What is an Adverb?

Brad Smith


I'm the creator of this site (Grammar Gang). I'm also the founder of Codeless, a long-form content creation company that's been featured in The New York Times, Business Insider, The Next Web, and hundreds more.

We produce around ~100 long, in-depth articles each month. So we're relying on these tools on a daily basis. Here, I break down the good, bad, and uuuuuuggggllllyyyy.
Brad Smith

An adverb is a word that describes a verb, adjective, or a fellow adverb.

Well, that was quite easy to remember, ha!

Now, let’s dive deep and try to understand what exactly an adverb does and how you can identify them in a sentence.

Traditionally, adverbs end with the suffix -ly and modify an action (verb), feature (adjective) or another adverb.

For example, take a look at these following sentences and try to spot the adverb word.

  • She walks slowly.
  • He slammed the door abruptly and left the place.
  • I quickly said yes, and grabbed the offer.
  • You are very beautiful.

Did you notice how the marked words are functioning in these sentences?

In the first sentence, the word slowly describes how the subject walks (verb). Similarly, abruptly and quickly tell the readers how the actions are being performed, plus, they also have the suffix -ly. Thus, all these words are adverbs.

However, it’s not a universal rule that every adverb should end with the -ly. There are many exceptions.

For example, take a look at the last sentence where the word very defines the adjective ‘beautiful’. It surely doesn’t follow the -ly rule, but as per the definition, it is an adverb.

Let me throw a few more examples to show you how adverb works with a verb, adjective, and other adverbs.

Adverb Examples

Adverb mainly works with three elements of the parts of speech family – verb, adjective, and other adverbs. And it (adverb) often comes just before or after the words it is meant to describe. For example:

  • The work was done nicely by Charles & Co.
  • He is way taller than me.
  • She reads the questions very carefully before writing anything.

See, how the words – ‘nicely’, ‘way’, and ‘very’ are providing further information about the words – ‘done’ (verb), ‘taller’ (adjective), and ‘carefully’ (adverb) respectively.

In the first sentence, the word ‘nicely’ shows how Charles & Co. did their job. The word ‘way’ shows how much taller the subject is than me. Likewise, ‘very’ indicates how carefully the subject reads the questions before answering them.

So, regardless of where an adverb finds its place in a sentence or which part of speech it defines, it can be concluded that the primary job of an adverb is to explain one of these five things:

How, where, when, why, and how much.

  • She answered all the questions smartly. (How did she answer the question)
  • Let’s go there. (Where)
  • Can we meet tomorrow. (When)
  • I left for home early because I was getting late for my soccer game. (Why)
  • I arrived very late. (How much late)

Now, you know what exactly an adverb is and how it functions, it’s time to talk about the different kinds of adverb we use in our daily lives.

Types of Adverb

1. Adverb of manner

Adverb of manner typically answers the how question. It shows the readers how an action is performed in a sentence.

The best thing about this type of adverb is they’re easy to spot because most of the words that fall into this category have the suffix -ly with them. For example:

“The party was organized exclusively for him”.

“He stood by her firmly in tough times”.

“I hold her hand tightly”.

However, exceptions always exist. Some adverbs take a different approach and ditch the -ly suffix. Like fast, well, hard, etc.

See these adverbs in action:

“He hit the ball hard”.

“I run fast”.

“Tino plays very well”.

2. Adverb of frequency

As the name sounds, Adverb of frequency denotes how frequent something occurs. It can be indefinite to express vague repetitiveness as well as definite to describe specific occurrence.

For example, let’s take a look at adverbs that are used for indefinite frequencies:

“I go to the gym usually in the morning”.

“He normally charges more, but since you’re my friend, you can get some discount”.

“We should always wake up early”.

The words ‘usually’, ‘normally’, and ‘always’ definitely express the frequency but it is uncertain, how frequent the actions are being performed. That’s why these words are indefinite.

On the other hand, words like daily, hourly, yearly, monthly, etc. clearly indicates how often an activity is going to happen. Examples could include sentences like:

“Writing is a part of my daily routine”.

“What’s your hourly rate?”

“You will have to pay the yearly subscription fee to continue your membership”.

“I’m worried about my quarterly exams”.

3. Adverb of Time

Adverb of time is kinda a sibling of Adverb of Frequency but more specific than the latter. It explains the time when something happens. For example, ‘tomorrow’, ‘yesterday’, ‘today’, this month, last year, etc. are a few examples of Adverb of Time.

We usually place these words at the end of our sentences. Something like this:

“We have a big meeting tomorrow”.

“He came to see me last year”.

“Do you have any special plans for tonight”?

However, the Adverb of Time is quite flexible. So don’t hesitate to use Adverb of Time at the beginning of your sentences.

Today is the most important day in the history of our company”.

This year is going to be rocking for me”.

Yesterday was Black Friday”.

