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Adverbs: An Introduction to Uniquely Special Words
So, you want to learn what is an adverb” and understand why this part of speech is so important. Well, this group of words in the English language gives your audience some exciting and important information. On top of that, these words vastly improve your vocabulary, while allowing you to describe what’s happening around you.
Sure, this may sound like what an adjective does, but although these words are similar, they’re also different. Are you ready to expand your language skills? Let’s dive right in, starting with an adverb definition.
Introducing the Words that Modify Verbs
What is an adverb? Fundamentally, an adverb modifies verbs in a sentence. What this means is that you use an adverb to give more information about an action or state of being.
However, there is much more to learn about the definition of adverb.
You may have learned in school that adverbs are easily identified because they tend to end in -ly. While this is true, there are also many that do not.
Why? Because adverbs describe 5 aspects of your subject. These are:
- How something happens (easily, swiftly, excitingly)
- Where it happens (outside, here, there, upstairs)
- When it happens (now, later, tomorrow)
- How often it happens (always, frequently, rarely, never)
- And how much it happens (very, extremely, too)
There are many ways that adverbs give an audience more information. Let’s look at some examples so we can get closer to the definition of adverb.
First, you can describe how someone performs a certain action.
- Mr. Flintstone hurriedly completed his work.
We can tell in this example that Mr. Flintstone did his work at a quicker pace than usual.
Second, these words detail where an action takes place.
- I danced here last night.
The word here excludes all other locations, while sharing where the action happened.
Third, you can use adverbs to tell others when an action takes place (or will take place).
- Are you coming to the basketball game tomorrow?
Thus, you know exactly which basketball game is being referred to, as it’s the one that happens tomorrow.
Fourth, these words explain frequency, or how often an action happens.
- Mr. Robuchon always cooks the world’s best food.
In this example, you know how often the world’s best food is made by Mr. Robuchon.
Finally, these words describe certainty and uncertainty.
- I’m absolutely certain that Santa stuffed your stocking with coal this year.
There’s a chance that Santa gave you coal, but it’s also possible that Santa brought you some great gifts, too.
What is an Adverb? The Many Other Uses
As you can tell, an adverb can give you a lot of different information. But those uses aren’t the only way that you can define adverbs.
These words also modify adjectives by telling you how an adjective modifies a noun. In fact, an adverb that modifies an adjective is called an intensifier, and for good reason. They add drama to your sentence.
What is an example of an adverb? Here are a few.
- Your golden hair is exceptionally wind-resistant.
- That perfectly groomed dog won the show.
- The sapphire was mesmerizingly blue.
You can see in the first example that the word exceptionally tells us the degree to which this person’s hair is wind-resistant.
Modifying Other Adverbs
Next, as part of the definition of adverb, two words in this category can also modify each other. This helps your reader understand the specifics of the topic. Here are a few examples:
- Messi scored the goal quite easily.
- He spoke insanely quickly, and I couldn’t understand him.
- This table is very poorly made.
As you can see in our first example, it wasn’t just easy for Messi to score the goal. It was done quite easily.
Modifying Sentences, Clauses, and Phrases
Finally, this category of words can also modify phrases, clauses, and whole sentences.
For instance, what kind of mental picture do you have when reading this sentence?
- He returned to his classroom, regrettably.
That final word changes the whole meaning of the rest of the sentence.
In addition to modifying clauses, you can also use these words to form a clause as well.
What is an adverb clause? It’s when you use multiple words to modify verbs and adjectives. There are three parts that help you identify a clause:
- A subordinating conjunction. Words like as, if, when, where, and because are the cornerstones of a complex sentence. You need one to form a clause.
- A subject. That’s the noun in a sentence doing a certain action.
- A predicate. This is the section of a sentence where you’ll find a verb and the effect that the action has on the subject.
Is the adverb definition about clauses a bit complex? Are you still wondering, “What is an adverb clause?” Here are some examples to pull everything together.
- If you eat your vegetables, you’ll grow up to be a strong boy.
- Now that I’ve had a nap, everyone wants to go to bed.
How to Identify & Define Adverb
What is an adverb? What is an adverb clause? These words take on different characteristics. The most common form takes an adjective and adds the suffix -ly. This is a popular formation with words that describe the manner in which an action is taken, but it shouldn’t be used to define adverb.
