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Note: if you have not yet followed the guide to adjectives, some of what follows may be more difficult to understand.

This is quite a long guide as befits the discussion of a major word class so here's a menu of the parts it contains.  At any time, clicking on -top- will return you to this menu.

Definitions Adverb vs. adverbial Forming adverbs Identifying adverbs Modifying verbs
form, meaning, ordering issues negative sense adverbs Summary 1 Modifying other elements
adjectives and adverbs other elements Circumstantial and other adverbs Adverbs as conjuncts Summary 2
As prepositional complements place time Negating adverbs Comparative and superlative
Adverbs in multi-word verbs Adjectives masquerading as adverbs proleptic uses lookalikes Adverbs in other languages



think Task:
Easy questions:
    What's an adverb?
    What sorts of adverbs are there?  (Hint: see if you can identify four.)
Click here when you have answers.

(It is worth a short aside here to distinguish between an adverb of manner and an adverb intensifier.  Adverbs of manner modify verbs directly as in, e.g.:
    She worked intensely
    She thought deeply
    She spoke bitterly

and so on.
However, a number of adverbs (including the ones exemplified here) also act as adverb intensifiers in, e.g.:
    It was an intensely painful wound
    The idea was deeply misguided
    She is bitterly opposed to the thought

Semantically and functionally, we should keep these concepts separate or we risk confusing our learners unecessarily.
There is a guide to adverbial intensifiers, which are mostly adverbs, linked in the list of related guides at the end.



What's the difference between an adverbial and an adverb?

This is where we get a bit technical.  All adverbs are adverbials but not all adverbials are adverbs.

Any construction which modifies or describes a verb phrase is an adverbial.

Look at these four sentences

  1. He often arrived late.
  2. Mary spoke in German.
  3. They went on holiday last year.
  4. I came so that I could help with the cooking.

Two questions:

  1. All these sentences contain adverbials but only one contains an adverb.  Which is it?
  2. What are the adverbials in the other three sentences?

Click here when you have an answer.


So what's an adverb?

There are two fundamental sorts:

  1. adverbs functioning as adverbials (as in Sentence 1, above), for example,
        They left then
        He spoke intelligibly
  2. adverbs modifying adjectives and other adverbs, e.g.:
        It's an extremely beautiful house
        He spoke barely intelligibly

Adverbs can modify other parts of a clause, as we shall see.



Forming adverbs

It is often the case that a word can be identified by its form as an adverb because English has only a few ways to form adverbs:

  1. The most common by far is the addition of -ly to the adjective form (sometimes with a spelling change):
    happy – happily, nasty – nastily, wooden – woodenly, rare – rarely etc.
    This is the usual suffix for the formation of an adverb from an adjective in Modern English.  Hence carefully from careful and hundreds of others.  At one time, it was also the way to make an adjective from a noun (hence motherly from mother).  The latter use has been replaced by a simple -y suffix.
    It derives, however, from the Anglo-Saxon word lic or lich meaning body.  The suffix has been shortened and grammaticalised to the suffix only.
  2. For adjectives ending in -ic, the form is usually -ally rather than just -ly:
    comic – comically, specific – specifically etc.
  3. Rarely, we can add -wards to other adverbs or nouns denote direction of movement:
    north – northwards, down – downwards, earth – earthwards, home – homewards, on – onwards, back – backwards etc.
  4. Even more rarely, we can add -wise or -ways to denote the manner of something:
    crab – crabwise, edge – edgeways, edge – edgewise, coast – coastwise etc.
  5. There is one example of an adverb formed with -long: headlong (and even that is usually an adjective).  The adverb sidelong exists but the word is almost always adjectival.
  6. The suffix -wide also forms a rare set of words which are occasionally used as adverbs: nationwide, countrywide etc.  When the suffix is attached to a nation or other state entity, it is usually hyphenated as in Germany-wide, Europe-wide, Japan-wide etc.

Unfortunately, an adverb is sometimes not identifiable from its form at all and these words simply have to be learned individually because no reliable form test is available to identify them.  Examples include many short place adverbials such as out, in, inside, over etc. as well as ones such as seldom, often, outside, soon, home and hard.
To complicate matters, some words can function in more than one way.  This is a phenomenon known as syntactical homonymy.
For example, in:

As we see above, most adverbs are formed from or have equivalent adjective forms.  A few adverbs, however, notably:
    just (meaning recently), quite, so, soon, too and very
do not have any recognisable adjective forms at all.



Identifying adverbs

We have see above that form is not a reliable basis on which to base the identification of word class.  Adverbs may overwhelmingly be formed by the addition of -ly or -ally to an adjective but there are numerous exceptions and many adjectives look like adverbs because they end in -ly.

