Adverbs

Adverbs are words that typically modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb or an entire sentence:

In this case the adverb modifies the verb said.

In this case the adverb modifies the adjective fast.

In the next example the adverb very modifies the adverb rarely, and in turn very rarely is an adverb phrase that modifies the verb worked:

Finally, in the example below the adverb unfortunately modifies the whole sentence:

Many adverbs end in -ly and this is a form test that can be often applied to them. But not all do, and there are also some words that end in -ly that aren’t adverbs (lonely, ugly, silly).

What you may also notice is that many adverbs are composed by adding -ly to adjectives. Examples of -ly adverbs like this are:

Adjective
Adverb
slow
slowly
quick
quickly
soft
softly
sudden
suddenly
gradual
gradually

Many adverbs, like adjectives, are gradable. Gradable adverbs can be modified with very and extremely:

Here, the adverbs very and extremely modify the adverbs slowly and thoroughly. Very and extremely are called degree adverbs because they tell us to what degree the adverb applies.

Other examples of degree adverbs are shown below:

Many adverbs can also be formed into comparative and superlative forms with the addition or -er or -est, examples being:

However, many don't take such forms, and therefore need to be used with more or most in front of them instead.

Examples of adverbs needing more and most are:

Adverbs can express many different types of meanings. The following are just a few examples.

See also: adverb phrase.

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Adverbs: Avoiding adverb overuse

Adverbs are quite a varied class of words, which work in several different ways in sentences. Think of examples like obviously, afterwards, extremelygently. These show that adverbs can express many different kinds of meaning.

This makes adverbs a useful word class. However, many experienced writers advise us to avoid overusing adverbs, and instead find other ways of describing actions and events.

Warnings about adverb overuse usually concern manner adverbs. This type of adverb modifies a verb and describes how (or in what ‘manner’) something happens. In this way it tells us more about the action or process described by the verb. Here are some examples of manner adverbs:

A common writing problem is to rely too heavily on manner adverbs to describe the action in a story. The following passage is an example. Pause here for a moment and see if you can find all the manner adverbs:

Here is the same passage with the manner adverbs marked:

You probably noticed that all these adverbs ending in -ly sound clumsy when they occur close together. They seem to clog up the writing and stop it from flowing. They also fail to provide a vivid description of the action.

For example, this passage tells us that Josh came quickly into the room, combining an adverb with the verb came, which conveys a rather bland meaning.

Instead, a stronger verb could be used on its own to create a more vivid image of Josh’s action: for instance, we could write that he strode or stalked or stomped into the room.

Similarly, instead of The door opened suddenly we could have The door burst open. Then we might have:

The passage also tells us that Fiona was chatting flirtatiously, but this does not give us a clear image. It would be better to describe what she was actually doing:

Similar points apply to the use of angrily and aggressively.

Experienced writers advise us to ‘show rather than tell’ the reader what is happening.

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