrees

Adverbs have three degrees: positive, comparative and superlative.

Positive adverbs express qualities without reference to any other thing. For example: the toddler cried unhappily.

Comparative adverbs modify while comparing two things. They often have the suffix -er, but not always.

Superlative adverbs modify while comparing three or more things and at the same time stating that the action performed is at the top of the food chain. Sometimes superlative adverbs don’t compare, but are instead used for emphasis (for example: the runner won most gracefully). Superlative adverbs often have the suffix -est, but not always.

The table below shows a few examples of these three degrees:

Adverb

Comparative

Superlative

Abruptly

More abruptly

Most abruptly

Brightly

More brightly

Most brightly

Carefully

More carefully

Most carefully

Quick

Quicker

Quickest

Fast

Faster

Fastest

Hard

Harder

Hardest

Perfect

More perfect

Most perfect

Easy

More easily

Most easily

Slow

More easily

Most slowly

Quiet

More quietly

Most quietly

Irregular adverbs that don’t follow the rules exist, such as little-less-least.

Uncomparable adverbs are absolute adverbs that cannot be compared, such as eternally, universally, now, third, here, etc.

And that’s it for adverbs! A little easier than verbs, eh?

References:

The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2010.