What does the adverb modify? An adverb is a part of speech that modifies, or describes, a verb, adjective or another adverb. Adverbs add information to the sentence. In particular, they often answer the question of why, how, where, when and how often.
Adverbs can modify verbs to give more detail about how an action is performed. For example:
In the examples above, each adverb gives more information about the verb. "Slowly" explains how you type, while "tomorrow" tells when we leave. Likewise, "away" tells where you should go.
Adverbs can also modify adjectives. While adjectives describe nouns and pronouns, adverbs can enhance or clarify the adjectives to make them even more clear and exact. For example:
In these examples, the dog isn't just loud, it is very loud. "Loud" is an adjective that describes the dog, but "very" is an adverb that describes the adjective "loud." Likewise, "least" changes the meaning of the adjective "important" and "most" enhances the meaning of the adjective "interesting."
Finally, adverbs can also modify other adverbs. For example:
In these cases, the first adverb in each pair modifies or describes the second one. For example, John doesn't just sing well, he sings rather well. Usually, adverbs that describe other adverbs amplify the meaning of the second adverb, making it more informative than it would be if the second adverb stood alone.
In some cases, adverbs can modify the entire sentence that follows them. For example,
In each of these cases, the adverb at the beginning of the sentence modifies all of the actions that follow. In the first sentence, for example, it's not only unfortunate that he lost his bike, but also that he had to walk to work.
Sentence adverbs bring up an important issue of adverb placement. For clarity, adverbs should always be placed as close to the word they modify as possible. When adverbs modify adjectives and other adverbs, they typically come directly before the words they modify. For example:
When adverbs modify verbs, they can come either before or after the verb. For example:
Note that when there is no other information after the verb-as in the first two examples-the adverb works equally well before or after it. Once there are additional words, however, the adverb should come before the verb.
In general, an adverb is understood to modify everything that comes after it. For example:
In this case, the adverb "slowly" describes how the son walked, but it can also describe how he emptied the dishwasher. If this is not the writer's intent, it's a good idea to add an additional modifier for clarity; for example:
When you keep in mind that adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, you can use them effectively in your writing to add explanatory information. Keep in mind that adverbs tend to modify everything that follows them in the sentence as you write. That will help you choose the best placement for clarity, and your sentences will make perfect sense to your reader.
For help choosing the right adverb to tell when, where or how the action happened, go to Examples of Adverbs.