Meaning, too, is an unreliable guide because, although it is fairly straightforward to focus on concepts encoded in words relating to how a verb is performed, adverbs have numerous other functions which are more difficult to pin down.  We could, for example, test for an adverb by asking whether the word refers to manner, place, time or degree and that will often help us to identify whether something is adverbial or not.  It will not, however, reliably help us to identify an adverb because, as we saw above the class of adverbials is much more varied than the class of adverbs.
For example, a word like more is certainly often an adverb but it does not refer to manner, place, time or degree in the same way that, for example, words like slowly, there, then and greatly do.
Equally, in French, over the road, at six and with no effort refer respectively to manner, place, time and degree yet none is an adverb.

We are left, as is often the case, with a slot test which relies on syntax as the defining characteristic.  In other words, we have to look at what the words do in the syntax of the language to identify their word class.
This means identifying which words can fill certain slots in clauses.  For example, if you attempt to fill the slots in these clauses with single words, you quickly discover that only one class of words will do the trick:
    She drove the car very __________ out of the garage
    It __________ rains in England
    She kicked the ball __________ over the wall
    She did the work __________ well
    It was a(n) __________ beautiful story




Type a – adverbs as adverbials modifying the verb

The sun shone brightly

When adverbs function as adverbials, modifying a verb or verb phrase, they are of three sorts:

These are the most familiar ones to us because the adverb is integrated into the sentence.  We don't need any more information than the clause contains to understand them.  Some examples:
    She waited inside
    They told me quickly
    She rarely gets here on time
    I want to leave now
There are four adjunct adverbs in particular whose function is somewhat different from others.  They serve to link cause and effect but do so in a way which makes the utterance perform the act.  In other words, they are performative.  They are also quite formal, even archaic.
Here are examples of the four most common ones:
  • You are hereby elected as captain
  • The undersigned undertake herewith to transfer the money
  • She had studied the area and was thereby able to explain it to me
  • She sold the painting and therewith became quite wealthy

See the guide to cause and effect for a little more on this.

These are not integrated into the clause (and are often separated by commas) and they express the speaker / writer's view of what is being said / written or they express how the speaker wants the utterance to be viewed or the speaker's view of the truth or generalisability of what is said.  Some examples:
    They are certainly not in
    Obviously, he's not coming
    Happily, I found my keys
    Honestly, I have no idea
Because disjuncts are external to the clause structure and modify everything in the clause rather than a single element of it, they are sometimes called sentence adverbs and there is a guide to them on this site linked in the list of related guides at the end.
Many adverbs which appear as disjuncts are, in other contexts, adverbs of manner (see below).
Compare, for example:
    She waited happily, sitting in the sunshine and reading her novel
where happily is an adverb of manner describing how she waited and applicable to the verb wait only
    Happily, she waited for us and brought us home even though we were so late
where happily is a disjunct applicable to the whole of the rest of the utterance and which expresses the speaker's feeling.
These connect two separate and potentially independent clauses (they are, in fact, cohesive devices and not, as some will call them, discourse markers).  Some examples:
    If the beer runs out, then I'm going home
    He looked everywhere, yet he couldn't find her
    I missed my bus.  Consequently, I was late to work

Happily, this is not the place to discuss the technical difference between a conjunct and a conjunction but conjunct adverbs get their own section below.

Form, ordering and meanings for Type a

Word order is sometimes problematic not least because languages differ.

Almost all adverbs can be fronted for effect or emphasis:
    Suddenly, it started to rain
    Frequently, he tells lies
    Carefully, he opened the box
    Lately, I've been having nightmares
Adverbs of degree are not fronted.  We do not find,
    *Intensely, he enjoyed the film.

We saw above that adverbs functioning as disjuncts and conjuncts often appear initially in the clause but ordinary adjuncts can do so, too.
If you want to learn more, there's a guide to fronting on this site, linked in the list at the end.  What follows applies to non-fronted adverbs.

think Task:
Before you go on, stop and decide where in the sentence the following adverbs can appear (apart from at the beginning):
When you have done that, click here.
carefully everywhere slightly tomorrow Try putting the adverbs into sentences such as:
  • He drove the car.
  • He saw it.
  • She enjoyed the book.
  • I am leaving.
  • She plays the piano.
there eventually sometimes intensely
relentlessly often rarely frequently
soon seldom from time to time now and then/again

Issues with adverbs of frequency and sentence types

  1. Two of the positive adverbs, sometimes and occasionally, do not occur in negative sentences:
    We accept:
        I sometimes see my sister
        Do you occasionally meet your brother in London?
    but not:
        *I don't sometimes see her
        *She does not occasionally meet her brother
  2. Two adverbs of indefinite frequency have special characteristics:
    1. generally
      is an adverb of indefinite frequency but it is difficult to equate with others in the group because in positive and interrogative sentences, the word means usually but in negatives, it means seldom or rarely.  For example:
          He generally doesn't come to see me = He rarely comes to see me
          She generally complains about the food = She usually complains about the food.
          Do you generally eat early? = Do you usually eat early
    2. ever
      This is the non-assertive form of never and occurs regularly in questions to elicit a statement of frequency:
          Do you ever go to the cinema?  Rarely, these days
      It can also occur in negative sentences with the sense of never:
          She doesn't ever wait for an answer
      and is generally in the sense of a complaint.

