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Sí, amigos, dentro de las estructuras oracionales también existen las jerarquías. El adverbio, al parecer, se sitúa a la cola del ranking funcional sintáctico. ¡Quién lo diría al recordar que, a cuenta de un deslucido adverbio, las páginas aún inéditas de “El joven Werther” a punto estuvieron de verse condenadas al olvido! […]
Fuentes: El peso de un “bastante” –(
«Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s an adverb!»
When readers analyse a new text, they sometimes try to determine which lexical category particular words correctly belong to. Adverbs are usually considered as a last resort in this endeavour; only once the more glamorous categories of nouns, verbs and adjectives have been eliminated do lowly adverbs get their fifteen minutes of fame. This may be because adverbs seem more awkwardly abstract than other types of vocabulary; however they are extremely useful, and help to enrich our English immeasurably. (In this paragraph alone, I have already used five adverbs – correctly, usually, awkwardly, extremely and immeasurably.)

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Adverbs typically modify verbs. They tell us how a particular action was conducted and often gift insight into the atmosphere of a scene. Consider the following sentence:

In the restaurant, Jane laughed at Rod’s jokes.

It’s a perfectly competent declarative sentence. However we don’t glean any interesting detail about Rod and Jane’s date – it’s a rather dry sentence.

However, if we add the adverb ‘shyly’ after the word ‘laughed’, we are offered a different perspective of the whole scene:

In the restaurant, Jane laughed shyly at Rod’s jokes.

This creates a more compelling image in our minds – of a boy trying to impress his date; and the girl going along with things, because she likes him.

Or consider the following example of direct speech:
«Here comes the boss,» Lee said bleakly. (‘bleakly’ = desoladamente)

The use of the adverb ‘bleakly’ to modify the verb ‘said’ suggests that Lee would rather his boss were not coming, i.e. he doesn’t like his boss. Now contrast this previous example with the following:

«Here comes the boss,» Lee said brightly. (‘brightly’ = efusivamente)

In the latter example, it would seem that Lee enjoys a cordial relationship with his superior, and welcomes his boss’s approach. Thus the use of an adverb can allow us to gain knowledge of a situation that we might otherwise be denied.

Successful American author Stephen King advocates the eschewal of speech-related adverbs; he considers their presence to be symptomatic of poorly written dialogue. King’s argument is that a character’s intentions should be clear from scene-setting and dialogue, without the need for (what he perceives to be) extraneous adverbs.

However, many writers choose to use adverbs in this way to illustrate how a character has spoken. So it’s down to individual preference, really.

There are five main types of adverb: adverbs of time; place; manner; degree; and frequency. They provide information – usually about verbs.

Adverbs of time communicate information about when something is done/happens. Here are a few examples:

He left yesterday
We will do the exam soon
I have already finished my composition
They’re flying to New York tomorrow
Michael Jackson died a few years ago (this is an example of an adverbial phrase

Time-related adverbs like this normally go at the end of the sentence (in what is called the ‘end-position’).

A similar category of adverbs is adverbs of frequency. Words like ‘often’, ‘usually’, ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘sometimes’ and ‘ever’ belong in this category. These adverbs normally go after the first auxiliary verb or immediately before the main verb (if there is no auxiliary). For example:

I have never been to Los Angeles
We sometimes go to the mountains for our holidays
She is usually a happy person
You can’t always get what you want

Adverbs of place usually go after the verb, object or in the end-position. They tell us where an action occurs. Examples are ‘here’, ‘there’, ‘outside’, ‘towards’, ‘below’, ‘above’, and so on. Some examples:

Bring the book here, please (the adverb ‘here’ modifies the verb ‘bring’ in this imperative sentence)
Let’s sit outside
The plane flew over the spectators
The pretty girl lives above me

Adverbs of manner are perhaps the most useful form of adverb when modifying a verb, as they tell us how something is done. Consider the following sentence:

I speak English badly

We could change the adverb ‘badly’ and use another adverb instead, such as:

I speak English quickly
I speak English slowly
I speak English cautiously
I speak English well

… and so on. Adverbs like this usually go immediately after the verb they modify – unless the verb has a direct object, in which case it will come directly after the noun. (e.g. She kicked the boy hard; He did the exam well)

(A quick digression about the adverbs ‘hard’ and ‘hardly’. They look similar but actually have very different meanings and places in a sentence. The adverb ‘hard’ means ‘a lot’ or ‘with intensity’, and goes after a verb. For example:

My friend works hard

Conversely, the adverb ‘hardly’ means ‘very little’, and usually goes before a verb: My friend hardly works

Don’t confuse these two adverbs!)

Let’s move on. Adverbs of degree convey the extent or intensity of something. These words can modify adjectives as well as verbs, and usually go in the mid-position (either between the subject and the main verb or, if applicable, after the first auxiliary or modal verb). Some examples of adverbs of degree modifying adjectives:

It is too hot today
He is very sad about the bad news
Learning Chinese is really difficult
The man’s behaviour was completely unacceptable
Your writing is quite beautiful

Some examples where such adverbs modify verbs:

I really want a new car
You have done enough (‘enough’ is a strange adverb and often goes after the main verb rather than the mid-position)
She just prefers hot weather

There are also ‘evaluative’ or ‘commenting’ adverbs. Not one of the main five categories, this subset contains words like ‘apparently’, ‘unfortunately’, ‘stupidly’, ‘clearly’, ‘obviously’, etc. They communicate how someone feels about a particular subject, and often go before it:

Sadly, the old man died last night
Happily, everything is okay

It is clear that the more adverbs we can learn, the better.But how should we actually form such adverbs?

Most adverbs end in the letters -ly (but not all – e.g. fast, well, etc. These adverbs have the same form as the adjectives.) Take a typical adjective and add -ly to the end:

sad – sadly
slow – slowly
quick – quickly

If an adjective ends in the letter ‘y’, change the ‘y’ for an ‘i’ and add -ly, as below:

happy – happily
crazy – crazily
easy – easily

If we are using an adverb to answer the question ‘how…?’, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether to attach -ly or not. Remember the example with the verb ‘smell’? If we choose to say ‘flowers smell sweet’, we are using the adjective ‘sweet’, in the same way as ‘you smell good’. Saying ‘flowers smell sweetly’ is incorrect, as it implies that flowers have olfactory faculties! Similarly, consider the following two sentences:

The man looked angry to us
The man looked angrily at us

The first sentence describes what the man looked like, i.e. his appearance (‘angry’). The second sentence describes how he did the verb, i.e. the manner of the action (‘angrily’). It is easy to confuse the two sentences but be clear – they have very different meanings.

If an adjective ends in -able, -ible or -le, we replace the -e with -y. For example:

horrible – horribly
incorrigible – incorrigibly
subtle – subtly

We hope this helps with using adverbs. Let’s see how you do with using them – take our blog test!

A. Porter

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