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1.6: Inevitably, Adverbs

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    Adverbs are another important kind of modifier. Here’s a definition that we’ll refer to time and again:

    Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

    When adverbs modify verbs, they indicate when, where, why, or how the action was performed.

    Let’s begin with the simple sentence He ran. Ran is a verb and the complete predicate in this sentence, and we can expand the predicate by adding any possible adverb:

    He ran quickly.

    Instead of quickly, we could use slowly, clumsily, gracefully, erratically, fast, then, later, and many others.

    All the adverbs we can add to He ran answer this question: “When, where, why, or how did he run?” Common adverbs that modify verbs include soon, later, now, then, before, after, here, there, forward, backward, badly, well, far, also, not, too, and many more.

    Remember this point we saw in Chapter 3: When a word appears between an auxiliary verb and the main verb, it’s an adverb that modifies the main verb:

    He had finally stopped the noise.

    Remember, too, that all the adverbs we add to a sentence to modify the verb are part of the complete predicate.

    When adverbs modify adjectives, they appear before the adjective and modify the quality expressed by the adjective:

    The bright red car sped away.

    We use (and overuse) several adverbs to modify adverbs, particularly very. We could write quite, extremely, somewhat, or rather. Here, the adverb helps to describe the color of the red car.

    When adverbs modify other adverbs, adverbs modify the quality expressed by the other adverb:

    Mr. Morton ran quite quickly.

    Instead of quite, we could write somewhat, very, a bit, rather, more, or less. Here, adverbs answer the question, “How quickly did Mr. Morton run?”

    Notice that, when adverbs modify adjectives or other adverbs, they nearly always appear just before the word they modify.

    Clearly adverbs are a diverse class of words; they have a great many uses and forms.


    Some adverbs, like many adjectives, have three forms, which together make the comparison of the adverb:


    early warmly generously suspiciously


    more warmly more generously more suspiciously


    most warmly most generously most suspiciously

    Here again, we use the positive when we’re describing the action or quality of one thing, we use the comparative when we’re comparing two (and only two), and we use the superlative when we’re comparing three or more.

    A relatively small number of adverbs form comparisons with the -er and -est suffixes:

    Susan runs fast.
    Susan runs faster than Alice. In fact, she runs fastest of all.

    The examples above show that some adverbs (like fast) resemble adjectives with little or no difference in spelling or pronunciation, but with a clear difference in their use. This is obvious if we compare the three sentences above about Susan with the similar sentences we saw in Chapter 4:

    Susan is a fast runner.
    Susan is a faster runner than Alice. In fact, she’s the fastest runner of all.

    With fast (and some words like it), we can distinguish the adverb fast from the adjective fast only by the context. When we use a word like fast to modify a verb, grammarians say that we use it adverbially.

    Most of the adverbs that end with -ly use the more and most comparisons. Dictionaries can always help you find the right forms.


    There are also irregular adverbs that don’t follow the usual patterns. They are some of the most commonly used adverbs, so you know most of them already:


    much (or many) far


    worse better less more farther further


    worst best least most farthest furthest

    Far requires some attention. In prescriptive grammar, far, farther, and farthest are supposed to be used to describe physical distance:

    He ran farther than I did.

    Far, further, and furthest are to be used in every other kind of situation:

    He went further in school than I did.

    It’s no surprise that some writers find this distinction unnecessary, especially because most Americans aren’t even aware of it. These writers argue that the adverb is always clear no matter which form is used, so we need to settle on one set of comparisons and use it in most or all situations.

    But there is no clear consensus on how to simplify the far comparison. (That word is far too troublesome.) In your professional writing, an editor or supervisor may expect you to do it the prescriptive way.


    Used correctly, other words can modify verbs—particularly nouns that specify where, how, or when the action occurred:

    We walked home.
    We walked single file.

    This may seem odd, but it will be clearer when we discuss form, function, and parts of speech in Chapter 16.

    Nouns regarding time are commonly used adverbially:

    They celebrated her birthday yesterday. Tomorrow we go on vacation.
    Monday we return from vacation.
    They worked in the yard Saturday.

    Nouns can also function adverbially to modify adjectives. In these sentences, the modified adjective is in bold:

    My son is now four feet tall.
    My daughter is two inches taller. They worked all day long.