Negative-sense adverbs

Six adverbs are semantically already negative and are sometimes referred to as negator adverbs.  They are: rarely, seldom, barely, hardly, scarcely and, of course, never.
Because these words are already negative in sense, they cannot be negated again in the normal way.
Much more information about these, including some research findings is available in the guide to negation, linked below.
Here, we will just set out a few examples of the general rules.

  1. These adverbs do not occur in questions or negative sentences because their sense is already negative:
    We accept:
        I hardly ever go to London
        She scarcely ever asks for help
        We seldom eat before seven
        She rarely complains about her work load
        They never arrive on time

    but not, usually:
        *Do you hardly ever go to London?
        *I don't scarcely ever see her
        *She didn't seldom eat out
        *We don't never arrive on time
        *Does she rarely eat out?

    (There are some doubtful areas of usage with these negative adverbs which are discussed more fully in the guide to negation, linked below.)
  2. They are used with non-assertive forms (such as any, ever, yet etc.):
    1. They rarely ever come to anyone's party
    2. I seldom went anywhere
    3. She barely saw anything
    4. They have hardly had any time to think yet
    5. She scarcely ever comes late
    6. She never has any time
  3. In the initial position, somewhat formally, they require inversion of the subject and verb (with the do operator in past simple and present simple forms):
    1. Rarely does he believe me
    2. Seldom have I heard such nonsense
    3. Barely audibly did she speak
    4. Hardly had I arrived when the phone rang
    5. Scarcely had she arrived than the fire alarm sounded
    6. Never have I seen someone make such a mess
  4. Like the negator never these adverbs can take a positive question tag:
    1. They never like anything, do they?
    2. They scarcely said anything, did they?
    3. You seldom agree, do you?
    4. I hardly had time, did I?
    But, unlike the true negator, never, they can take balanced tags so we can also allow:
    1. You rarely agree, don't you?
    2. I hardly had time, didn't I?
    3. It was barely audible, wasn't it?
    The true negator never can only take a positive tag as in:
    1. I never had much time, did I?
      and we do not allow:
    2. *I never had much time, didn't I?


Here's a summary which hides a good deal of detail but may be useful to you:
summary 1



Type b – adverbs modifying adjectives, adverbs and other parts of a sentence

The sun shone increasingly brightly

think Task:
Try putting these adverbs:

into these sentences:
    He has a good brain
    He drove carefully.
Click here when you have done that.

A small class of adverbs is known as viewpoint adverbs because they serve to express the angle or viewpoint from which something is stated.  They include the ones exemplified in:

In these examples, the adverbs are adjuncts because they function only to modify the adjective in each case but they can also function as disjuncts, modifying the entire clause as in, for example:

and for more on that, you should consult the guide to adverbials and the guide to disjuncts, linked at the end.


Modifying adjectives vs. modifying adverbs

Usually, adverbs which modify adjectives and other adverbs perform one of three functions which can all be described as intensifiers of some kind.  Here are examples of the three types but there is a guide to adverb intensifiers on this site, linked below, which provides more detail.

Intensifier: emphasising
These adverbs simply make the modified element stronger.  They do not scale the item.  For example:
    She came really quickly
    That was definitely better
Intensifier: amplifying
These adverbs move the sense of the modified item up a scale.  For example:
    That was very well done
    The parcel was terribly heavy
Intensifier: downtoning
These adverbs work in the opposite fashion, weakening the intensity of the modified item.  For example:
    That was somewhat carelessly made
    I thought he was quite nice

There is, however, an essential difference between those which can modify adjectives and those which modify other adverbs and it is this:

A range of adverbs can modify adjectives and retain their usual meaning but adverbs modifying other adverbs can only be intensifiers of some kind.

So, for example:

This is not a restriction, incidentally, which is parallelled in many other languages so it needs to be taught.

