Picture a man walking. Now picture him walking happily after receiving good news. Wait — he’s walking angrily after receiving very bad news. Or, he’s walking awkwardly in shoes that don’t quite fit. Why are all of these scenes so different when the verb, walking, is the same? It’s all thanks to adverbs, which add a little life to basic sentences.
Adverbs are one of the main parts of speech, along with nouns, adjectives, and verbs. An adverb tells you more about a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. While many adverbs end in -ly, they’re not all so easy to spot.
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
An adverb is often one of the more descriptive words in a sentence. Once you find the adverb in a sentence, you can determine what question it’s answering.
- 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 it?)
- 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?)
Adverbs further describe the action in a sentence. But you’ll also find that they can modify adjectives or other adverbs to make a strong point even stronger.
You’ll typically see adverbs modifying the verb in a sentence.
- The cute dog runs quickly. (How does it run?)
- My patient mother walks slowly. (How does she walk?)
- The quiet boy plays happily with trucks. (How does he play?)
You can also use adverbs as intensifiers to modify adjectives.
- The extremely cute dog runs quickly. (How cute is it?)
- My very patient mother walks slowly. (How patient is she?)
- The somewhat quiet boy plays happily with trucks. (How quiet is he?)
When adverbs act as intensifiers to other adverbs, they create an adverbial phrase (two adverbs that describe one word).
- The cute dog runs very quickly. (How quickly does he run?)
- My patient mother walks so slowly. (How slowly does she walk?)
- The quiet boy plays rather happily in the corner. (How happily does he play?)
Many consider conjunctive adverbs (such as also, besides, meanwhile, however, etc.) to be another type of adverb. Conjunctive adverbs function like conjunctions to join two sentences or concepts.
- I just wanted to say hello. Also, I forgot to thank you for your gift.
- The villain cackled at his evil plan. Meanwhile, the superhero protected the streets.
Conjunctive adverbs can come at the beginning of a clause (Unfortunately, we were too late), the middle of a clause (We were unfortunately too late), or at the end of a clause (We were too late, unfortunately.)
Since adverbs and adjectives both modify other words, people often mistakenly use an adjective when they should use an adverb and vice versa.
But adjectives can only modify nouns, so they’re not interchangeable with adverbs — even if the words are similar.
Aren’t good and well both adjectives? Not exactly. Good is an adjective, and well is an adverb. Use good to modify nouns and well to modify verbs.
- Incorrect - You paint good. (The adjective good can’t modify the verb paint)
- Correct - You paint well. (The adverb well can modify the verb paint)
The only time you can use well as an adjective is to describe someone’s health (“I hope you get well soon”). You’d never use good as an adverb.
Another commonly confused word pair is using the adjective bad and the adverb badly as synonyms.
Bad is an adjective, while badly is its adverb form.
- Incorrect - He behaved very bad on the field trip. (The adjective bad can’t modify the verb behaved)
- Correct - He behaved very badly on the field trip. (The adverb badly can modify the verb behaved)
If you say “I feel badly,” feel is an action verb, not a linking verb, and badly is modifying it. So you’re saying that you’re bad at feeling (possibly with your hands), not that you have a negative emotion.
Now that you know all about adverbs, you may be surprised to hear that most writing advice says the same thing: Avoid them. But why should you avoid these cool descriptive words?
It’s true that using adverbs can strengthen your writing — but only if you use them sparingly. Adding adverbs to descriptive verbs can make your writing redundant.
For example, in the sentence “She laughed happily,” you don’t need the adverb happily. The verb laughed already shows the emotion. However, if you want to say “She laughed wickedly,” the adverb wickedly adds a completely different meaning to laughed, so keep it in.
If you'd like to test your adverb knowledge, these challenge opportunities are great for a quick grammar refresher.
- Try out some printable adverb quizzes, complete with answer keys.
- You can print several adverb worksheets for elementary and middle school.
- Use these interactive adverb games to reinforce an adverbs lesson in the classroom.
- If you're ready for more of an adverbs challenge, try out some worksheets on conjunctive adverbs that link independent clauses.
- Ready to put your parts of speech together? Test yourself with these diagramming sentences worksheets.