Know when to use adverbs well and how to avoid over-using them to make your English writing strong.
Adverbs are some of the most confusing modifiers in the English language. Because they can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, and even prepositional phrases and the entire sentence, the use of adverbs can be confusing. Here is a closer look at when and how to use adverbs correctly.
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When to Use Adverbs?
English writers use adverbs to modify a verb (ran fast), adjective (very happy), or another adverb (very happily). In some instances, they can also modify prepositional phrases and entire sentences. They often end in -ly.
Adverbial phrases do the same thing but have several words grouped in a phrase. Whether individual words or phrases, this part of speech is one that writers often overuse, so knowing when to use them and when to avoid them is essential.
The 5 Types of Adverbs
To know when to use adverbs, you must first understand the different types of adverbs you can have in a sentence. Here is a closer look at each.
1. Adverbs of Manner
Adverbs of manner answer the question “how.” Often these adverbs end in the suffix -ly and have a position near the word they modify in the sentence. For example:
- They ran rapidly to win the race. (Rapidly tells how they ran.)
- He deliberately lied to protect his reputation. (Deliberately tells how he lied.)
2. Adverbs of Place
These adverbs answer “where” action takes place. They are different than prepositions, which show a relationship between two words in the sentence. Here are some examples of adverbs of place:
- They put the suitcase downstairs. (Downstairs tells where they put it.)
- The dog went outside to hide the bone. (Outside tells where the dog went.)
3. Adverbs of Frequency
Frequency adverbs answer “how often.” They include words that involve times but not necessarily time frames. Here are some examples of adverbs of frequency:
- He often spells his wife’s name wrong. (Often tells how often he misspells his wife’s name.)
- They will sometimes skip school for a family day. (Sometimes tells how often they skip school.)
4. Adverbs of Time
Adverbs of time answer the question “when.” These words often have a time period involved with them. They will show up at the end of a sentence or the beginning in many instances. Here are some examples:
- We will go to the fair tomorrow. (Tomorrow tells when they will go.)
- Now, take out your math books and turn to page 74. (Now, tells the students when to take out their math books.)
5. Adverbs of Emphasis
Adverbs of emphasis also end in -ly. These tell “to what extent” the action takes place or how intense another modifier is. Superlatives and intensifiers often fall into this category. Here are some examples:
- Samantha moved the least elegantly of all the dancers. (Both least and elegantly are adverbs. Least is a superlative describing elegantly, making it an adverb of emphasis. Elegantly tells how she moved.)
- Stephen King writes some very intense novels. (Very is an adverb that intensifies the adjective intense.)
Where to Use Adverbs
There are several ways to use adverbs well in your sentences. Here are some examples:
At the Beginning of a Sentence
I the adverb is going to modify the whole sentence, it will show up at the beginning and be set off by a comma. Here are some examples of sentence adverbs:
- Clearly, the weather was not conducive to a trip to the amusement park. (Clearly describes the entire sentence.)
- Suddenly, nothing else in the world seemed important. (Suddenly describes the rest of the sentence.)
At the End of a Sentence to Modify the Verb
If an adverb is at the end of the sentence, it usually modifies the verb. Here are some examples:
- When given the reward of a treat, the children did their chores happily. (Happily describes how they did their chores.)
- The teenager woke up groggily. (Groggily describes how the teen woke up.)
In the Middle of a Sentence to Modify the Adjective or Another Adverb
If the adverb modifies another modifier, it usually comes somewhere in the middle of the sentence and before modifying the other word. They will also come after the determiners, including articles a, an, and the. Here are some examples:
- The shiny silver necklace caught the infant’s attention. (Shiny modifies the adjective silver.)
- The very dirty children had to hose off before coming into the house. (Very is an adverb modifying the adjective dirty.)
As an Adverbial Phrase to Modify Other Parts of the Sentence
An adverbial phrase is a group of words that performs the role of an adverb in a sentence. They typically modify the verb or the entire sentence. These phrases significantly impact the meaning of the sentence. Here are some example sentences:
- Early in the morning, you can hear the birds singing outside. (Early in the morning is an adverbial phrase telling when.)
- They go out to dinner every other Sunday. (Every other Sunday tells when they go to dinner.)
Between Two Items to Compare Them
The comparative form of an adverb compares two items in the sentence. It usually comes between the two items in the middle of the sentence. Here are some examples:
- I think apples taste better than bananas. (Better compares the two items and modify the verb taste.)
- The boys lasted longer than the girls on field day. (Longer compares boys to girls and modifies the verb lasted.)
In the Middle of the Sentence or at the End to Compare Three or More Things
The superlative form of an adverb compares groups of three or more things. This often appears in the middle of the sentence or even at the end, but the sentence makes it clear there is a group of things being compared. Here is an example:
- She ran the slowest of the group. (Slowest is a superlative adverb modifying ran.)
- He is the most loved teacher at the school. (Most is a superlative adverb modifying the adjective loved.)
In Front of a Prepositional Phrase to Modify It
Modifying prepositional phrases is a less common use of an adverb, but it is still used. These adverbs come before the proposition and do not apply to the verb or verb phrase. Here are some examples:
- She gets stage fright just before performances. (Just modifies before performances.)
- I will go, but only with Mark. (Only modifies the prepositional phrase with Mark.)
Writing Tip: Avoid Too Many Adverbs
Finally, make sure you do not use adverbs too frequently when writing. They must be sprinkled throughout your writing like salt and pepper over a meal, but not overused. It’s far too easy to rely on these modifiers more than you should. For instance, look at this sentence:
- They were so very happily going on their way.
You could say the same thing with fewer words:
- They were joyously going on their way.
Only use adverbs when necessary or to clarify the meaning of the sentence. Do not use them simply to add more words to the sentence.
Interested in learning more? Check out our guide on “what are interrogative adjectives?“