As with adjectives, adverbs are descriptors which are used to compliment another word (or words). Usually these other words are verbs, adjectives or other adverbs.
The vast majority of adverbs are made by adding -ly to the end of an adjective. Example:
Quickly, generally, magically
If the adjective already ends in a y, the y is removed and -ily is added. Example:
Happily, angrily, prettily
Some adverbs are irregular, meaning they are not formed by the usual addition of -ly. The adverb may be completely different or exactly the same as the original adjective. Examples:
Well (good), fast (fast)
Using adverbs effectively usually involves being able to identify their function and placing them in the correct part of the sentence or clause.
The following table lists the most common types of adverbs, their function, and their place in the sentence.
|Type of adverb||Example||Function||Position||Example|
|Manner||quickly, well, hungrily||How something is done||Usually after the verb or the verb phrase||He runs quickly.
The guide spoke English well.
The boy ate the sandwich hungrily.
|Intensity||very, quite, completely||To intensify (or soften) an adjective or other adverb||Before the adjective or adverb||Her cousin was very quiet.
The player performed quite well.
It was a completely mystifying decision.
|Opinion (sometimes called sentence adverbs)||fortunately, unsurprisingly, sadly||To modify the tone of the entire sentence||At the beginning of the sentence or clause (usually proceeded by a comma)||Fortunately, the team won the match.
Unsurprisingly, he felt quite unwell after eating all the cake.
It was a good effort but sadly, not enough.
|Frequency||always, sometimes, never||How often something is done||In mid position (after the subject and auxiliary but before the verb.After the verb ‘to be’||The boys always play football after school.
She has sometimes been known to complain.
My sister is never late.
|Time (adverbial phrase)||yesterday, next week, In 2012||When something is done||At the beginning or end of the sentence or clause||Yesterday I went to the cinema.
The weather will be cold next week.
I live in London but in 2012 I was living in Madrid.
|Place (adverbial phrase)||in the country,
at my neighbour’s house, in Russia
|Where something is done||Usually at the end of the sentence or clause, but can also be used more formally at the beginning (with a comma).||In the country the people are kinder.
At my neighbour’s house, the welcome is always warm.
The winter can be very cold in Russia.
|Miscellaneous||Already, just||Various meanings||Mid position||I have already done it.
She had just had a cup of coffee.
Occasionally adverbs will not follow any direct pattern or rule. A good example of this is the adverb ‘yet’ which is placed at the end of a sentence or clause. Example:
Jane hasn’t seen the movie yet.
Comparatives and Superlatives
Just as with adjectives, adverbs can be used comparatively, or to create a superlative. Usually this is done simply by adding ‘more’ and ‘the most’ to the original sentence. Examples:
Tom waited patiently. Tom waited more patiently than the others. Tom waited the most patiently of all.
Jane sang beautifully. Jane sang more beautifully than the others. Jane sang the most beautifully of them all.
However, sometimes the comparative and superlative form is the same as the adjective. Examples:
Tom ran quickly. Tom ran more quicker than the others. Tom ran the quickest of them all.
Sarah speaks French well. Sarah speaks French better than the others. Sarah speaks French the best of them all.
However, often a sentence such as the final example here can be improved by using another structure, often an adjective + noun combination. Example:
Sarah is the best French-speaker of them all.
Typical mistakes and problems
As the table above demonstrates, there are many types of adverbs and their categorisation will often impact their position in the sentence. This, along with the failure to adapt the adverb from an adjective, are the most frequent issues experienced with adverbs.
I always am singing.
I am always singing. This doesn’t change the meaning, but the sound is unnatural.
I speak English good.
Ironically not, as you would speak English well.
Fortunately, Jason was in a crash, but he was not injured.
Unless you have a strong dislike of Jason, the adverb is not only in the wrong place, but you have in effect changed the meaning of what you wanted to say.
Jason was in a crash, but fortunately he was not injured.
Changing the meaning by placing the adverb in the incorrect position is a frequent error, and only is perhaps the main culprit. Example:
I only like fish with potatoes. I like fish only with potatoes.
The first sentence means that there is one food you like: fish and potatoes. The second sentence means that if you have fish, you will always have it with potatoes.
Another common issue is that many verbs (often referred to as linking verbs which represent feelings and emotions) are not used with adverbs at all, but with adjectives.
I feel hungrily.
Unless this is a figurative way of explaining the way you use your hands, you would feel hungry (ie you want some food). The meaning has changed completely.