4. Adverb of purpose

Also known as Adverb of reason, it answers the why of any sentence. In simple words, it explains the reason why something happened.

Sometimes it can be a single word like ‘so’, ‘because’, ‘thus’, and ‘since’. But often, it comes in pairs and works as a clause that joins two sentences together. Examples include words like ‘so that’, ‘that’s why’, ‘just because’, etc.

See this is how these words usually appear in sentences:

Just because he has an average height, doesn’t mean he can’t play basketball”.

“He bought an extra burger, so you don’t need to stop your work and go to the outlet”.

“They don’t accept late entries, but since it was a big assignment, they let us in”.

“He easily cleared the exam because he was studious”.

5. Adverb of place

Adverb of place has the responsibility to tell you where the action is happening. Now, most of the readers think it names the exact location in a sentence, but unfortunately, it doesn’t. Because the name of any place is always a Noun; it’s not an adverb.

That’s why, rather than talking about the exact spot, the Adverb of place includes words like ‘here’ and ‘there’, and also explains the directions, distance, and position of a place.

For example:

“We were walking down the road”.

“First go straight, then left, and take first right; you’ll reach city center”.

“Point A is located southwest of Point B”.

As you can see, all the highlighted words are dealing with directions.

Example of adverb denoting distances:

“My place is too far from my office”.

“The shop is nearby the restaurant”.

“We were standing close to each other.

And finally, examples of words that describe position:

“The soldier stepped forward to receive the medal”.

“She looked upward at the sky”.

“The lion takes two steps backward to make a huge leap forward.

Did you notice, the difference between this particular set of adverbs and the rest of modifiers?

Instead of -ly, they mostly end with the suffix -ward making them easy to recognize.

How to use Adverbs correctly

Adverbs have always been notorious. Legendary writers like Ernest Hemingway have advocated avoiding these little guys, but it’s impossible to get rid of them altogether.

So whenever you’re using adverbs, pay special attention to the place where you’re inserting the adverb.

Though there are no hard and fast rules. Here is a general guideline you can look up to place adverbs correctly when:

you’re using it with an adjective or another adverb

When you’re thinking of adding an adverb to modify an adjective or another adverb, make sure to add the word before the adjective or adverb that you want to describe.

For example, take a look at the following adverbs:

  • “This offer is too good to say no”. (The adverb ‘too’ is describing the adjective ‘good’)
  • Why are you talking so slowly? (Here the adverb ‘so’ is modifying another adverb ‘slowly’)
  • “He was quite sloppy in answering emails”. (The adverb ‘quite’ is addressing the adjective ‘sloppy’)
  • It’s really painful to hear about the accident” (The adverb ‘really’ describes the adjective ‘painful’)

All the above sentences show how adverbs almost always come before the adjective or adverb it is defining.

But did you notice something peculiar?

Except for the last instance (‘really’), all the other adverbs were not in their typical -ly form. So, it’s also safe to say that Adverbs of measurement explain the adjectives and adverbs much better than the other types of adverb.

You’re using adverbs with verbs

Although we have a general rule for adverbs coming with adjectives or fellow adverbs, there is no such thing when you’re using modifiers to define a verb.

The position of adverb differs according to the type of adverb you’re planning to use.

For example, adverb of manner and adverb of place mostly comes at the end of a sentence.

“She pushed me gently”.

“Please go there”.

“Read the entire book thoroughly”.

“He speaks politely”.

“He planned everything cleverly”.

“They are nowhere”.

“I can’t see them anywhere”.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Especially, when you’re using Adverb of place or have an adjective in the sentence along with a verb. For example:

There you go”. (Adverb of place came at the beginning of the sentence)

“I politely asked for a cup of coffee”. (This sentence has a verb ‘asked’ as well as an adjective ‘coffee’)

Here is the marble you were looking for”. (This sentence consist of an adjective ‘the’ and verb ‘looking for’)

Similarly, there are no fixed rules to use the adverb of time. You can use these adverbs either at the beginning of the sentence or at the very end.

“We have our match tomorrow”.

Yesterday, I went to the museum”.

Today is an auspicious day for us”.

“Let’s go out for dinner tonight”.

And finally, adverb of purpose and adverb of frequency are the two types of adverb that mostly find their place between the subject and verb/adjective/adverb of a sentence.

“What do you usually do in your holidays”?

“I couldn’t attend the wedding because I was busy”.

But once again, there’s always room for alteration, and you can use these adverbs to start your sentence. For example:

Because I had typhoid, I applied for sick leave”.

Generally, the bus arrives here in time”.

Since we’re from the same school, I will recommend your name for this post”.

After going through all the examples, the one thing I want you to take out from this section is, adverbs are highly elastic in usage.

It can be inserted between a subject and verb/adverb/adjective or replace the subject of a sentence to take the driver seat or can also be used to finish a sentence off.

