Adverbs – Definition and Concept

An Adverb is a part of speech that describes or provides additional information about a verb, adjective or another adverb. Adverbs generally are used to describe verbs and adjective, and very seldom used to describe other adverbs. (Why?)

In this article we see the extent of the reach of an adverb and its various renditions.

At the end of this article, the reader will be able to:

  • Understand the basic usage of adverbs
  • Learn the different types of adverbs
  • Understand and change the degree of an adverb
  • Define and identify adverb phrases and clauses

Implementations of the Adverb

In this section, we learn the various basic applications of an adverb.

What all can an adverb describe?

An adverb basically describes a verb. Examples include:

  • Please read the offer documents (Adverb ‘carefully’ of the verb ‘read’)
  • She works faster than usual these days. (Adverb ‘faster’ of the verb ‘works’)
  • Everyone quickly turned their heads towards the new entrant. (Adverb ‘quickly’ of the verb ‘turned’)

An adverb can also describe an adjective. Examples include:

  • He was mildly amused to hear from you. (Adverb ‘mildly’ of the adjective ‘amused’)
  • This pudding is irresistibly sweet! (Adverb ‘irresistibly’ of the adjective ‘sweet’)
  • You’re unbearably naïve if you continue believing in them. (Adverb ‘unbearably’ of the adjective ‘naïve’)

An adverb can be used to describe another adverb. Examples include:

  • He moved unusually fast for an analyst. (Adverb ‘unusually’ of the adverb ‘fast’)
  • The lion moved very slowly towards his prey. (Adverb ‘very’ of the adverb ‘slowly’)
  • You sang quite beautifully (Adverb ‘quite’ of the adverb ‘beautifully’)

Apart from parts of speech, adverbs also modify phrases.

Some examples of noun phrases:

  • I brought just the assignments of this week. (Adverb ‘just’ of the noun phrase)
  • Even the moderators can err during evaluation. (Adverb ‘even’ of the noun phrase)
  • Only the reptiles survived the mass extinction following the cretaceous period. (Adverb ‘only’ of the noun phrase)

Some examples of prepositional phrases:

  • You are almost at the end of the tunnel. (Adverb ‘almost’ of the prepositional phrase)
  • The board is utterly against that deal. (Adverb ‘utterly’ of the prepositional phrase)
  • Walk briskly towards the 56th and main, then wait at the first intersection. (Adverb ‘briskly’ of the prepositional phrase)

Adverbs can also modify whole sentences. Observe the following examples:

  • Clearly they will be moving forward.
  • Consequently he carried his bat through the innings.
  • Unfortunately your application has been rejected.

Thus an adverb can be a modifier of all kinds of word classes and phrases, except for nouns. A modifier of nouns or pronouns is called an adjective. [1] We learn more about them in the next article.

Types of Adverbs [2]

Based on the kind of description, adverbs can be classified into the following types:

Adverbs of Manner

Adverbs of Manner describe the state of the part of speech or phrase they modify. Adverbs of manner usually modify verbs. Let us look at the following examples:

  • You have to finish this work diligently. (Adverb ‘diligently’ of verb ‘have to finish’)
  • We had to move quickly. (Adverb ‘quickly’ of verb ‘had to move’)
  • They have hilariously failed in this task. (Adverb ‘hilariously’ of verb ‘have failed’)

In each of the examples above, the question ‘How?’ when asked to the verb returns the answer as the adverb. Thus the question how is used to identify such adverbs.

Adverbs of Place

Adverbs of Place describe the location of the part of speech or phrase they modify. Let us look at the following examples:

  • By tomorrow, they would be everywhere. (Adverb ‘everywhere’ of verb ‘be’)
  • I need all the cardinals here. (Adverb ‘here’ of verb ‘need’)
  • Gather around I have an announcement to make. (Adverb ‘around’ of verb ‘gather’)

In each of the examples above, the question ‘Where?’ when asked to the verb returns the answer as the adverb. Thus the question where is used to identify such adverbs.

Adverbs of Time

Adverbs of Time describe the time of occurrence of the part of speech or phrase they modify. Let us look at the following examples:

  • I want the codes now. (Adverb ‘now’ of verb ‘want’)
  • We could have found this evidence before. (Adverb ‘before’ of verb phrase ‘could have found’)
  • The assignment needs to be submitted tomorrow. (Adverb ‘tomorrow’ of verb phrase ‘needs to be submitted’)

In each of the examples above, the question ‘When?’ when asked to the verb returns the answer as the adverb. Thus the question when is used to identify such adverbs.

Adverbs of Frequency [3]

Adverbs of Frequency describe the time of occurrence of the part of speech or phrase they modify. Let us look at the following examples:

  • The Pope usually is at his cabin at the south end. (Adverb ‘usually’ of verb ‘is’)
  • Report to your manager regularly via email. (Adverb ‘regularly’ of verb ‘report’)
  • His condition is worsening daily. (Adverb ‘daily’ of verb ‘is worsening’)

In each of the examples above, the question ‘How often?’ when asked to the verb returns the answer as the adverb. Thus the question how often is used to identify such adverbs.

