An adverb is the Swiss Army knife of parts of speech. It not only modifies verbs, but also adjectives, verbals, other adverbs, and entire clauses or sentences. Because adverbs are so versatile, we’ll cover each function separately.
Regular and Irregular Adverbs
Many adverbs are formed by adding -ly to an adjective:
We call these regular adverbs. Adverbs that don’t follow this rule are called irregular adverbs.
Sometimes adverbs look exactly the same as the adjective form:
The early bird gets the worm.
I came early.
Sometimes they are quite different:
Are you feeling well?
And sometimes they have no corresponding adjective form (often, not).
In fact, even when a word ends in -ly, you can’t assume that it’s an adverb. There are also adjectives that end in -ly (lonely, friendly).
Asking the right question.
To find an adverb in a sentence, you can ask the following questions:
- To what degree?
Here’s what this looks like in practice:
In the winter, the bus from Abbotsford was often late.
When? In the winter
To what degree? Often
Be careful, however! By themselves such questions don’t tell us why these words are adverbs. For example, we might ask the question where? and answer from Abbotsford, not realizing that from Abbotsford acts like an adjective to describe what kind of bus (a noun) we’re dealing with.
That’s why in the following sections we’ve broken down the specific uses of adverbs. If you learn these, you will understand exactly why some words are adverbial.