To understand what the adverb modifies, we need to understand what an adverb is and look at some examples of adverbs, the parts of speech they modify, and the phrases and clauses that act like adverbs.
Verbs are found in every sentence. They show action or clarify the subject of the sentence. There are two kinds of verbs: action and linking. Here are examples of an action verb in a sentence with the verb underlined:
Linking verbs do not express action; rather they connect the subject to information about the subject. Here are two examples:
Adverbs can also modify adjectives. Adjectives are words that modify or describe nouns and pronouns. Two examples are:
Lastly, adverbs can modify other adverbs. Here are a few examples of adverbs:
Adverbs can answer questions, start questions, give more information, and connect parts of a sentence. Here are the explanations of different types of adverbs with examples.
Adverbs can be sorted into the kinds of questions they answer.
Conjunctive adverbs can connect clauses or sentences. Here is a short list of some conjunctive adverbs:
also, besides, finally, however, instead, nevertheless, next, now, otherwise, still, then, therefore, and thus.
If conjunctive adverbs connect two independent clauses (sentences), a semicolon is used, like in:
If the conjunctive adverb is used at the beginning of a sentence, then a comma is used, as in:
If the conjunctive adverb is within a clause, commas are used to separate it, like:
Interrogative adverbs come at the beginning of a question, like:
When young children learn about adverbs, they often just think all you have to do is add an “ly” to a word and it becomes an adverb. This is true for many adverbs, but not all. Many adjectives can easily become adverbs, like slow = slowly, soft = softly, and precise = precisely.
Clauses can function as adverbs. A clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. Independent clauses are called sentences. So when you ask, ““What does the adverb modify?” you need to realize that a clause may be functioning as an adverb. Here are some examples:
Prepositional phrases and infinitive phrases can also act as adverbs. Here are two examples:
To sum up, adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They can connect clauses or start sentences that are questions. Clauses, prepositional phrases, and infinitive phrases sometimes act like adverbs.