Adverbs (What’s An Adverb?)

Adverbs perform a wide range of functions: they typically modify verbs (or verb phrases), adjectives (or adjectival phrases), or other adverbs (or adverbial phrases). Adverbs also sometimes qualify noun phrases (only the bossquite a lovely place), pronouns and determiners (almost all), prepositional phrases (halfway through the movie), or whole sentences, to provide contextual comment or indicate attitude (Frankly, I don’t believe you). They can also indicate a relationship between clauses or sentences (She died, and consequently I inherited the castle).

Many English adverbs are formed from adjectives by adding the ending -ly, as in hopefullywidelytheoretically. Certain words, known as flat adverbs, can be used as both adjectives and adverbs, such as fast (fast runner, he ran fast) or hard (hard hitter, he hit hard). In earlier usage more flat adverbs were accepted in formal usage; many of these survive in idioms and colloquially (e.g., “ugly” in “That’s just plain ugly.”). Some adjectives can also be used as flat adverbs when they actually describe the subject (“The engine ran hot,” not “The engine ran hotly”). Note that the adverb corresponding to the adjective good is well, even if bad still forms the regular adverb badly.

There are also adverbs that are not derived from adjectives, including adverbs of time, of frequency, of place, of degree and with other meanings. Some suffixes that are commonly used to form adverbs from nouns are -ward[s] (as in homeward[s]) and -wise (as in lengthwise).

Most adverbs form comparatives and superlatives by modification with more and most: often, more often, most often; smoothly, more smoothly, most smoothly. However, a few adverbs retain irregular inflection for comparative and superlative forms: much, more, most; a little, less, least; well, better, best; badly, worse, worst; far, further (farther), furthest (farthest); or follow the regular adjectival inflection: fast, faster, fastest; soon, sooner, soonest, etc.



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  1. Bill

    “Adverbs” page now up on Bill’s List.

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