Degree of an Adverb

There are three degrees of an adverb: positive, comparative and superlative. We discuss them here now.

The positive degree is the root form of the adjective and is used to describe one part of speech. Examples include:

  • Unlike new recruits, you’ve worked brilliantly.
  • I want the codes early.
  • She sang beautifully.

The positive degree can also be used to equate two different parts of speech.

  • You’ve worked as brilliantly as we expected.
  • I want the codes as early as you can get
  • She sung as beautifully as she could.

The comparative degree is used to establish the superior of the two parts of speech. Examples include:

  • You have worked more brilliantly than the other recruits have.
  • I want the codes earlier than I thought.
  • She sung more beautifully than the members of the panel judging her can.

The superlative degree is used to establish the superiority of one part of speech over all the others. Examples include:

  • You’ve worked most brilliantly of all recruits.
  • I want the codes earliest
  • She sung the most beautifully of all contestants.

In each of the examples above, the adverbs describe each of the parts of speech in italics. We observe how the positive and comparative degree of an adverb can describe two verbs at the same time.

Unlike adjectives, adverbs aren’t preferably used in the comparative and superlative degree. Moreover, the higher degrees of certain adverbs do not exist. Thus their regularity and conversion is not studied in detail.

Adverb Phrases and Adverb Clauses

Adverb Phrases

Adverb Phrases are a group of words that perform the work of an adverb, i.e. modify the other parts of speech. An adverb phrase may or may not contain an adverb, but can describe all different kinds of parts of speech that an adverb itself can. The following examples demonstrate the idea of an adverb phrase:

  • You were supposed to be here by sunset.
  • On my mark, they will run towards the exit.
  • They will be arriving anytime now.
  • The entire building will collapse upon us.
  • The bomb will go off in a few minutes.
  • The entire minefield here is rigged in a clever way.

The phrases in each of the examples above answer different questions asked to the verb of the sentence. The phrase in the first example answers the question ‘When’, the second answers the question ‘Where’, the last one answers the question ‘How’. Hence, they are called adverb phrases.

Since adverb phrases generally don’t have an adverb of its own, it makes use of a preposition to make the verb refer to the noun/pronoun within itself. For instance, the preposition ‘towards’ in the second example refers the verb ‘will run’ to the noun ‘exit’, thereby making it an adverb phrase of place. Thus adverb phrases generally begin with prepositions.

An adverb phrase can also describe another adverb phrase. Let’s go back to the second example again.

  • On my mark, they will run towards the exit.

Rephrasing the sentence, we get:

  • They will run towards the exit on my mark.

In both the formations, we observe that while the phrase ‘towards the exit’ modified the verb will run, it is itself modified by the phrase ‘on my mark.’ Thus the underlined phrase is also known as an adverb phrase. In this sentence it’s an adverb phrase of time describing the original adverb phrase.

An adverb phrase is of two types: adjective phrase and prepositional phrase. We learn about prepositional phrases in the article on prepositions.

Adverb Clauses

Adverb clauses are those subordinate clauses that modify a part of speech of the main clause. An adverb clause may or may not contain an adverb, but can describe all different kinds of parts of speech that an adverb itself can. The following examples demonstrate the idea of an adverb clause:

  • You are supposed to be here whenever he summons you.
  • They will go where their leader takes them.
  • They will be arriving when we need them to.
  • I am not leaving my post unless the commander returns from enemy territory.
  • The arm is sensitive as (is) the skin graft around the thighs.
  • We have to consider calling for backup since the enemy has breached the gates.

An adverb clause, unlike adverb phrase, may not answer simple questions asked to the verb, adjective or adverb, but it still does the work of providing information or description about the part of speech. The subordinate clauses in the above examples provide more information about the parts of speech in italics.

How do we distinguish between an adverb phrase and an adverb clause? We look for the verb firstly.

Phrases are those which do not have a subject and don’t have definite predicate. A clause will have a subject and a verb and can act like a standalone sentence, or may need another standalone clause.

Adverb phrases and clauses are together referred to as adverbials.

Conclusion

This summarizes the basic idea of adverbs and their usage in sentences.

Notes

[1] It is imperative for readers to understand the differences between an adverb and an adjective. A section of the article on adjectives will be devoted to identifying both the parts of speech separately.

[2] There is another type of adverb called conjunctive adverb. Since it is not exactly a conjunction and yet fulfilling the role of one, we study them in the article on conjunctions.

[3] Adverbs of Frequency was (and still in a few adaptations) considered as Adverbs of Time. In this article, we study them separately since they answer different questions.