Three other adverbial expressions can pre-modify adverbs and adjectives:

shows the degree of the item.  For example:
    How heavily it had rained could be judged from the water in the pots
    How heavy the rain had been could be judged from the water in the pots
introduces a dependent adverbial clause.  For example:
    However angry she is, she shouldn't raise her voice
    However hard he works, he gets no credit for it
so ... that
so is a modifier followed by a that-clause and means to the extent or degree.  When it is fronted, it is followed by the inversion of the subject and the do / does / did operator or auxiliary verb.  For example:
    So carelessly did he drive that everyone was terrified
    So fast did the bird fly that it was quickly out of sight
    So much has she spent that she is completely broke
But the normal word-order rules apply when it occurs elsewhere in the clause as in:
    He drove so carelessly that everyone was terrified
    The bird flew so fast that it was quickly out of sight
    She has spent so much that she is completely broke
(There is a somewhat rare, literary construction using so + an adverb which does not require the use of the do / does / did operator so we can encounter, for example:
    So fast flew the bird that it was quickly out of sight
This formulation cannot, however, usually be used with a pronoun so we cannot allow:
    ?*So fast flew it that it was quickly out of sight.)

Adverbs modifying other sentence elements

  1. Some adverbs can modify prepositions or prepositional phrases.  E.g.:
        She's dead against the idea
        The bullet went completely through the metal
        The wind blew clean through my thin jacket
        They are (very) nearly over the worst
        It is just next to the post office, directly opposite the station
        They live right by the river
        Was nearly after dark when they arrived
        It was way over my head
        The meeting started shortly after 6 o'clock.
        The man spoke purely in his own interests.
        They acted solely to their own advantage
        That's a comment very much out of order here.
        We looked all over the town for a replacement.
    That is, by the way, virtually a complete list of adverbs that act this way.
  2. A more limited range of adverbs can modify the adverb particles of phrasal verbs so we allow, for example:
        She hit right on the solution
        The anaesthetic has worn well off

    but this is quite rare and most modification of adverb particles produces malformed language so we cannot allow, e.g.:
        *The arrangement feel immediately through
        *She gave completely in

        *She turned the job straight away down
    so the modifier needs to be placed outside the phrasal verb as in:
        The arrangement immediately fell through
        She gave in completely
        She turned the job down straight away
  3. Adverbs may modify determiners, indefinite pronouns and numerals.  E.g.:
        Almost everyone came back safely
        More than 20 people came late
        Nearly 600 guests were invited
  4. A few adverbs (such, rather, quite) can pre-modify nouns and noun phrases.  E.g.:
        That's quite a job.
        It was such idiocy
        The kitchen's rather a slum
    Some adverbs can also modify a noun directly, acting adjectivally:
        An away match
        The above paragraph
        The then teacher of French
        The upstairs bedrooms
        The home journey
        The backstage party
    Syntactical homonymy may be considered here and the alternative analysis is to consider that these words can be adverbs or adjectives depending on their grammatical function.
  5. Many adverbs can post-modify noun phrases and they are of two sorts:
    1. Time adverbs:
          The party yesterday
          The meeting afterwards
          The argument beforehand
          His sleeplessness overnight
      The adverbs daytime, nighttime and overnight can all be used as pre-modifiers but they may better be considered as adjectives when they do that as in:
          His daytime thought
          Her nighttime worries
          My overnight trip
    2. Place adverbs
          My journey overseas
          His way home
          That child there
          This customer here

          The road ahead
      Only a few of these can act either as pre-modifiers or as post-modifiers.  They are: upstairs, downstairs, home and above.  Non-intuitively, below can only be used as a post-modifier so, e.g.
          *the below paragraph
      is not allowed but
          the paragraph below
          the above paragraph

          the paragraph above
      are acceptable.
      Again, especially when they pre-modify, some can be considered adjectives so in
          an upstairs room
      the word upstairs is adjectival rather than adverbial.



Making a distinction: two types of adverbs

There is another way to classify adverbs on a less structural and more functional basis.  There is a guide to circumstances linked in the list of related guides at the end and the analysis is akin to what you will find there.

