Introduction to Adverbs
Adverbs are also called modifiers. Whereas adjectives modify nouns, adverbs most frequently modify verbs. Adverbs can also modify adjectives and even other adverbs.
An adverb answers four specific questions about the word it modifies: where? (here, inside, there, across, out), when? (never, tomorrow, afterward, before, while), how? (irritatingly, swiftly, suspiciously, fervently), and to what extent? (so, very, too, extremely, really).
Memorizing these questions will help you identify adverbs. You can also look for words that end in -ly, as long as you remember that not all such words are adverbs. For example, friendly, neighborly, costly, ugly, burly, lovely, and cowardly are adjectives, not adverbs.
The table that follows shows examples of how adverbs are used. For clarification, the adverbs are boldfaced, and the words they modify are underlined.
Just as adjectives can show degrees of comparison, so can adverbs, with the words more, most, less, and least, and the suffixes -er and -est. A comparative adverb contrasts two words; a superlative compares three or more. Follow these rules for making adverbs for comparing:
Rule 1. One-syllable adverbs use the -er and -est endings.
Rule 2. Two-syllable adverbs use more and most to enhance the degree, or less and least to decrease the degree.
quickly—more quickly—most quickly
often—less often—least often
Rule 3. Irregular adverbs do not follow either form.
Tip: Absolute adverbs—words like all, every, completely, and entirely—already refer to everything possible, and therefore cannot be intensified any further. Similarly, never and always, two extremes of when, would be difficult to use in the comparative and superlative.
Distinguishing Between Adverbs and Adjectives
It is not unusual to encounter words that look like they are one part of speech when, in fact, they are playing the role of another.
The bird arrived early and caught the worm.
The early bird catches the worm.
In the first sentence, early is an adverb modifying the verb arrived, answering the question when did the bird arrive?—early. In the second sentence, early is an adjective modifying the noun bird, answering the question what kind of bird is it?—an early bird.
The following table gives some examples of adverbs and adjectives that share the same form. The adverbs and adjectives are boldfaced, and the words being modified are underlined.
Some adjectives and adverbs can be a bit troublesome because they appear interchangeable, but are not.
Good and Well
The word good is always an adjective. Good implies satisfactory or commendable.
You did a good job as PR rep.
John is such a good map reader.
Well can be an adjective or an adverb. As an adverb, it implies how something is done.
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