Adverbs have many jobs in English. They modify (tell us more about) other types of words, including verbs, adjectives, prepositions, clauses and phrases, and other adverbs. They provide context, by indicating when, where, and how something happens.
Adverbs that end in –ly
You can often recognize an adverb by the –ly at the end of the word. Look at the list of adjectives and adverbs below, and try making a sentence with each one. Use the adjectives to describe nouns and pronouns, and use the adverbs to describe verbs.
A slow turtle walks on the sand. Slow refers to the turtle, so it is an adjective.
A turtle walks slowly. Slowly refers to the verb walk, so it is an adverb.
slow (also an adverb)
Flat, or bare adverbs are easily confused with adjectives, because they look the same. Let’s look at the word slow again. As we saw at the beginning, slow is an adjective, and slowly is an adverb.
But it is also a flat adverb!
If you encounter a bear, go slow and avoid direct eye contact.
Another interesting word is near. Both near and nearly are adverbs, but they mean different things. Near indicates physical proximity, while nearly means almost.
I am near the exit.
I nearly missed the exit.
Get home safe.
See you soon.
The time went by so fast.
Take it easy.
The moon shined bright.
Historically, flat adverbs were very common in English, but in the 18th century, an arbitrary rule had developed that adverbs had to end in -ly. As you can see, some flat adverbs have survived to present day.
A note about punctuation:
We do not need a hyphen with adverbs that end in -ly, because the -ly already indicates that we are modifying another word. However, with flat adverbs, we can add a hyphen for clarity.
Incorrect: The rule is out of date, and largely-irrelevant. (The hyphen is redundant.)
Correct: My sister is a large-animal specialist. (The hyphen is required, to clarify that my sister is not a large animal.)
Adverbs of Frequency
Adverbs of frequency tell us how frequently something occurs. Here are some common ones:
Adverbs of Definite Frequency
once or twice
once a day
Adverbs of Indefinite Frequency
While different adverbs can be placed in different locations in sentences, here is a good rule of thumb:
Place adverbs of definite frequency at the end of sentences, and place adverbs of indefinite frequency between the subject and the verb.
North Americans usually shower once a day.
We always have lunch at noon.
The family pays the bills monthly.
Thomas never eats fish.
Learn more about adverbs that are used as signal words in present tenses.
Adverbs of Time
As well as how frequently something occurs, adverbs also convey when something happens, and its duration, and the time relationship between events.
for (amount of time)
since (date or time)
We have just finished lunch.
Mary went to the bank yesterday.
David has been in Cali for two weeks.
I’ll finish my chores later.
Adverbs of Degree
Adverbs of degree refer to how strong or intense something is. Here are some common adverbs of degree:
The children were quite excited about the party.
I’m rather busy today.
Are you absolutely certain?
Adverbs of Place
Adverbs of place indicate where someone or something is located.
-ward(s) is an affix that indicates motion
upward and onward
NOTE: You might be thinking, “hey! aren’t words like above and under prepositions?” If you are, well done! And yes, you are correct. How can you tell if a word is a preposition or an adverb? Here is a rule of thumb that you can use to decide:
Prepositions are usually followed by the object that they modify.
Example: Juan ran down the hill. Juan ran down what? The hill. Down in this case is a preposition.
Adverbs don’t usually take an object. They usually go at the end of the sentence.
Example: Please sit down. Sit down what? The question doesn’t make sense. There is no object, so down in this case is an adverb.
To learn more about this topic, check out this Ellii article.