What Is an Adverb?

An adverb is a word that modifies the meaning of a verbOpens in new window, adjectiveOpens in new window or another adverb.

Consider the following examples:
  • She talks fast.
    (modifying the verb talks)
  • She talks very fast
    (modifying the adverb very)
  • The kolanut was very bitter
    (modifying the adjective bitter)

Adverbs primarily provide further information about how, where, when, why, and to what extent something or action occurs.

Adverbs, most times, may consist of a single word, which is known as simple adverb, or contain two words joined together—known as compound adverb, or adverbial phrase, as it's also called.

In some occasion an adverb may modify a whole clause or sentence. See the sentences below:
  • Impressively the audience were well entertained.
  • Unfortunately, our friend didn’t turn up.

Most adverbs are formed by adding an –ly ending to an adjective, as:

  • brilliantly, slowly, immensely, tactically, etc.

However, in some cases the spelling of the adjectival stem may alter with the addition of the adverbial ending as with “easily,” “truly,” etc.

Likewise, some adverbs retain their adjectival form and do not require an –ly ending, as with “arrive,” “fast,” “late,” etc.


Note that some adverbs can be used in comparative and superlative forms as with — more completely,” “less quietly,” “most richly decorated” and may have specific comparative and superlative forms as with — fast and hard“fast/faster/fastest,” “hard/harder/hardest”.

Some may have irregular comparative and superlative forms as with “well/better/best,” “badly/worse/worst”.

Premodifiers Used with Degrees of Adjectives

Premodifers can describe or modify an adverb Opens in new window, as it does with an adjective Opens in new window.

Premodifiers are words that modify the meaning of an adverb.

Both adverbs Opens in new window and adjectives Opens in new window in their comparative and superlative forms can be accompanied by premodifiers—single words and phrases—that intensify the degree.

Observe carefully the underlined words in the following sentences:
  • We were a lot more careful this time.
  • We like his work so much better.
  • You'll get your watch back all the faster.

The same means can be used to downplay the degree:
  • The weather this week has been somewhat better.
  • He approaches his schoolwork a little less industriously than his brother does.
And sometimes a set phrase, usually an informal noun phrase, is used for this purpose:
  • He arrived a whole lot sooner than we expected.
  • That's a heck of a lot better.
If the intensifier very Opens in new window accompanies the superlative, a determinerOpens in new window is also required:
  • She is wearing her very finest outfit for the interview.
  • They're doing the very best they can.
Occasionally, the comparative or superlative form appears with a determiner and the entity being modified is understood:
  • Of all the wines produced in Connecticut, I like this one the most.
  • The quicker you finish this project, the better.
  • Of the two brothers, he is by far the faster.

Phrases that Act as Adverbs

PhrasesOpens in new window can sometimes take the role of adverbs in English. Some of these include:

1.   Adverbial clause

When a group of words which contains a subjectOpens in new window and a verbOpens in new window functions as adverb and modifies a verb in the sentence, it is known as adverbial clauseOpens in new window.

For Example:
  • When the class teacher comes, she will teach us a new topic.
  • Andy seems so intelligent because he spent more time on studies.

2.   Adverbial phrase

When a group of words without a subjectOpens in new window and a verbOpens in new window functions as an adverb; it takes the place of adverbial phraseOpens in new window in a sentence.

For Example:
  • After his team lost, he came home sitting in silence.
  • I met an old-time friend last night.

3.   Prepositional phrase

For Example:
  • They went through the back door.
  • She visits on weekends.

4.   Infinitive phrase

An infinitive phrase is when a group of words that contains the infinitive toOpens in new window plus the base formOpens in new window of a verbOpens in new window either with or without a modifier or complement takes the role of adverb in a sentence.

For Example:
  • She hurried home to prepare dinner
  • He came often on weekends to see us.

The Holy Grail Order of Adverbs

Naturally, adverbs are flexible and can appear anywhere in a sentence. However, in cases where adverbs in a sentence are more than one, there is a basic order in which the adverbs will appear.

The Holy Grail Order of Adverbs

  1. Verb
  2. Manner
  3. Place
  4. Frequency
  5. Time
  6. Purpose

The following sentences has been constructed in the above order.

Example I Observe the order below:
  1. Verb — Andy exercises
  2. Manner — passionately
  3. Place — at home
  4. Frequency — every morning
  5. Time — before dawn
  6. Purpose — to keep in shape

Example II Observe the order below:
  1. Verb — Gretchen studies
  2. Manner — intensively
  3. Place — in the library
  4. Frequency — every day
  5. Time — at break time
  6. Purpose — to improve her grades

Example III Observe the order below:
  1. Verb — She spoke
  2. Manner — enthusiastically
  3. Place — on TV
  4. Frequency — [-]
  5. Time — during the weekend show
  6. Purpose — to encourage her audience

Example IV Observe the order below:
  1. Verb — Mum visits
  2. Manner — [-]
  3. Place — the mall
  4. Frequency — every day
  5. Time — after work
  6. Purpose — to buy groceries

Example V Observe the order below:
  1. Verb — Shane reads
  2. Manner — quietly
  3. Place — in his room
  4. Frequency — every evening
  5. Time — before dinner
  6. Purpose — to improve his vocabularies

In actual practice, it would be highly unusual to have a string of adverbial modifiers beyond two or three (at the most).

Because the placement of adverbs is so flexible, one or two of the modifiers would probably move to the beginning of the sentence Opens in new window.

When that happens, the introductory adverbial modifiers are usually set off with a comma.

For Example:

More Guides on Adverbs Order

As a general principle, shorter adverbial phrases precede longer adverbial phrases, regardless of content.

In the following sentence (notice that a bar separates the adverbs), an adverb of time precedes an adverb of frequency because it is shorter (and simpler):

  • Dad takes a brisk walk before breakfast | every day of his life.

A second principle is this: among similar adverbial phrases of kind (manner, place, frequency, etc.), the more specific adverbial phrase comes first:

  • My grandmother was born in a sod house | on the plains of northern Nebraska.

Bringing an adverbial modifier to the beginning of the sentence can place special emphasis on that modifier. This is particularly useful with adverbs of manner:

  • Slowly, ever so carefully, Jesse filled the coffee cup up to the brim, even above the brim.
  • Occasionally, but only occasionally, one of these lemons will get by the inspectors.

Misplaced Modifiers

See the study on Misplaced ModifiersOpens in new window for additional ideas on placement.

Modifiers can sometimes attach themselves to and thus modify words that they ought not to modify:
  • They reported that Giuseppe Balle, a European rock star, had died on the six o'clock news.

Obviously, it would be better to move the underlined modifier to a position immediately after “they reported” or even to the beginning of the sentence—so the poor man doesn't die on television.

Misplacement can also occur with very simple modifiers, such as only and barely:
  • She only grew to be four feet tall.
It would be better written:
  • “She grew to be only four feet tall.”
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