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Adverbs in English Grammar

Adverbs are known as a kind of ‘catch-all’ class of words‏‎ in English‏‎ and there is a lot more to them than meets the eye. To begin with, however, we can say that adverbs give us more information about other words and clarify usage.

Adverbs can give us more information about an adjective:

The only red bike.

Or a verb:

She swam beautifully.

Or a sentence as a whole:

Unfortunately it is raining so I cannot visit the zoo.

Types of Adverbs

As mentioned above, the adverb class of words tends to be a catch-all class, and there are many types of adverbs grouped there.

Different people class adverbs in different ways. However, in teaching English we often use these 5 categories: degree, frequency, time, manner & place. (For more on classification, see the end of this article.)

Adverbs of Degree

Adverbs of Degree tell us how much of something (from all to none). They usually come before the adjective or adverb they qualify.

Is there enough wine?

She can hardly sing.

Adverbs of Frequency

Adverbs of Frequency tell us how often something happens. Usually they occur before the main verb.

I rarely eat meat.

I often go to the cinema.

Many of these adverbs do not have any special form. A typical list from always to never:

always 
often
frequently
usually
normally
sometimes
occasionally
seldom
rarely
never

Bear in mind this list is arbitrary and different people will order these words differently.

Adverbs of Time

Adverbs of time tell us when something happened. They usually occur at the beginning or the end of the sentence.

I saw him last Sunday.

They met me here yesterday.

Next Thursday is my birthday.

Many of these adverbs do not have any special form and they are often a prepositional phrase.

Adverbs of Manner

Adverbs of manner tell us how something happened. They usually occur at the end of the sentence though sometimes they’re placed before the main verb.

You can dance well.

She sang that song badly.

We carefully unwrapped the packaging.

Adverbs of Place

Adverbs of place tell us where something happened. They usually occur at the end of the sentence.

I saw him at the cinema.

They met me here yesterday.

Sometimes we can put them at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis:

In the middle of the road there was a dead cat.

Many of these adverbs do not have any special form and they are often prepositional phrases.

Adverb Order

If we have more than one adverb in an adverb phrase, we generally use this order:

{manner} + {place} + {time}

you must go quickly + into the kitchen + after lunch

But again, this order is not definitive and can be changed.

you must go quickly + after lunch + into the kitchen

after lunch + you must go + quickly + into the kitchen

But be careful here, some ordering is not acceptable.

Form

Many, but not all, adverbs end in -ly. These adverbs are commonly called regular adverbs‏‎ as they are formed by following the rule of adding -ly to the end of the adjective (spelling rules apply in some cases):

He is a bad driver; he drives badly.

It is a clear day; she can see clearly.

Adverbs which do not end in -ly are called irregular adverbs‏‎ and common ones include fastslowwell and so on.

Classifying Adverbs

Different grammars classify adverbs in different ways. A good, simple, classification is to talk about adverbs of degreetimefrequency, place and manner (see above for more on these classifications) and this is how we refer to them in these resources. These are also often used by teachers of English.

However, you can also see these classifications:

descriptive: saying yes, saying no, doubting, reasoning, degree, manner, number, time, location, direction…
Interrogative: choice, asking why, asking how, asking when, asking where…
demonstrative: choice (thus, then, hence), when (now, then, hence), where (here, there), direction (hither, thither, hence, thence)
conjunctive: including

However, these classifications tend to be used more by linguists and are often less exact and precise. This means they’re often open to debate.

Useful Link

Parts of Speech‏‎ – more about the different classes of words, nouns, verbs, etc.

Adverb Position – where adverbs usually go in a sentence

Regular Adverbs – about forming regular adverbs (usually –ly)

Irregular Adverbs – adverbs which don’t follow the regular formation (e.g. –ly)

Adverbials‏‎ in English‏‎ – adverb phrases and so on

Sentences‏‎ in English Grammar – how sentences are made in English

2 Responses to Adverbs in English Grammar

  1. Nati Perales says:

    I love it! Thanks for an easy-to-follow grammar lesson.

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