What is an Adverb? [5 Types]

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What’s your response when someone asks for an example of an adverb?

If your response is limited to words ending in -ly such as honestly, beautifully, tirelessly, cautiously, and carefully, then you’ve learnt only tiny fraction of adverbs, arguably one of the three most important parts of speech along with noun and verb.

What’s your response when someone asks what do adverbs do?

If your response is limited to their role as modifiers of verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, then your understanding of their function, though complete, is superficial and you may struggle to identify adverbs in a sentence, especially those modifying verbs.

Before diving into details, let’s get the overall context of what we’re covering in this post.

Adverb hierarchy

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In this post, we’re covering the first column of the above image.

What is an adverb?

An adverb, also known as adjunct adverb, is a part of speech that answers when, where, in what manner, to what degree, and how frequently in a sentence to provide background information (more on this in a bit). Examples:

Note: Adverbs in the examples have been underlined.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

Tom is studying outside.

The bull charged furiously at the man.

In the above sentences, tomorrow answers when, outside answers where, and furiously answers in what manner to provide background information in the sentences. Therefore, they’re adverbs. Note that only one of the three is in -ly flavor.

Answers to these questions provide background information (or set up the context)

Let’s see what impact answers provided by adverbs make in a sentence.

In the three images below, read each sentence and see how progressive addition of adverbs (in bold) changes the background information in the image.

Impact adverbs create in sentences by providing background information

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The answers provide information on the background (or setting or context) of the sentence: Where did it happen? When did it happen? In what manner did it happen? How frequently it happened? And so on.

What’s a sentence? Description of participants (nouns) doing (verb) something. But that alone is boring. We add personality to the participants through adjectives. And we add contextual information through the answers that adverbs provide, like in the above image.

Adverbs, essentially, answer questions and make your sentence more complete. Imagine a house with only walls, floor, ceiling, doors, and windows. That’s your bare minimum sentence made of a subject and a verb. Add color and other bells & whistles to them. That’s your adjective. Now add all the furnishings and appliances. That’s your adverb.

What about the fourth image below? It contains even more background information.

The difference that adverbials make in a sentence

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In the fourth, adverbials add three more pieces of background information that wouldn’t have been possible with adverbs. (This sentence is only for illustration. In actual writing, you’re likely to use fewer adverb words and adverbials.) Adverbials comprise of all words, phrases, and clauses that function as adverb. Adverb is a small subset of adverbials.

But aren’t adverbs modifiers of verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs?

What’s this question fuss? Aren’t adverbs modifiers of verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs?

They are one of the two modifiers in English language, the other being adjectives. And there is no contradiction between an adverb answering certain questions and an adverb modifying verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs: while answering those questions, it modifies mainly verbs and occasionally adjectives and other adverbs. They just have dual personality.

But we’re mostly fed on adverbs being modifiers, an abstract concept which can sometimes be difficult to implement. There is nothing wrong with it, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of more concrete concept of answers to questions. Knowing what words an adverb modifies without knowing what background information it paints is like knowing how an internal combustion engine works without knowing how to drive.

For those interested in identifying adverbs in a sentence, going by adverb’s role as modifier alone may prove challenging in identifying adverbs, especially those modifying verbs – and unfortunately they constitute the biggest chunk of adverbs. In the following sentences, for example, it gets increasingly difficult (from first to third) to spot all the adverbs by seeing which word modifies the verb.

I’ve never spoken ill of others.

I don’t like sitting in when it’s warm outside.

His parties used to be so sought-after, but you hardly see anyone around now.

But if you see that in, outside, and around express location and now expresses time, you’ll immediately know these words are adverbs of place and time, respectively.

Second, modification route doesn’t scale well to adverbials. (Adverbials are words, phrases, and clauses that function like an adverb.) In writing, we use adverbials far more than adverbs, and they, many of which are multi-word phrases and clauses, can be even tougher to identify by seeing whether it modifies the verb. Example:

After the TV journalist lost her job, many so-called friends who used to request her for appearance on her TV show disappeared overnight.

But if you see that After the TV journalist lost her job expresses time, on her TV show expresses place, and overnight expresses duration, you’ll immediately know these are adverbials of time, place, and duration, respectively. (There are more types of adverbials than adverbs.)

Note that identification through modification is a challenge unique to adverbs and adverbials modifying verbs because they can occupy so many different positions in a sentence. You can easily identify adjectives and adjectivals through modification route because they’re either attached to the modified noun or follow a linking verb.

Types of adverbs, with examples

(When we say type of adverbs, we’re now referring to adjuncts.)

There are primarily five types of adverbs, classified on the basis of questions they answer:

  • Adverb of time (answering when)
  • Adverb of place (answering where)
  • Adverb of manner (answering in what manner)
  • Adverb of frequency (answering how frequently)
  • Adverb of degree (answering to what degree)

Note: Contrary to what some articles mention, because is not an adverb of reason. More on this after adverb of frequency.

