Adverbs often modify verbs, and can also modify adjectives, other adverbs, or entire clauses.

The surest way to identify adverbs is by the ways they can be used: they can modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb or even a whole clause.

  • Usha soon started snoring loudly. [adverbs modifying the verbs started and snoring]
  • That match was really exciting! [adverb modifying the adjective exciting]
  • We don't get to play games very often. [adverb modifying the other adverb, often]
  • Fortunately, it didn't rain. [adverb modifying the whole clause 'it didn't rain' by commenting on it]

Adverbs are sometimes said to describe manner or time. This is often true, but it doesn't help to distinguish adverbs from other word classes that can be used as adverbials, such as preposition phrases, noun phrases and subordinate clauses.

Not adverbs:

  • Usha went up the stairs. [preposition phrase as adverbial: modifies leaves]
  • She finished her work this evening. [noun phrase used as adverbial]
  • She finished when the teacher got cross. [subordinate clause used as adverbial]

On the distinction between adverb and Adverbial, see the entry on the latter.

Adverbs in use


Three short extracts are given in Slide 1 in the Activity page in the right hand menu. Take each extract in turn and follow these steps:

Adverbs in use: Activity

  1. Anna walked slowly through the streets, looking vacantly around her. People went past busily with their shopping bags. She kept thinking miserably about Mark’s words to her.
  2. Entering the cave cautiously, Jack saw the dragon sitting fiercely beside its treasure. Steam came loudly from its nostrils, animal bones lay thickly on the floor and the whole cave smelled strongly of scorched flesh. Jack looked at the scene fearfully.
  3. The child cried loudly, holding his teddy-bear tightly. His mother spoke to him impatiently.

Adverb identification

In this activity, students work through the criteria for identifying adverbs.

Adverb identification: Activity 1

Which words do you think are adverbs? Remember the following clues:

Adverb placement

In this activity, students explore the possibility of placing adverbs in various places within a sentence.


  • Practise constructing sentences with adverbs.
  • Identify a key trait of adverbs - that they can often be placed at various points in a sentence.

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will be building sentences with adverbs.

Adverb or adjective?

In each of the following examples, indicate whether the highlighted word is an adverb or an adjective:

Identify the adverbs

Click on the words that you think are adverbs to select or deselect them.

Y6 GPaS Test: Adjective or adverb?

In each of the following examples, indicate whether the highlighted word is an adjective or an adverb:

Y6 GPaS Test: Identify the adverb

Identify the adverbs in each of the following examples. Click on the word (or words) to select or deselect them.

Y6 GPaS Test: Identify the adverb - Advanced

Identify the adverbs in each of the following examples. Click on the word (or words) to select or deselect them.

Adverb phrases

An adverb phrase is a phrase with an adverb as the Head word. The Head adverb can occur alone or with modifiers, i.e. other words which expand the phrase, for example:


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

  • ‘I keep hoping they'll come back,’ Tanya said despairingly. [W2F-006 #244]

In this case the adverb is modifying the verb said.

  • It’s a very fast road all the way. [S1A-021 #195]

In this case the adverb is modifying the adjective fast.

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.

Double negatives

Since the 17th century, English grammarians have spoken out against constructions with double negatives. Before the 17th century, double negatives were considered perfectly acceptable in English, like in present-day Spanish, French and many other languages of the world. Even today we're often taught to avoid a double negative.

The idea is that we should try to avoid saying something like:

  • He didn't not get the prize.

This is because in logic, two nots cancel each other out. So the statement above would logically mean:


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