Circumstantial adverbs:
An adverb which answers any of these questions is a circumstantial adverb.  For example:
    I stayed there (a place adverb)
    He came early (a time adverbial)
    He walked fast (a manner adverb)
As you can see, this classification applies to type-a adverbs analysed above.
Circumstantial adverbs generally modify verb phrases.
Additives, Exclusives, and Particularisers:
    Including what?
    Excluding what?
    Focused on what?
These adverbs perform one of three functions:
  1. As additives, they act to join items together and signal that they are equally important.
    In this way, they often function as conjuncts.  For example:
    1. John's ideas are very important.  Mary also has a good point, I believe.
      Here, the adverb also functions to alert the hearer / reader to the fact that both ideas are to be considered on a par and of equal standing
    2. I went to London.  I met Mary, too.
      Here, the adverb too signals that both events are of equal importance.  There is no sense of subordination.
    3. Mary is both a brilliant cook and a wonderful dancer.
      Here the adverb both plays the same equalising and additive role.
  2. As exclusives, they serve to signal that some events or states are not to be considered.
    These are also called restrictive adverbs because they function to limit what it is we are saying to a particular context.  For example:
    1. This meeting is called solely to consider the future of the library.
      Here, the adverb solely signals that no other discussion is appropriate.
    2. This is just a question of knowing how to work the machine.
      Here, the adverb just signals that no other information is necessary, thus excluding, e.g., guesswork and trial and error.
    3. I am merely at this meeting to take notes and report back.
      Here, the adverb merely excludes any other possible role for attending the meeting.  The adverbs simply or only could be substituted with little change to the meaning.
  3. As particularisers, adverbs can signal the speaker / writer's focus.
    They are often to be found in the initial position for emphasis and are frequently viewpoint adjuncts signalling the angle from which the speaker is working.  They can also be disjuncts signalling the speaker's view concerning how a whole statement should be understood.  In some analyses, these are called sentence adverbials because their function is to modify the whole clause, not only the verb or verb phrase.
    For example:
    1. These birds are mostly found near fresh water.
      Here, the adverb mostly, in contrast to an exclusive such as only, serves to focus on water in particular but also signals that other habitats are possible.
    2. She is generally good at liaising with customers.
      Here, the adverb generally signals the fact that there are other possibilities but the focus is on the fact that she is good at liaison.
      As a disjunct, the word can signal the limitations the speaker is placing on how one should understand what is said.  For example:
      Generally, this is a good piece of work with much to recommend it
      where the disjunct signals the speaker's wish to be understood as commenting with the restriction that what is said does not apply to the whole piece of work.
    3. Predominately, the course will focus on English for Academic Purposes.
      Here, the adverb predominately serves a similar focusing function without excluding other elements of the course.



Adverbs as conjuncts

We saw above that many adverbs can act as linking items, connecting ideas and making texts cohesive.  The discoursal function of some adverbs is often overlooked if people focus only on those which modify verb phrases.
Conjuncts usually function anaphorically, linking a clause or sentence to a preceding clause or sentence.
When adverbs function as conjuncts, they are often preceded by conjunctions, often but not exclusively, coordinators.
For example:
    She missed her train and, consequently, couldn't attend the wedding
    They lost their keys so, therefore, had to break in
    I can drive you to the station but, alternatively, there's a bus from the corner
    She was a wealthy person although, additionally, somewhat mean-spirited

Here are some examples of what they do.  For more, see the guide to conjuncts listed in the list of related guides at the end.  In that guide 11 functions are identified but we'll simplify things slightly here because, for teaching purposes, some functions can be handled together and adverbs themselves do not function in all the categories, some being the domain of prepositional phrases or clauses.
In the following examples, we have omitted the first clause or sentence but it can be easily imagined.

  1. Listing and enumerating:
        Secondly, we come to the matter of finance.
        Next, we need to consider possible problems
  2. Adding
        Additionally, there is the question of who should be invited
        Furthermore, he didn't write to thank us.
  3. Summing up
        Briefly, this means we will have to start again
        Concisely, the problem is twofold
  4. Showing result
        Consequently, he became very ill
        Accordingly, she attended the meeting in person
  5. Contrasting
        Alternatively, you can stay here and I'll go shopping
        Otherwise, we'll be too late to get the tickets
  6. Equating
        Similarly, she is very determined to go.
        Equally, the problem is solvable
  7. Topic switching (or signalling return to a previous topic)
    These are sometimes referred to as transitional conjuncts.
        Anyway, what have you been doing recently?
        Anyhow, how did he do?
  8. Expressing time
        Eventually, she agreed
        Later, we all went along with the idea

As the examples show, conjunct adverbs are almost always fronted in the second clause or sentence (as a consequence of their anaphoric discourse role) but, often quite formally, they can be inserted in the clause or take the end position, as in, e.g.:
    We arrive, finally, at the main item on the agenda
    She, consequently, arrived late at the meeting
    They saved their money, accordingly
    This problem is, equally, quite serious


Error alert

If the adverb is not separated by commas or by pausing between separate tone units from the rest of the clause, then some ambiguity arises.  For example:
    Her husband was displeased and she ended up similarly unhappy
means that we are comparing her unhappiness with her husband's displeasure so the adverb is only modifying the adjective, acting as an adjunct, which is commonly what adverbs do.  However,
    Her husband became displeased and she ended up, similarly, unhappy
betokens that we are comparing her ending up unhappy with her husband's becoming displeased and the adverb is functioning as a conjunct linking the whole second clause to the first.
Another example may help.
    That's what the boss said is vital but this is equally important
the adverb is modifying only the adjective important and equating it to vital.  However, in:
    That's what the boss said is vital but this is, equally, important
the adverb is linking the whole sentence to a previous one and implies that the boss saw both things as vital.
Fronting the adverbs removes the danger of ambiguity so the adverbs in:
    Her husband became displeased.  Similarly, she ended up unhappy
    The boss said that is vital.  Equally, this is important
are only interpretable as conjuncts.


