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Adverbs: Grammar Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Adverbs: Grammar Practice Exercises.

Like adjectives, adverbs modify words, specifically verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Of those three, verbs are the most often modified.

Adverbs answer five specific questions about the words they modify.

 

Where?  ------  here, there, everywhere, outside, underneath 

When? ------- now, then, sometimes, often, infrequently, yesterday

How much?(To what extent?) ------ really, too, extremely, very, so

How often? ------ daily, weekly, sometimes, never, once, twice

How long? ------ forever, all day, not long, all night, for a while

 

Just as when you are trying to identify adjectives, you can ask yourself these questions to help you determine whether a word is an adverb. Let's try it.

 

The mouse scampered hastily across the kitchen floor yesterday.

 

Notice the -ly word hastily. Does it answer how something was done? Yes, it answers how the mouse scampered (a verb): It scampered hastily. Do you notice any other words that may be adverbs? How about yesterday? Does yesterday answer any adverb questions? Yes, it answers when the mouse scampered hastily: yesterday. Good! Let's try another one.

 

His hair grows so fast that it has to be trimmed often.

 

There aren't any -ly words this time. Don't panic! Notice the word fast. This word answers how his hair grows—it grows fast—and, therefore, it is an adverb. Now, take the word so. So answers to what extent of fast it grows—it grows so fast—making so an adverb (modifying another adverb). The next word, often, answers when haircuts are needed: often.

Inside Track

Not all words ending in -ly are adverbs. There are some adjectives that share the same ending.

    friendly, neighborly, costly, ugly, burly, lovely, cowardly

Comparing Adverbs

Just like adjectives, adverbs use -er and -est, as well as more, most, less, and least to show degrees of comparison. The comparative degree is used when comparing only two persons or things; the superlative degree is used when comparing three or more persons or things.

For short one-syllable adverbs, use the -er and -est endings.

soon sooner soonest

For longer two-syllable adverbs, use more and most to enhance their degree or less and least to decrease the degree.

often more often most often
frequently more frequently most frequently

Additionally, irregular adverbs don't follow either form.

well better best
badly worse worst
far farther/further farthest/furthest

Last, some adverbs just can't be intensified, no matter how hard you try. They are referred to as absolute adverbs. The words all, every, completely, and entirely, for instance, imply everything possible—how could there be more? Likewise, never and always imply the two extremes of when. You certainly would have trouble trying to do something more always or less never, wouldn't you agree?

Adverb or Adjective

It isn't unusual, as you already know, to encounter a word that looks like it is one part of speech when, in fact, it is really another. For instance:

      Shelly studied hard for the test on the Industrial Revolution.
      Shelly thought the test on the Industrial Revolution was hard.

In the first sentence, hard is modifying, or enhancing, the verb studied. It is answering the question how Shelly studied: She studied hard. In the second sentence, hard is modifying, or enhancing, the noun test. It answers the question what kind of test: It was a hard test.

Here are some words that can be more than one part of speech.

There are many others. Can you think of some?

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Adverbs: Grammar Practice Exercises.

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