What Is an Adverb? Identification and Use

An adverb is a part of speech that provides greater description to a verb, adjective or another adverb. Some adverbs can also modify a phrase, a clause or a whole sentence. While most adverbs are easy to spot because they end in -ly, others are a bit trickier to find. Learn more about adverbs and how they're used in different sentences.

What Is an Adverb table What Is an Adverb table

Defining an Adverb

Adverbs are one of the four main parts of speech, along with nouns, adjectives, and verbs. The adverb definition is simple — they tell us more information about an action or idea. Adverbs modify different parts of speech, but you're most likely to find them modifying verbs.

  • The cute dog runs quickly. ("quickly" modifies "runs")
  • My patient mother walks slowly. ("slowly" modifies "walks")
  • The quiet boy plays happily with trucks. ("happily" modifies "plays")

Adverbs can also be used as intensifiers to modify adjectives.

  • The extremely cute dog runs quickly. ("extremely" modifies "cute")
  • My very patient mother walks slowly. ("very" modifies "patient")
  • The somewhat quiet boy plays happily with trucks. ("somewhat" modifies "quiet")

When adverbs modify other adverbs, they create an adverbial phrase.

  • The cute dog runs very quickly. ("very" modifies "quickly")
  • My patient mother walks so slowly. ("so" modifies "slowly")
  • The quiet boy plays rather happily in the corner. ("rather" modifies "happily")

Now that you know what an adverb is, you're closer to using adverbs to strengthen your writing. But how do you identify these parts of speech in a sentence?

Identifying an Adverb

When you look at a list of adverbs, you'll see that many of them end in -ly, including most adverbs that modify verbs. But other adverbs don't follow this same rule. The best way to identify an adverb in a sentence is to determine its function in the sentence

Types of Adverbs

There are five main kinds of adverbs, each answering a different question. They include:

  • adverbs of manner (how something happens) - angrily, hungrily, beautifully
  • adverbs of time (when does something happen) - yesterday, tomorrow, next week
  • adverbs of place (where something happens) - here, there, nowhere
  • adverbs of degree (how much does something happen) - almost, so, very
  • adverbs of frequency (how often something happens) - always, never, often

Another type of adverb is conjunctive adverbs, such as "also," "besides," "meanwhile," and "likewise." You can also use sentence adverbs (such as "Thankfully" or "Indeed") at the beginning to modify the entire sentence.


Finding Adverbs in a Sentence

An adverb is often one of the more descriptive words in a sentence. Once you find the adverb, you can determine what question the adverb is answering. For example:

  • The dog messily ate his dinner. (How did the dog eat his dinner?)
  • We go bowling quite often. (How often do you go bowling?)
  • I hurriedly handed in my test. (How did you hand in your test?)
  • Let's eat dinner outside. (Where should we eat dinner?)
  • My roommate is so annoying. (How annoying is he?)
  • Marcia finished the project last night. (When did she finish it?)
  • She reluctantly washed the dishes. (How did she wash the dishes?)
  • This car is incredibly expensive. (How expensive is it?)

Notice that you can remove all of these adverbs without affecting the meaning of the sentences. For example, "The dog ate his dinner" still makes sense. However, adding the adverb "messily" to make "The dog messily ate his dinner" provides the reader with a more vivid picture.

The Position of Adverbs in a Sentence

You'll find adverbs in three different places in a sentence or clause, depending on which type of adverb they are. Adverb positions include:

  • initial position (Unfortunately, we were too late.)
  • middle position (We were unfortunately too late.)
  • end position (We were too late, unfortunately.)

Most adverbs are in the end position of a phrase, clause or sentence, as they follow the words that they modify. Sentence adverbs, conjunctive adverbs and time adverbs often appear in the initial position, while adverbs meant to focus on an action appear in the middle of the sentence.


Common Errors with Adverbs and Adjectives

Since adverbs and adjectives both modify other words, people often mistakenly use an adjective when they should use an adverb and vice versa. For example:

  • incorrect - He behaved very bad on the field trip.
  • correct - He behaved very badly on the field trip.

The first sentence is incorrect because "bad" is an adjective being used to describe "behaved," which is a verb. Changing "bad" to the adverb "badly" correctly describes the verb. However, this is not always the case:

  • incorrect - I feel badly about canceling our date.
  • correct - I feel bad about canceling our date.

Linking verbs such as "feel" are followed by adjectives, not adverbs. That's because linking verbs aren't technically showing the action of the sentence; they're simply linking the subject of the sentence ("I") to the subject complement ("bad").

Another common adverb vs. adjective error occurs with the words good and well, as "good" is an adjective ("You're good at painting" — "good" modifies "you") but "well" is an adverb ("You paint really well" — "well" modifies "paint"). Once you get the hang of these differences, you'll rarely make these types of errors.

More Adverb Practice

If you'd like to test your adverb knowledge, check out these challenge opportunities! They're great for learning adverbs for the first time or for a quick grammar refresher.

No matter which one you choose, you'll have a chance to practice these important words. You'll know what an adverb is, and how to use it properly!


Carefully Advocate for Adverbs

Adverbs make nouns and modifiers even more specific. While adverbs are a great way to make your writing more descriptive and vivid, you don't want to lean on them too much. Check out a list of descriptive words that includes adjectives and participles as well as adverbs.