Here's another summary of the other functions of adverbs which, again, hides a good deal of detail.

summary 2



Adverbs as complements of prepositions

No, that's a compliment.

On this site, we avoid, generally, the use of the term prepositional object, preferring to talk of prepositional complements so, by our definition, the noun phrase the mainline railway station is, in:
    We arrived at the mainline railway station
the complement of the preposition at.
Some analyses prefer to use the term prepositional object for it because that is how the noun phrase is acting.  So be it.
Adverbs of time and place (only) often act as prepositional complements, however, and, in that case, cannot sensibly be described as objects because they are not noun phrases and the object of anything is normally a noun of some type.


Adverbs of place

  1. The place adverbs, here and there, co-occur with a range of prepositions including: along, around, down, from, in, near out, over, round, through, under and up, so we get phrases such as:
        along there
        from there
        out there
        through here
        up there

  2. The place adverb home also occurs with a more limited range of prepositions:
        at home
        near home
        from home
        towards home

  3. The preposition from is particularly productive (or promiscuous) and can co-occur with a large range of place adverbs, for example:
        from above
        from abroad
        from outside
        from indoors
        from within

    and many more.

Adverbs of time

The co-occurrence of prepositions and time adverbs is quite restricted and a good example of the overlap between grammatical and lexical collocation.  The picture is:

Adapted from Quirk, et al, 1972:283

To explain this rather complicated diagram:

  1. The preposition since will take the time adverbs then, today, and yesterday as complements but will not collocate with any of the other adverbs except, slightly arguably, tonight.
    We allow, therefore:
        He has lived here since then
        She has worked on it since yesterday

    but we do not allow, for example:
        *He lived there since afterwards
        *She did it since once

    or any of the other adverbial complements.
    (Quirk et al include lately and recently as possible complements of the preposition since.  Others, including this site, do not find that convincing so assume that, e.g.:
        *He has been here since lately
    is, in fact, malformed or at least very rare.)
  2. The preposition till/until will take many more adverb complements (all in the first 4 rectangles on the right).
    We allow, therefore:
        Until recently, I didn't understand his position
        He stayed until this morning
        I have driven till now
        They didn't meet until afterwards

    but we do not allow, for example:
        *He'll stay till always
        *She did until ever
  3. The prepositions after, before, by and from are more restricted and only take then, today, yesterday, now, tomorrow and tonight as their complements.
    We allow, therefore:
        He lived here after then
        She has eaten it before now
        It'll be done by then
        From then, he was more careful

    but we do not allow, for example:
        *He lived there before lately
        *She did it by afterwards
        *He was here after once

    or any of the other adverbial complements.
  4. The preposition for is less restricted and takes all the adverbs except lately and recently as complements.
    We allow, therefore:
        It's enough for this morning
        He's staying for tonight
        I'll keep it for later
        We'll treasure it for ever
    but we do not allow, for example:
        *He lived for recently

Of course, not all the prepositions on the left will collocate naturally with the adverbs on the right, but most will.

In other languages, naturally, the restrictions set out here do not apply or are different and first-language interference can lead to errors such as:
    *Before recently, I didn't know that
    *I will stay until always
    *From later we stayed indoors
    *Since now he won't arrive




Negating adverbs

In English, negation usually begins with the negator and continues to the end of the clause so what comes before the negator is left in peace.  For example:
    He didn't go frequently = He went sometimes
    He frequently didn't go = He often failed to go
Where the adverb is positioned in a negative sentence is, therefore, critical to how it is understood.

As we see from this example, there is a word-ordering issue with some time adverbs when they are negated.  The usual position for adverbs of indefinite frequency such as always, often, sometimes, occasionally etc. is to place them between any auxiliary verbs and the main verb so we accept, e.g.:
    She has frequently arrived late
    I sometimes go to his parties

but reject:
    *She has arrived frequently late
    *I go sometimes to his parties

However, when the sentence is negated, a different ordering is often apparent so we accept:
    She hasn't frequently arrived late
    She didn't frequently arrive late

and we can also accept:
    I don't go to his parties sometimes
and probably reject:
    *I don't sometimes go to his parties

Above and elsewhere on this site, it is suggested that neither sometimes nor occasionally occur in negative clauses.  That is usually true but as we see above, not universally so.