    Finally, adverbial nouns can modify other adverbs. In these sentences, the modified adverbs are in bold:

    I wish we had left a day later. We can go ten miles farther.


    When, where, why, and how are four of the most important adverbs in our language. They are the interrogative adverbs, the ones we use to ask questions. We usually place them at or near the beginning of a question:

    Where are you going? When will you be back?

    There are of course other useful question words, like who or what, but those are interrogative pronouns, which we’ll learn about in Chapter 19.

    In this chapter, we’ve learned that nouns can be used adverbially, and the interrogative adverbs return the favor. Sometimes they are used as nouns:

    I know I’m supposed to be someplace today, but I can’t remember where or when.


    1. Place adverbs correctly.

    Adverbs that modify verbs are often moveable; they can be placed in several places in the sentence without changing the meaning:

    Quickly Phil called the police. Phil quickly called the police. Phil called the police quickly.

    Quietly the children hurried home. The children quietly hurried home. The children hurried home quietly.

    Then he ran. He then ran. He ran then.

    The three underlined adverbs obviously work in several places in the sentence. Moving them doesn’t alter the meaning, although it may alter the rhythm or emphasis in the sentence. But moving some words, like only or however, can change the meaning:

    Only Mr. Morton broke the vase.
    [Mr. Morton broke it all by himself.]

    Mr. Morton only broke the vase.
    [He didn’t do anything else to it.]

    Mr. Morton broke only the vase.
    [He didn’t break anything else—yet.]

    As we move only, the new contexts change its meaning in the sentences above. (In the first sentence, only is an adjective.)

    2. Distinguish good and well.

    Writing for publication or for other professional reasons, you must observe the distinction between good and well:

    He is a good writer.
    He writes well. [Never write He writes good.]

    Good is an adjective. Well is sometimes an adverb and sometimes an adjective, depending on context. It can be an adjective meaning healthy, in sentences like this:

    Finally my son is well.

    It’s hard to use well well. Probably everyone has confused good and well in casual conversation at one time or another, and there it seldom matters. But readers and editors will assume that you’re a careless writer if you confuse the two in your professional work.


    These exercises refer to matters you’ve read about in the last two chapters. Don’t hesitate to turn back to Chapter 4 if you need to review.

    5a. In the following sentences, mark the underlined words to classify them as adjectives (ADJ) or adverbs (ADV). Count the articles a, an, and the as adjectives. The adverbs here modify verbs only. Here are examples to help:


    This is a pleasant day.


    The small child runs quickly.


    The other child runs faster.

    1. The smaller child learned the simplest tasks. 2. The child learns eagerly.

    3. John almost had an answer to the difficult question.
    4. Father always encourages realistic thinking.
    5. The furious family did not wait to see the busy manager.
    6. A thick, wet snow fell softly.
    7. Silently, a strange man in a black cape stood in the shadows.

    5b. Write the comparative and superlative forms of these adverbs; use a dictionary when you need to.

    1. Fast
    2. Quickly
    3. Slowly
    4. Angrily
    5. Carefully
    6. Well
    7. Badly
    8. Early
    9. Far (referring to geographical distance) 10. Often

    5c. In these sentences, classify the underlined adverbs: Do they modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs?

    Inevitably, Adverbs | 49

    50 | Brehe’s Grammar Anatomy

    1. Your mistake was a very small one.
    2. He does well when he tries hard.
    3. He does quite well when he tries.
    4. The secretary’s notes are evidently missing. 5. Now we finally have the notes.

    6. We took notes rather rapidly, but we could not keep up.

    7. We still need good notes.

    5d. Correct the errors in the underlined adjectives and adverbs, which may include suffixes or, in some cases, the placement of the word. Some are correct.

    1. Esther and Ryan play good, but Esther plays best.
    2. By sunset we will have hiked ten miles or further.
    3. The library has the most complete book on baseball.
    4. Bob was the student only left behind. [Here the writer is trying to say that no one else was left behind.]
    5. Final we reached the motel.
    6. Be real careful on this highway.
    7. We saw that Bart looked sadly.

    8. Bart was looking sad at his wrecked car.
    9. Bart was feeling sadly on his way home.
    10. In the lab, we measured the results as precise as we could.

    1.6: Inevitably, Adverbs is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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