An adverb is a word or set of words that modify. Whereas adjectives modify a noun, adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.

  • He speaks slowly (modifies the verb – speaks)
  • He is especially clever (modifies the adjective – clever)
  • He speaks all too slowly (modifies the adverb – slowly)

An adverb answers four particular enquiries “how”, “when”, “where”, or “to what extent”

  • He speaks slowly (answers the question of how)
  • He speaks very slowly (answers the question of how slowly)

Kinds of Adverbs

Adverbs of Manner – How

  • She moved slowly and spoke quietly.

Adverbs of Purpose – How

  • She drives her boat slowly to avoid hitting the rocks.
  • She shops vigorously in several stores to get the best buys.

Adverbs of Place – Where

  • She has lived southeast of the island all her life.
  • I am going back to school

Adverbs of Time – When

  • She tries to get back before dark.
  • It’s starting to get dark now.
  • She finished her tea first.
  • She left early.

Adverbs of Frequency – to what extent

  • She takes the boat to the mainland every day.
  • She often goes by herself.
  • They seldom speak English at home

Adverbs of Degree – To what extent

  • The water is extremely hot, be careful
  • You are walking too fast

Adverbs of Certainty – To what extent

  • He will definitely go
  • They will certainly take a walk in the park
  • Undoubtedly, I think English is difficult

So how do we distinguish between an adjective and an adverb?

We often come across words which look like an adjective but acts as an adverb and visa-versa. In this case, we need to study how the word is modifying the words around it. So “he is a friendly person” or “that person is friendly”, the adjective “friendly” modifies the noun “person”, whilst the sentence “the person acted so friendly” the adverb “friendly” modifies the verb “acted”,

Adverbs can modify adjectives, but an adjective cannot modify an adverb. Thus we would say that “the students showed a really wonderful attitude” and that “the students showed a wonderfully casual attitude”.


Many adverbs end in -ly, but many do not. Generally, if a word can have -ly added to its adjective form, place it there to form an adverb.

  • She thinks quickly.

How does she think? – quickly.

  • She will arrive eventually

When will she arrive? – eventually

  • The man will be looking generally

Where will the man be looking? – generally

  • The woman worked so effortlessly

To what extent did the woman work? – effortlessly

Adverbs that answer the enquiry “how” sometimes cause grammatical problems. It can be a challenge to determine if -ly should be attached. Avoid the trap of -ly with linking verbs, such as taste, smell, look, feel, etc., that pertain to the senses. Adverbs are often misplaced in such sentences, which require adjectives instead.

  • Roses smell sweet/sweetly.

How did the rose smell? Do the roses actively smell with noses? No; in this case, smell is a linking verb—which requires an adjective to modify roses, not an adverb —so no “-ly”.

  • The rose smells sweet/sweetly.

How did the rose smell? In this case, we are describing the scent rather than act of smelling. So smell is a noun and means that you are modifying the noun sweet. So once again use the adjective.

  • The woman looked angry/angrily

How did the woman look? Did the woman look with her eyes, or are we describing her appearance? If we are describing her appearance (she appeared angry), we are modifying the noun (woman). If on the other hand, we are describing how she is looking, then we use the adverb, angrily.

  • The apple tasted bad/badly.

How did the apple taste? In this case, apples cannot taste, so we must use the adjective.

  • She speaks slow/slowly

How did she speak? In this case, people speak, so we should use the adverb, as we are modifying, how she speaks (verb), not the person (noun)

The word “well” is an adverb, as well as an adjective. The word good is an adjective, whose adverb equivalent is well.

  • He spoke well today

How did he speak? – well.

  • He was good at speaking today

Who was good? – he

  • The fireman did well today

To what extent did the fireman? – well

  • You smell well for someone with a cold.

You are actively smelling with your nose here, so use the adverb.

  • You smell good today.

Good describes your fragrance, not how you smell with your nose, so using the adjective is correct.

  • You do not look well today.

I don’t feel well, either.

Comparative and superlative

As with adjectives, adverbs can have comparative and superlative degrees. As with verbs, adverbs can also be regular and irregular, and this makes it more difficult to recognise differences

Single syllable

When the adverb has only one syllable, you use the -er and -est forms of the comparative and superlative.

Adverb Comparative Superlative
hard harder hardest
fast faster fastest
late later latest
  • She speaks fast.
  • She speaks faster than I
  • She is speaking fastest than anyone in the group

When the adverb has two or more syllable, you use “more” or “most” to show an increased degree and use “less” or “least” to show a decreased degree.

Adverb Comparative Superlative
quickly more quickly most quickly
often more often most often
quietly more quietly most quietly
seriously more seriously most seriously

Irregular adverbs do not follow these rules

This is also the case if the single syllable adverb has a two or three-syllable irregular comparative or superlative form.

Adverb Comparative Superlative
far farther/further farthest/furthest
well better best
much more most
badly worse worst

Adverbs as Intensifiers

Adverbs often function as intensifiers, conveying a greater or lesser emphasis to something. Intensifiers are said to have three different functions: they can emphasize, amplify, or downtone. Here are some examples:

  • Emphasizers:
    • I really don’t believe him.
    • He literally wrecked his mother’s car.
    • She simply ignored me.
    • They’re going to be late, for sure.
  • Amplifiers:
    • The teacher completely rejected her proposal.
    • I absolutely refuse to attend any more faculty meetings.
    • They heartily endorsed the new restaurant.
    • I so wanted to go with them.
    • We know this city well.
  • Downtoners:
    • I kind of like this college.
    • Joe sort of felt betrayed by his sister.
    • His mother mildly disapproved his actions.
    • We can improve on this to some extent.
    • The boss almost quit after that.
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