The same consideration applies when the adverb is modifying other elements.  For example:
    Not only Mary will be late = Other people will also be late
    Mary will not only be late = She will also do something else (such as complain about something)



Comparatives and superlatives of adverbs

There are exceptions but for most adverbs the rule generally is that we use the periphrastic constructions with more and most or less and least to make the comparative and superlative forms with adverbs, especially those ending in -ly, so we have:
    I go more often than I used to not (usually) ?oftener
    I go less often than I used to
    She was more deeply affected
not *deeplier
    Her sister was the least deeply affected
and so on.
For a longer discussion of inflexion vs. periphrastic forms, see the guide to adjectives.

In very informal (wrong?) uses, we also find adjectives taking the place of two-syllable (disyllabic) adverbs in clauses such as
    ?He drove quicker
This really should be more quickly, of course.  Would you accept any of these?
    He spoke slower
    He dressed scruffier
    She answered happier

Not all adverbs can be modified to form comparatives and superlatives.
There are, for example, no comparative forms of adverbs of place
    *I waited inside but he stayed more inside
Adverbs of direction can be modified but not with the more/most construction.  Instead the preferred modifier is further as in, e.g.:
    We drove further northwards
    They went further inside

but not:
    *The went more downwards
    *She travelled more westwards

    *They went more outside
    *She travelled more away
This is non-intuitive for speakers of many languages which do allow such modifications and a source of quite persistent, if rare, error.

Not all adverbs of time can be modified so while we can have, for example:
    She frequently works late but her boss more frequently does so
    She came late but I came even later
because these refer to indefinite frequency and are by definition gradable.
We cannot, however, make comparatives or superlatives with adverbs of absolute time as in
    She's working tomorrow
    John arrived eventually
    I have started already

because *more tomorrow, *more eventually and *more already are not available.
We can also not make comparatives and superlatives with adverbs of definite frequency because *more seasonally, *more yearly, *less daily etc. are not available, either.

Some uncommon adverbs are formed with wise, ward(s) and ways and these are usually, for semantic reasons, ungradable.  However, the -wards series can be graded as we saw with further to give, e.g.
    He pulled it further upwards
    They continued further homewards



  1. Some adverbs retain the same form as the adjective and for these we use the same rules as the adjectives follow so we have:
        He drove fast – She drove faster
        He worked hard – She worked harder
        She arrived early – He arrived earlier
        He spoke too long – She spoke even longer
        He came late – She came later

    To that list, in informal English, we can add a few very common adjectives which, in the comparative forms can act as adverbs so we hear:
        They bought it cheaper than they thought possible
        He played the music louder and louder

    and, perhaps:
        ?He just drove quicker
  2. Some adverbs are irregular so we have:
        He drove well – She drove better/the best
        He drove far – She drove further/farther
        He drove badly – She drove worse

    (More badly is heard in some varieties of English especially if it is pre-modified with even so we can have:
        I played even more badly than I usually do.)
  3. The adverb soon has no adjective form and we get: soon-sooner-soonest.


As is the case with adjectives, comparative and superlative forms of adverbs may themselves be pre-modified, either to amplify the sense or tone it down so we find, for example:
    He came much sooner than I expected
    He did it a lot less carefully than he should
    She worked far more carefully after that
    He needs to work a damn sight harder
    He walked rather carefully on the ice
    They came a little later than we hoped



Two oddities

There are two adverbs, hardly and scarcely, which differ in meaning from the adjectives from which it appears they are derived.  Both these are commonly post-modified with another adverb, ever, only if the sense is habitual.  For example:
    We hardly (ever) go to the cinema
    I can scarcely (ever) trust him
When the sense is non-habitual but refers to current ability, the modifier is not permitted:
    *My eyesight is poor and I can scarcely ever read this
    *We can hardly ever accept this price

These two adverbs have no corresponding comparative and superlative forms at all so expressions such as:
    *We more hardly go there these days
    *I can more scarcely understand that

are not available.

Both adverbs are negative in sense and therefore associated with non-assertive forms of pronouns, determiners and other adverbs so we get, for example:
    We hardly have any whisky
    *We hardly have some whisky
    I've scarcely started yet
    *I've scarcely started already



Adverbs in multi-word verbs

Multi-word verbs come in a variety of flavours and shades but one essential way to classify them is to consider whether the particle is an adverb or a preposition.  In the first case, they are classifiable as phrasal verbs and the second as prepositional verbs.  This matters because the structures of the clauses in which they occur vary considerably depending on the grammatical function of the particle.