A word on punctuation before we proceed further. We don’t need commas to separate adjunct adverbs from the words they modify. However, some use comma after the adverb in the front position, but this is optional.

(Comments that go with examples are in square brackets.)

Tomorrow, I won’t be at home. [Comment: You don’t need the comma.]

1. Adverb of time

Adverb of time answers when in a sentence.

It can modify only verbs, and it is normally placed after the verb and that too mostly at the end of the sentence. Examples:

You can leave now. [When can you leave? Now.]

Let’s meet today. [When can we meet? Today.]

I moved to another house recently. [When did I move to another house? Recently.]

I didn’t get a seat because I reached late. [When did I reach? Late.]

I had to while away some time as I reached the venue early. [When did I reach? Early.]

However, if you want to emphasize the time, you can sometimes bring the adverb to the front position. In these two, we can.

Now you can leave.

Recently I moved to another house.

Common adverbs of time are early, first, last, late, later, Monday, now, recently, soon, then, today, tomorrow, and yesterday.

It’s difficult to capture every possible adverb of time in the above list, and that’s not even the purpose of presenting this illustrative list. The purpose of above examples and the list is for you to think for a moment why a word mentioned here is an adverb of time. If you get that, you’ll be ready to identify plethora of other adverbs of time when you encounter them the first time. This holds for other four types of adverbs too.

2. Adverb of place

Adverb of place answers where in a sentence.

It can modify only verbs, and it is normally placed after the verb (if the verb is intransitive) or after the object (if the verb is transitive). Examples:

You can put the package here. [Where can you put the package? Here.]

Our neighbors moved abroad last month. [Where did our neighbors move? Abroad.]

Rehearsal is going on downstairs. [Where is rehearsal going on? Downstairs.]

I looked everywhere for the keys but couldn’t find them. [Where did I look for the keys? Everywhere.]

The stock market has gone down. [Where has the market gone? Down.]

We walked two kilometers uphill to reach the next camp. [Where did we walk two kilometers? Uphill.]

In the first four examples, the adverb of place shows location (here, abroad, downstairs, and everywhere), but in the last two, it shows direction (down and uphill)

Common adverbs of place are up, down, north, south, east, west, across, backward, forward, behind, front, uphill, downhill, everywhere, nowhere, somewhere, anywhere, inside, outside, in, out, here, there, underground, upstairs, and downstairs.

3. Adverb of manner

Adverb of manner answers in what manner is something done. Most adverbs of manner come in –ly form.

It modifies mainly verbs and occasionally adjectives. When modifying verbs, it is normally placed after the verb (if the verb is intransitive) or after the object (if the verb is transitive). When modifying adjectives, it is always placed before the adjective. Examples:

I could solve the math problem easily. [In what manner did I solve? Easily.]

He moved quickly towards the door. [In what manner did he move? Quickly.]

I carefully checked the essay for any punctuation errors. [In what manner did I check? Carefully.]

He performed well. [In what manner did he perform? Well.]

The captain was uncharacteristically silent. [In what manner was he silent? Uncharacteristically.]

In the first four examples, the adverb modifies the verb. In the last, it modifies the adjective.

Common adverbs of manner are angrily, beautifully, carefully, easily, fast, happily, loudly, patiently, quickly, quietly, slowly, softly, timely, usually, well, wonderfully, and wrongly.

4. Adverb of frequency

Adverb of frequency answers how frequently something happens. They can be either adverbs of definite frequency (hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) or adverbs of indefinite frequency (always, never, seldom, sometimes, etc.).

It can modify both verbs and adjectives. When an adverb of definite frequency modifies verbs, it is normally placed at the end of the sentence. However, when an adverb of indefinite frequency modifies verbs, it is normally placed before the verb.

When modifying adjectives, it is always placed before the adjective. Examples:

Our company declares financial result quarterly. [How frequently does the company declare financial result? Quarterly.]

I never take that street. [How frequently do I take that street? Never.]

I rarely shop online. [How frequently do I shop online? Rarely.]

I sometimes go out for a walk during lunch break. [How frequently do I go out for walk during lunch break? Sometimes.]

He is always lazy. [How frequently is he lazy? Always.]

In the first example, an adverb of definite frequency modifies the verb; in the next three, an adverb of indefinite frequency modifies the verb; and in the last, the adverb modifies an adjective.

Common adverbs of frequency are hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, biannually, usually, rarely, regularly, frequently, occasionally, often, seldom, always, never, and sometimes.

5. Adverb of degree

Adverb of degree answers to what degree something happens. It is also known as an intensifier as it increases the intensity of verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs it modifies. Of the five types of adverbs, it’s the only one that can modify all three – verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

When modifying verbs, it is normally placed before the verb. When modifying adjectives and other adverbs, it is always placed before the modified words. Examples:

I was so tired that I straightaway went to sleep. [I was tired to what degree? So.]

