An adverb is a word or an expression that modifies a verb/ verb phrase, adjective, another adverb, determiner, clause, preposition, or sentence.

Modification means describing in what manner (how/ when/ where). These are known as the functions of adverbs.

– I will diligently study.
(In the above sentence, the verb is “study” and the adverb is “diligently”. How will I study? Diligently. So, the adverb is describing how the action of study will take place.)

– I will begin early.
(In the above sentence, the verb is “begin” and the adverb is “early”. When will I begin? Early. So, the adverb is describing when the action of starting or beginning will take place.)

– The book is here.
(In the above sentence, the verb is “is” and the adverb is here. Where is the book? Here. So, the adverb is describing where the book is placed.)

The English word adverb derives (through French) from Latin adverbium, from ad– (“to”), verbum (“word”, “verb”), and the nominal suffix -ium. The term implies that the principal function of adverbs is to act as modifiers of verbs or verb phrases. An adverb used in this way may provide information about the manner, place, time, frequency, certainty, or other circumstances of the activity denoted by the verb or verb phrase.


A. An adverb modifying a verb/ verb phrase:
– She sang loudly (loudly modifies the verb sang, indicating the manner of singing)
– We left it here (here modifies the verb phrase left it, indicating place)
– I worked yesterday (yesterday modifies the verb worked, indicating time)
– You often make mistakes (often modifies the verb phrase make mistakes, indicating frequency)
– He undoubtedly did it (undoubtedly modifies the verb phrase did it, indicating certainty)

B. An adverb modifying an adjective:
– You are quite right (the adverb quite modifies the adjective right)

C. An adverb modifying another adverb:
– She sang very loudly (the adverb very modifies another adverb – loudly)

D. An adverb modifying a determiner (the):
I bought practically the only fruit (practically modifies the determiner the in the noun phrase, “the only fruit” wherein “only” is an adjective)

E. An adverb modifying a prepositional phrase:
– She drove us almost to the station (almost modifies the prepositional phrase to the station)

F. An adverb modifying a whole clause or a sentence:
– Certainly we need to act (certainly modifies the sentence as a whole)

G. Adverbs do not modify nouns, which are modified instead by adjectives.
– Compare “She sang loudly” with “Her loud singing disturbed me“. Here, the verb sang is modified by the adverb loudly, whereas the noun singing is modified by the adjective loud.

H. Because some adverbs and adjectives are homonyms, their respective functions are sometimes conflated:
Even numbers are divisible by two.
– The camel even drank.

The word “even” in the first sentence is an adjective, since it is a prepositive modifier that modifies the noun “numbers”. The word “even” in the second sentence is a prepositive adverb that modifies the verb “drank.”

I. Although it is possible for an adverb to precede or to follow a noun or a noun phrase, the adverb nonetheless DOES NOT modify either in such cases, as in:
– Internationally there is a shortage of protein for animal feeds
– There is a shortage internationally of protein for animal feeds
– There is an international shortage of protein for animal feeds

In the first sentence, “Internationally” is a prepositive adverb that modifies the clause, “there is …”
In the second sentence, “internationally” is a postpositive adverb that modifies the clause, “There is …”
By contrast, the third sentence contains “international” as a prepositive adjective that modifies the noun, “shortage.”

J. An adverb is flexible in its placement, unlike the attributive nature of an adjective, which comes prior to the noun it modifies (Adjective + Noun),  For an adverb, generally, the most common placement is: Adverb + Verb
– We finally concluded the meeting. (finally + concluded)
However, it can be placed at the beginning or at the last, depending upon the meaning to be conveyed:
– Finally, we concluded the meeting. (finally placed at the beginning)
– We concluded the meeting finally. (finally placed at the last)

K. Placing adverb with a single verb:
– Adverb + Verb: He clearly elucidated the point.
– Verb + Adverb: He elucidated the point clearly.
– Adverb + Subject: Clearly, he elucidated the point.
The placement depends on where the writer wants to apply the stress.

L. With compound verbs (more than one verbs), the adverb should be placed as follows:
– two-verbs compound verb: Place the adverb between the verbs. For example, “They were adequately forwarned about the harm of not preparing.” (Here, “were” is a helping/auxilliary verb and “forewarned” is a verb, and the compound verb is “were forewarned”. The adverb “adequately” is placed between them.)

– three-or-more verbs compound verb: Place the adverb after the first helping verb. For example, “They have adequately been forewarned about the harm of not preparing.” (Here, “have been forewarned” is a compound verb and the adverb “adequately” is placed after the first helping verb “have”)

– three-or-more verbs compound verb: Place the adverb immediately prior to the main verb, if the main verb is being stressed by the adverb. For example, “They have been adequately forewarned about the harm of not preparing”. (Here, the adverb “adequately” is placed just before the main verb “forewarned” to lend stress to it.)

M. In any sentence, adverbs and adjectives can be easily identified by asking the following questions:
– Adverbs (How? When? Where?)
– Adjectives (What kind? How many? Which?)

N. Be careful when using the word “only”. The word “only” is an adverb, an adjective and a conjunction. The placement of the word can change the meaning of the sentence. Place it according to the meaning that you want to give to your sentence.
– Only she went to the school.
– She only went to the school.
– She went only to the school.
– She went to the only school.
– She went to the school only.

O. Adverbs of manner (answering the question how?) are often formed by adding -ly to adjectives. Exceptions to this rule are adverbs like nowhere, everywhere, et cetera. Generally, words ending with -ly are recognised as adverbs.

P. A flat adverb, bare adverb, or simple adverb is an adverb that has the same form as the corresponding adjective, so it usually does not end in -ly, e.g. “drive slow”, “drive fast”, but sometimes it does, e.g. “drive friendly”.

1. O’Conner, P.T.; Kellerman, S. (2009). Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language. Random House Publishing Group. p. 30. ISBN 9781588368560.
2. Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid (2015). “Flat Adverbs: Acceptable Today?”. English Today. 31: 9–10. doi:10.1017/s0266078415000188.
3. Ernst, Thomas. 2002. The syntax of adjuncts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Jackendoff, Ray. 1972. Semantic Interpretation in Generative Grammar. MIT Press.
6. Rodney D. Huddleston, Geoffrey K. Pullum, A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar, CUP 2005.
7. Thomas Edward Payne, Describing Morphosyntax: A Guide for Field Linguists, CUP 1997.
8. Huddleston, Rodney (1988). English Grammar: An Outline. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.2277/0521311527. ISBN 0-521-32311-8.
9. Cinque, Guglielmo. 1999. Adverbs and functional heads—a cross linguistic perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
10. Haegeman, Liliane. 1995. The syntax of negation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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