What is an Adverb?
So far in your quest to better understand the different forms of speech in the English language, you will have learned about Verbs. As brought out in the article – What Is a Verb? – this is a word that conveys action in a sentence. We mentioned there that most sentences require a verb. But sometimes, in order to make our speech more exciting and give even more information about the action we are trying to convey, we need to employ the use of Adverbs. What is an Adverb?
Adverbs are words that modify or tell us more about verbs and about how the action was done. They may also modify Adjectives, other Adverbs or even the tone of the whole sentence. This particular part of speech tells us how, where, when, why, etc. in a sentence.
Depending on the context, the adverb can come before or after the verb or at the beginning or end of a sentence. Some examples are mentioned below:
- He ran quickly = (‘Quickly’ tells us about the verb ‘ran’)
- She drives dangerously = (‘Dangerously’ tells us about the verb ‘drives’)
- She is exceptionally clever = (‘Exceptionally’ tells us about the adjective ‘clever’)
- He is tremendously thoughtful = (‘Tremendously’ tells us about the adjective ‘thoughtful’)
- Don’t eat so quickly = (‘So’ tells us about the adverb ‘quickly’)
- You are too picky = (‘Too’ tells us about the adverb ‘picky’)
- Perhaps you will win the lottery = (‘Perhaps’ changes the whole nature of the sentence)
- Maybe we will be rich = (‘Maybe’ changes the whole nature of the sentence)
TYPES OF ADVERBS
Adverbs may be identified by their functions.
- well, (these usually end in –‘ly’)
DEGREE (to what extent?)
FREQUENCY (how often?)
The insertion of these words changes the nature of the sentence and usually expresses the speaker’s opinion. These sentence modifier adverbs are usually found at the beginning of the sentence
Some examples of sentence modifiers used in a sentence would be:
- I actually never liked that person
- Fortunately, we showed up at the correct time
- Honestly, I can’t think of a better gift
- Surely you don’t believe he would do such a thing
As you would have seen in our post on adjectives, some parts of speech include degrees of comparison. Adverbs also have degrees of comparison. There are three degrees of comparison in adverbs – the Regular or Positive, the Comparative, and the Superlative. The adverbs form their comparatives and superlatives using –er and –est, and more and most. Adverbs that end in –ly use the words ‘more’ and ‘most’ to form their comparatives and superlatives Take a look at some of the examples below:
|ADVERB||COMPARATIVE (comparing two actions)||SUPERLATIVE (comparing more than two actions)|
|Two or more syllables||carefully|
|most carefully |
|Irregular adverb (exceptions to the rule)||badly|
|the worst |
Now we will look at some of these examples in a sentence:
Using Regular form:
- He ran quickly
Using Comparative form:
- He earns less than his brother
- If you work harder, you will earn more
- We must not reach there later than 7 o’clock.
- You speak more loudly than a loudspeaker.
- Sirius shines more brightly than all the other stars.
Using Superlative form:
- Of all of his hobbies, he likes chess the most
- He arrived the earliest, so he had to wait for the others.
- Why do you have to speak the most loudly of all at the meeting?
- Of all the girls, your sister sang the most sweetly
Be careful not to fall into a common trap in English when using Comparative Degrees of Adverbs! Always remember that it is incorrect to use –er AND more together in a sentence, and it is incorrect to use –est AND most in a sentence.
In other words, you should never double up your comparatives or superlatives. Only one of each is necessary per sentence. Look at the examples below and see if you have been using these comparisons incorrectly, or if you have been sticking to the rules of comparative adverbs in your speech:
- INCORRECT: The tree is more taller than the giraffe.
- CORRECT: The tree is taller than the giraffe.
- INCORRECT: This turkey is the most oldest in the farm.
- CORRECT: This turkey is the oldest in the farm.
- INCORRECT: His car is more faster than mine.
- CORRECT: His car is faster than mine.
- INCORRECT: His car is the most fastest.
- CORRECT: His car is the fastest.
Over and above the common error brought out above when using comparatives, there are a few more exceptions which you should be aware of, as they don’t follow the normal rules we have discussed above. Let’s take a look at some of these individually:
Using the comparative instead of the superlative
- INCORRECT: She is the happier person I know.
- CORRECT: She is the happiest person I know.
- INCORRECT: He is the more thoughtful person I know.
- CORRECT: He is the most thoughtful person I know.
Using empty comparisons (part of the comparison is missing)
- INCORRECT: The competitors were more experienced.
- CORRECT: The competitors were more experienced than the previous competitor pool.
- INCORRECT: The queue moved more slowly.
- CORRECT: The queue moved more slowly than the line next to it.
Using ambiguous comparisons (the comparison has more than one possible meaning)
- INCORRECT: She likes spaghetti better than her husband. (Does this mean that spaghetti is better than her husband?)
- CORRECT: She likes spaghetti better than her husband does. (Now it is clear that the comparison is who likes spaghetti more.)
- INCORRECT: Her bed is bigger than John. (Does this mean that the comparison is between the size of the bed and the person?)
- CORRECT: Her bed is bigger than John’s. (Now it is clear that the comparison is between two beds, and not about John.)
Missing the article “the” in the superlative
- INCORRECT: Finishing speedily was least important task.
- CORRECT: Finishing speedily was the least important task.
- INCORRECT: The best player was also littlest.
- CORRECT: The best player was also the littlest.
PLACEMENT OF ADVERBS IN A SENTENCE – What Is An Adverb?
Now that you are familiar with what an adverb is, you need to be sure of where to place adverbs in a sentence. These words should be placed as close as possible to the words they are supposed to modify. But why is this so important? Because the incorrect placement of an adverb (a modifying word) can completely change the meaning of your sentence! So be especially careful about the word ‘only’, which is one of the most often misplaced modifiers. Take a close look at the difference between these two sentences:
- Karen only fed the dog.
- Karen fed only the dog.
The first sentence means that all Karen did was feed the dog. She didn’t pet the dog or pick it up or anything else. The second sentence means that Karen fed the dog, but he didn’t feed the cat, the bird, or any other creature or human who might have been around.
When an adverb is changing a verb phrase, the most normal positioning for the adverb is usually the middle of the phrase.
- They are quickly approaching the runway.
- Slindile has always loved shopping.
- I will happily help you.
CONCLUSION – WHAT IS AN ADVERB?
Adverbs are words that modify or tell us more about verbs and about how the action was done. They may also modify Adjectives, other Adverbs or even the tone of the whole sentence. They tell us how, where, when, why, etc. in a sentence. This article also considered the degrees of comparisons relating to adverbs. Be sure to remember to take some time to go over the common mistakes many people make when using adverbs and come up with a few revisions of your own… you can even create a list that you have personally been using incorrectly as a reminder to correct yourself.
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