The witch was very cruel. [The witch was cruel to what degree? Very.]

She was really happy about not working in the evening shift. [She was happy to what degree. Really.]

He was dressed too shabbily for the occasion. [He dressed shabbily to what degree. Too.]

She sang very melodiously. [She sang melodiously to what degree. Very.]

We thoroughly enjoyed the ride. [We enjoyed the ride to what degree. Thoroughly.]

I’ll definitely come for the dinner. [I’ll come to what degree. Definitely.]

In the first three examples, the adverb modifies adjectives; in the next two, it modifies other adverbs; and in the last two, it modifies verbs.

Common adverbs of degree are almost, awfully, completely, enough, extremely, fully, kind of, more, most, only, pretty (with adjectives), quite, rather, really (with adjectives), slightly, so, somewhat, sort of, too, totally, unbelievably, and very.

Here is a summary of the five types of adverbs.

Type of adverbs

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Because isn’t adverb of reason

Some articles on adverb erroneously mention because as adverb of reason. The example they give is that of adverb clause, and not adverb. For example, this sentence has no adverb at all, let alone an adverb of reason.

I missed office because I was sick.

In the above sentence, because isn’t an adverb; it’s a subordinating conjunction. Here, an entire clause because I was sick, also called adverb clause, is functioning as an adverb. The sentence thus contains an adverb clause but not an adverb.

Adverbs can answer limited range of adverbial questions, but adverb clauses can answer far more, including why (or reason). Adverbials can do even more.

So, if you’re limiting yourself to only adverbs, you’re scratching only the surface. Significantly more power to answer adverbial questions lies in phrases and clauses that function as adverbs.

Common adverb error

Do you see any problem in the use of adverb badly in this sentence?

I feel badly about the entire episode.

On the surface, it all looks fine as the adverb is modifying the verb feel, and that’s what adverbs are supposed to do.

But feel here is functioning as a linking verb, and not a regular verb performing any action. It merely links the subject to another noun or to an adjective describing the subject, like in these sentences.

Mac is an expert. [Linking verb links the subject to a noun phrase.]

Mac is busy. [Linking verb links the subject to an adjective describing Mac.]

And a linking verb can’t be modified by adverbs. So, the sentence we started with should be:

I feel bad about the entire episode. [The linking verb should be followed by an adjective, like in Mac is busy.]

People forget that non-be verbs such as seem, look, appear, become, feel, taste, and smell can also be linking verbs and erroneously modify them with adverbs. So:

She looks beautifully beautiful.

The food tastes deliciously delicious.

Crime scene looked horrendously horrendous.

The pie smells well good.

But these verbs can take adverbs when they’re not functioning as linking verbs. Here, taste and feel aren’t linking verbs; they’re performing some action.

He tasted the alcoholic beverage reluctantly.

I felt the slime repulsively.

Learn more on adjective vs. adverb:

How adverbs affect your writing?

Adverbs play an important role in sentences by providing background information, but use of certain kind of adverbs can make your writing weak.

You might have heard the common advice of avoiding adverbs as much as possible in writing. One of the popular ones is from Stephen King, who mentioned that ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’. This advice though has been stretched by some to all adverbs when it means avoiding adverbs of manner. Later, you’ll see few examples of such adverbs from Stephen King himself.

How to avoid manner adverbs?

1. You can replace them with precise adjectives or verbs

It may be difficult to avoid them completely, but you may reduce their usage by picking precise verbs and adjectives. In the examples below, the first sentence contains a manner adverb, which can be avoided by a better verb or adjective in the following sentence.

He held his left arm tightly. He clenched his left arm. [Replaced by verb]

He walked in quickly. He strode in. [Replaced by verb]

The kid entered the room joyfully. The kid bounced in. [Replaced by verb]

He looked at me furiously and slammed the bag on the table. Seething, he slammed the bag on the table. [Here a participle, a form of verb, does the job.]

I was very happy with the outcome. I was delighted at the outcome. [Replaced by adjective]

This is a really good novel. This is an awesome novel. [Replaced by adjective]

2. You can often drop them in dialogue attribution

But in dialogue attribution, where manner adverbs are commonly used to show the manner in which the dialogue is said, even simple verbs of attribution such as said and told can work more often than not. Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft says, “While to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.” He goes on to add that the second of the two versions below is better.

‘Put it down!’ she shouted menacingly. ‘Put it down!’ she shouted.

‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously. ‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.

3. Some adverbs are just redundant

Last but not least, you can sometimes just drop the adverb when it serves no purpose. This BTW holds for all adverbs, and not just adverbs of manner.

Some experts commonly believe that Covid-19 is less infectious on surfaces.

On her death, the throne reverted back to the next male in the line of succession.

This opportunity will help me grow further in my career. [People or anything always grow further.]

Because it was raining outside, I exercised indoors. [It always rains outside.]

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