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 the 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:







close fast early warmly



closer faster earlier

more warmly more generously

more suspiciously

closest fastest earliest

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:





badly well little

much (or many) far

worse better less more farther


worst best least most farthest



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 adver- bially, 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.



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.)


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 some- times 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.


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Interactive Grammar Book by Sushumna Rao Tadinada; Professor Moustapha Diack; and Diola Bagayoko, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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