What is an Adverb Study Guide
What is an Adverb
Grammar, which rules even kings . . .
Adverbs add vividness and imagery to language in a different way than adjectives do. Learn these differences, and how you can apply them to your writing and speech.
Like adjectives, adverbs are also modifiers. They modify verbs most often, but they can also modify adjectives and other adverbs. Some adverbs are very easy to spot, like the words so, very, and really, and most -ly words.
Adverbs answer four specific questions about the verbs, adjectives, and adverbs they modify: where? (everywhere, outside, under), when? (always, yesterday, later), how? (quickly, voraciously, surprisingly), and to what extent? (so, very, really). Like adjectives, some adverbs can come either before or after the words they're modifying:
- Kathi and Fred walked briskly around the track.
Kathi and Fred briskly walked around the track.
While spotting -ly adverbs can be fairly simple, it's important to keep in mind that not all -ly words are adverbs. Some can be adjectives: friendly, neighborly, yearly, mannerly, daily, lovely, elderly, and cowardly, to name just a few. Remember to look for the type of word the -ly word is modifying: It's an adjective if it modifies a noun or a pronoun; it's an adverb if it modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.
The following chart provides you with some examples of how adverbs are used. As you look through the chart, see if you can identify what question the adverb is answering about the modified word.
Distinguishing Between Adverbs and Adjectives
Sometimes we see a word used one way in a sentence, and the very same word used in a completely different way in another sentence. How can that be? Simple! Just as you might be a son or daughter to your parents, a brother or sister to your siblings, and a grandson or granddaughter to your grandparents, a word can also wear different hats from sentence to sentence. For instance:
- Stacy commented that the test was harder than she thought.
- Hal should try harder to be patient with his younger sister.
In the first sentence, harder modifies the noun test, making it an adjective. It is answering what kind of test it was. In the second sentence, harder is modifying the verb try, answering how Hal should try.
The chart on the opposite page illustrates some other adverbs and adjectives that share the same form.
On the other end of the spectrum, some adjectives and adverbs that look similar are not interchangeable. You can avoid the trap by learning their differences.
Good and Well
The word good is only an adjective, never an adverb. Good implies acceptable or satisfactory.
Ian is a good diver.
Well can be an adjective or an adverb. As an adjective, well means healthy:
Veronica didn't look well when I saw her.
The adverb form signifies how something is done:
He played his defensive position well this season.
Bad and Badly
Bad is also only an adjective, never an adverb. It signifies how someone looks, feels, sounds, or just is (in any form of the verb be):
Sandy's broken toe looked bad.
Badly is only an adverb, never an adjective. It modifies the action verb in the sentence, telling how something is done:
She limped badly for more than two weeks.
A grammar exercise for this concept can be found at What is an Adverb Practice Problems
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