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There are two parts of speech that serve as modifiers (words that add information about other words): adjectives and adverbs. 

Adjectives and adverbs serve different purposes, but many writers still confuse them, sometimes using adjectives in place of adverbs (or vice versa).

If you want to avoid similar gaffes, learning when and how to use adverbs can help you improve your writing and add extra value to your descriptions.

What Are Adverbs? 

An adverb is a word used to modify or describe a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or an entire sentence. Look at the examples below to see how an adverb modifies these different parts of speech: 

Adverb:Modifies:
The boy runs fastThe adverb “fast” modifies the verb “runs.” 
Tim is a very smart boy. The adverb “very” modifies the adjective “smart.”
Because of the fist fight, the party ended too soonThe adverb “too” modifies the adverb “soon” (the adverb “soon” modifies the verb “ended”).
Fortunately, the rain stopped just before the game started.The adverb “fortunately” modifies the whole sentence.

Let’s look at each example in more detail. 

Adverbs and Verbs 

One of the most basic functions of adverbs is the modification of verbs, or describing the way that an action is being done. Many of these adverbs can be formed by adding the suffix “-ly” to the adjective, such as carefully, quietly, softly, and slowly

Here are some more examples in sentences:

  • Julia sang excellently at the Literary-Musical Festival. 
  • The dog barked loudly at the stranger. 
  • The woman waved frantically at the police. 

An easy way to identify an adverb in a sentence is to ask yourself: in what manner is the action done? 

For the examples above, in what manner did Julia sing at the Literary-Musical Festival? Excellently. In what manner did the dog bark at the stranger? Loudly. In what manner did the woman wave at the police? Frantically. 

Important Note on Linking Verbs

Although adverbs generally describe verbs, one exception is linking verbs. Linking verbs are words that connect the subject with a word that provides information about it, such as a relationship or a condition. They do not refer to any action. 

Examples of linking verbs include: seem, appear, feel, sound, and smell. 

Because of this, linking verbs cannot be modified by adverbs. Adjectives are needed, because essentially, it modifies the noun or pronoun and not the linking verb itself. Take a look at the example below: 

WRONG: She felt badly about laying off some of her employees. 

CORRECT: She felt bad about laying off some of her employees.

“Feel” is a verb, and it sounds like it would require an adverb. But “feel” is a linking verb that will show how someone feels about something. This is why an adjective is the appropriate modifier. 

Adverbs and Adjectives 

In addition to modifying verbs, an adverb can also describe an adjective. Often, the purpose is to give the adjective a degree of intensity. The adverb is put in bold, while the adjective is underlined. 

For example: 

  • Her three-month-old baby is so adorable! 
  • For their homeschool studies, they use classic literature books that are more interesting than dry textbooks. 
  • I heard the loud crashing sound before I saw what it was. 

Adverbs and Other Adverbs 

An adverb can also be used to describe another adverb. You can even use several of them at the same time. The two adverbs are put in bold, and the adverb being modified is underlined. 

For example: 

  • He says when it comes to directions, his wife is almost always right. 
  • Her husband snores rather loudly
  • The waves came rushing almost angrily to the shore. 

Adverbs and Sentences

Lastly, adverbs can modify even entire sentences. (Did you notice that we used one in the first sentence of this paragraph? “Lastly” modifies the sentence “adverbs can modify even entire sentences.”) 

The most common sentence adverbs are: fortunately, actually, generally, accordingly, and interestingly. These words do not describe any one specific word in the sentence, but instead give a general feeling about the information provided in the sentence. 

For example: 

  • Fortunately, the plane didn’t take off until I arrived, breathless from all that running! 
  • Generally, cakes are made of eggs, flour, and butter, but vegan options now exist. 
  • Actually, I didn’t think you would like it. 

What Are the 7 Types of Adverbs? 

Adverbs come in seven different types, distinguished by their meaning, as follows: 

1. Adverbs of time

These answer the question “When?” or “How often?” Examples are: 

  • Please come early
  • I go to the gym twice a week
  • The lockdown started today.

2. Adverbs of place

These adverbs answer the question “Where?” Examples are: 

  • The dog has gone inside
  • Last month, my favorite singer came here for a concert. 
  • The baby crawled outside.  

3. Adverbs of degree

These answer the question “How much?” or “How little?” 

  • The homework assignment is long enough
  • The teenager ate so much at the buffet, he got a stomachache. 
  • Edgar put only a little sugar into the cake batter. 

4. Adverbs of manner

These answer the question “How?” or “In what manner?” 

  • Everyone was surprised when Betsy solved the complicated math problem easily
  • The figure skater glided smoothly over the ice. 
  • The hotel manager bowed gallantly to welcome the president. 

5. Adverbs of frequency

These describe how often something is done.

For example:

  • She hardly ever goes to church.
  • The Nile River is said to flood every three years.
  • The baby always cries when he wakes up.

6. Adverbs of affirmation or negation

These tell whether the statement is true or false. 

  • Yes, I’m attending the party on Saturday. 
  • No, the bell didn’t ring; you must be hearing things. 
  • Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. 

7. Interrogative adverbs

You might be surprised to learn that adverbs are also used in asking questions. 

  • Why are you here? 
  • How did she ever convince her mom to let her go? 
  • What is the meaning of this? 

How to Use Adverbs 

When using adverbs, place them as close as possible to the word they are modifying. If you put the adverb too far away, it can result in an awkward sentence, or even change the meaning of the sentence to something you never meant to say. 

One of the most commonly misplaced adverbs is the word “only.” Take a look at the two examples below: 

  • Peter only shook Gloria’s hand.  
  • Peter shook only Gloria’s hand.

The first sentence means that all that Peter did was shake Gloria’s hand, he didn’t do anything else. The second sentence means that the only hand he shook was Gloria’s hand, and not anyone else’s.  

If your adverb is meant to modify a verb phrase, put it in the middle of the phrase, as in the examples below:  

  • Joseph has always been a smart baby. 
  • The pandemic is quickly reaching epic proportions. 
  • The customer service associate will happily help you understand the cost breakdown of your bill. 

Use Strong Words to Avoid Too Many Adverbs 

Adverbs are usually helpful tools that allow you to explain something in more detail. But sometimes, a writer can use them in unnecessary settings. Using an adverb to modify a verb or adjective may be skipped altogether by simply choosing a stronger verb or adjective. 

For example, instead of saying “He walked very fast,” you can say, “he scurried off.” Or, instead of saying, “The house looks very old,” you can say, “The house looks ancient.”

Using Adverbs

Knowing when and how to use adverbs can add power to your writing, but be careful not to overdo it—sometimes less is more!

Always scrutinize your work to weed out unnecessary words, and you will be well on your way to concise, meaningful writing.

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