Common errors while using adverbs

Even though adverbs are flexible in application, people are often found committing silly mistakes when using adverbs in a sentence. Here are a few common ones and how you can rectify each of these mistakes:

1. Good Vs. Well

Incorrect: “She dances good”.

Correct: “She dances well”.

Incorrect: “He is a well guy”.

Correct: “He is a good guy”.

People often get confused between ‘good’ and ‘well’ and think both the words are synonymous of each other.

However, the meaning may be the same, but the functionality of both words are different.

While ‘good’ is an adjective that modifies a noun or pronoun, ‘well’ is an adverb that modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb.

In the first example, you can’t use the word ‘good’ to describe the verb ‘dances’. The appropriate word would be ‘well’.

Similarly, as we saw in the second example, ‘well’ cannot define the pronoun ‘he’ because it’s an adverb. Thus, the correct word would be ‘good’ instead of ‘well’.

So in short, whenever you want to describe a Noun or Pronoun, use ‘good’ and for verbs, adjectives or other adverbs, insert ‘well’ in your sentence.

2. Use of Only

‘Only’ is one of the most commonly used words in the English language and it also graces the list of the most abused words.

Many writers think it’s okay to place it anywhere in the sentence as long as it sounds smooth while reading.

But the reality is different.

The word may seem small but has the power to change the entire meaning of a sentence. Take a look at these examples:

Only I eat burgers”. (Except for me, no one eats burgers)

“I only eat burgers”. (The only thing I do is eat burgers. I don’t smell them, don’t see them, or do anything else except for eating burgers)

“I eat only burgers”. (I don’t eat anything else except for burgers)

Did you saw the pattern?

All three sentences have contrasting meanings, and all the difference was created by the position (yes, position is important) of the word ‘only’.

‘Only’ directly impacts the word that follows it. So, the next time you use ‘only’ in your writing, make sure it comes just before the word you want to influence.

3. So vs. Too

Incorrect: It is so hot to go out.

Correct: It is too hot to go out.

Incorrect: He is so slow to win the race.

Correct: He is too slow to win the race.

‘So’ and ‘too’, both the words are intensifiers (used to describe the intensity of something).

But as per English grammar, you can’t use ‘so’ when the adjective follows the infinitive verb ‘to’. In such cases, ‘too’ is the perfect companion for ‘to’.

On the contrary, when the sentence lacks the infinitive verb ‘to’, ‘so’ is the word you should rely on.

Incorrect: She is too beautiful.

Correct: She is so beautiful.

Incorrect: You are too sweet.

Correct: You are so sweet.

4. Use of enough

Incorrect: The table was enough strong to bear our weight.

Correct: The table was strong enough to bear our weight.

Incorrect: The game was enough long to exhaust our energy.

Correct: The game was long enough to exhaust our energy.

Always use the word ‘enough’ after the adjective or adverb it is meant to impact.

5. Using negative words at the beginning of a sentence

Incorrect: Never I have seen such an enormous animal.

Correct: Never have I seen such an enormous animal.

Correct: I have never seen such an enormous animal.

Incorrect: Hardly I have watched television since last year.

Correct: Hardly have I watched television since last year.

Correct: I have hardly watched television since last year.

Though I would not recommend, if you’re planning to start a sentence with a word that denotes negative expressions, like ‘never’ or ‘hardly’, always proceed with an Auxiliary Verb and subject.

6. Using Very and Much together

It’s normal to use the phrase ‘very much’  in day-to-day conversation. But does grammar laws allow us to do so?

The answer could be yes as well as no.

The presence of ‘very much’ is incorrect when the adjective or adverb is in positive degree. Use only ‘very’ in such sentences. For example:

Incorrect: This sculpture is very much old.

Correct: This sculpture is very old.

Incorrect: I am very much happy for your progress.

Correct: I am very happy for your progress.

However, when you’re talking about an adjective which is in comparative degree, you’re allowed to pair very with much or use only ‘much’. For example:

Incorrect: This sculpture is very older than the one we saw a little while ago.

Correct: This sculpture is much older than the one we saw a little while ago.

Incorrect: Mount Everest is very higher than K2.

Correct: Mount Everest is very much higher than K2.

7. Using adverbs of manner with verbs

If a sentence contains a single verb and is not followed by an adjective or adverb, the adverb of manner almost always comes at the end.

For example,

Incorrect: She slowly walked.

Correct: She walked slowly.

Incorrect: He loudly speaks.

Correct: He speaks loudly.

Incorrect: They were violently behaving.

Correct: They were behaving violently

And with that, today’s adverb classes come to an end.

In this article, we learned what adverb is and what their functionalities are. We also looked at the different types of adverb, how to use each of them correctly, and finally, discussed the frequent errors we commit while using adverbs in our daily writing.