There are also words that don’t connect with adjectives. This is especially the case with words that explain place and time. Behind, down, in, and off are a few examples of words dealing with place. All day, tomorrow, now, and later are some examples of timely words.
Additionally, each of these has its own comparative and superlative form. The comparative form, in the adverbs definition, takes two verbs and compares them. The superlative compares three verbs and shows which one is best. Click here to learn more about each form.
To make these forms using a word that ends in -ly, add more and most. What is an example of an adverb in the comparative sense? Here are a few to help you along:
- The star shone brightly.
- The star shone more brightly.
- The star shone most brightly.
However, the -ly isn’t definitive, and it’s not part of the adverbs definition. In other words, not all of these descriptive words end in -ly. Most will form the superlative and comparative the same way that adjectives do, by ending in -er and -est. Other words will take on their own irregular form. Here’s an example for short words without -ly.
- Steve arrived early.
- Steve arrived earlier.
- Steve arrived earliest.
And here is the irregular form.
- Stephanie did well.
- Stephanie did better.
- Stephanie did best.
Yes, these words do a lot. But you’re still not done learning everything they can do in a sentence. Below is another quick adverb definition.
Modifying Words That Express Degree
Here’s the next adverb definition: Some adverbs tell us the degree to which something happens. These words add meaning to both adjectives and adverbs. Some examples include totally, slightly, barely, and entirely.
- He was totally lost in the woods for three days.
- She was slightly confused by the math problem.
Now you have a much better understanding of these words. But you may still be wondering, “What is an adverb, and how is it different from an adjective?” Whereas an adjective modifies the people, places, and things in sentences, an adverb definition is that they describe how, where, when, how much, and how often.
With that said, these two parts of speech are also similar in a few ways. Some words even fall into either category, depending on their use in a sentence.
What is an example of an adverb that also acts as an adjective? Examples include clean, fast, straight, and low.
- The car is fast. (Fast is being used as an adjective as it describes a noun, the car.)
- You drive it too fast! (Here, fast is an adverb as it describes the word drive, which is a verb.)
See if you can come up with some sentences that use each word differently.
Once you’re done, share your sentences with a friend, and see if you can explain a basic adverb definition to them. If you need any help, check this out, and it’ll clarify any questions you have.
Using Modifying Words in Writing: Common Pitfalls
Because adverbial words are so useful when elaborating on a topic, they have a reputation among fiction writers – and it’s not a good one. In fact, many writers search for “very,” arguably the most popular adverb, as well as “-ly” after they finish their manuscript to make sure they aren’t overdoing it.
To avoid your teacher’s red editing pen, use these words sparingly. Here’s how you can improve your writing:
Don’t use adverbial words to repeat what you’ve already said. For example:
- The young woman smiled happily.
Your reader already knows the young woman is happy because she is smiling. The word happily does not add any useful additional information.
A better use with this example might be:
- The young woman smiled wearily.
This tells the reader new information: even though she’s smiling, she’s hesitant and nervous. She is certainly not happy! This is another example of an adverb modifying a sentence.
Don’t Use “Very” Very Often
Now that you’ve learned the adverbs definition, you can throw away the very boring “very.” In fact, words like “extremely” and “incredibly” are also overused. Improve your word choice to get your point across more descriptively.
- The man was very handsome.
- The man was devilishly handsome.
The second sentence adds description to the handsomeness of the man. However, doesn’t the third sentence paint a more interesting picture? When you find yourself using a common adverb, get creative with your word choice.
Make It Clear What You’re Modifying
Sometimes, readers can’t tell what word you meant to modify or intensify. For example:
- Walking quickly improved his running.
It isn’t clear whether quickly is modifying walking or improved. Did he walk quickly, which led to improved running, or did walking improve his running quickly?
Try these instead:
- Walking improved his running quickly.
- Quickly walking improved his running.
That’s better. Now it’s clear what the writer means.
Now that you have the answer to, “What is an adverb?” and are equipped with an adverb definition, you’re ready to compare notes with friends. See if they can define adverb by asking them what you’ve wondered here: “What is an adverb and what is an example of an adverb?”
If you really want to test your friends, ask them, “What is an adverb clause?” It’ll be quite interesting to hear their definition of adverb!
Published March 6th, 2019. Updated May 29th, 2020.
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