There is a good deal more about this in the guide to multi-word verbs, linked in the list at the end.  Here is will suffice to consider how the adverbs work when paired with a verb.  Adverbs, as we know, modify verbs but prepositions act to link the verb with its object.  So, for example, in
    She is looking at the sky
the particle at is a preposition as it usually is and it acts to link the verb look with the object, the sky.
The preposition does not affect the meaning of the verb look in any way and we can also have, for example:
    She is looking through the window
    She is looking towards the door
    She is looking under the newspaper

    She is looking in the fridge
and so on.  Equally, we can change the verb to a close synonym while keeping the preposition and the meaning remains unchanged so we can have, e.g.:
    She is staring at the sky
    She is gazing at the sky
    She is peering at the sky

and so on.

However, other particles are more frequently found both as prepositions and as adverbs with no change in form.  For example:
The word up can be a preposition as in, e.g.:
    She walked up the stairs
and it can be an adverb, as in:
    She woke up the cat
Other words which can function as both prepositions and adverbs include: around, down, in, off, on, out, over, round.  Another name for the phenomenon of words sliding between classes is categorical indeterminacy, by the way.

Briefly, we can apply two tests to work out what role the lexemes are playing and that will help us to define our terms and teach the area consistently and accessibly:

test 1

The distinguishing point is that adverbial particles combine with the verb to make a new meaning but prepositional particles simply link the verb with its object although the meaning of the verb may be a metaphorical use such as:
    He stuck at his work
    They talked around the main issue
Because the combination of verb + adverb results in a new and often unpredictable meaning, the item is best learned and produced as a single lexeme which can often be separated with the object interposed as in, e.g.:
    She looked the word up on the internet.
The test is to see what happens when we change the particle word so, we allow:
    She walked down the stairs
    She walked through the park
    She walked over the bridge
    She walked in the village
etc. but, if we change up to anything else in the second example, we get nonsense:
    *She woke down the cat
    *She woke through the cat
    *She woke over the cat
    *She woke in the cat


A second test for whether a word is acting as a preposition or an adverb is to give it a complement (or object, if you prefer).  Prepositions take complements (or objects), adverbs do not.  So, for example:
    She passed by the church on her way
is a case of a preposition, by, taking the complement (or object) the church to form a prepositional phrase and the preposition on taking as its complement the noun phrase her way.  We could also have:
    She passed in front of my house during her journey
    She passed along the riverside on her tour

Here the structure is:
    verb + prepositional phrase(s).
However, when we consider:
    She passed up the chance
we have up functioning as an adverb, changing the meaning of the verb pass from go by to deny oneself, because the structure is:
    phrasal verb + direct object
and in this case, the verb is not pass, it is pass up as can immediately be seen if one replaces the adverb with another:
    She passed over her ID card
where the adverb is combining with the verb to make new meanings (surrender or transfer).


Resisting temptation

The temptation is, however, to categorise all verbs which are followed by adverbs as phrasal verbs and encourage learners to commit them to memory as single concepts.  This is mistaken because in many cases the adverb is simply functioning to modify the verb rather than combining with it to make a new meaning.
In some sources, then, one finds such expressions as: call back, get on, get off, go ahead, run after, walk around and a host of others described as phrasal verbs.  They are in fact no such thing; they are just verbs followed by modifying adverbs and that becomes clear when we replace the verb with a near synonym or replace the adverb with another.  So we can have, for example:
    I called him back
    I phoned him back
    I texted him back

just as we can have:
    I called him later
    I phoned him again
    I texted him frequently

and so on.  The sense of the verb in all cases is unchanged by the choice of adverb.
A notorious case concerns the expressions get on and get off (e.g. a bus) which are often described as phrasal verbs.  They aren't really because we can apply the same test and replace the adverb or the verb so we can have:
    She got off
    She stepped off
    She jumped off
    She hopped off
    She got on
    She got in
    She got out

    She got away
So, asking learners to consider learning these as fixed expressions is not a good use of their time.  A better use is to take the time to learn the meaning of the adverbs and that is often parallel to the meaning the word has when it is used as a preposition.  It is a short step from understanding
    She took the paper off the table
where off is a preposition, to understanding
    She got off near her house
where off is an adverb, because both refer to movement away from.
It is even asserted (out here on the web but rarely in serious reference resources) that sit down is a phrasal verb.  It isn't of course, because we can also have:
    sit up
    sit back
    sit forward
    sit still
and so on and in all cases the verb retains its simple meaning but the manner of it is modified by the following adverb.

There is more about this fallacy in the guide to multi-word verbs.



Adjectives masquerading as adverbs

In many varieties of English, including some British dialects, it is informally acceptable to use an adjective where a purist would demand an adverb.  We hear and read, therefore, e.g.:
    He ran quick
    She explained clear
    It burnt bright
    She was hurt bad
    They looked close
and so on.
Such uses are quite common in AmE (and much bemoaned by some American writers).  In British English, especially in some dialect forms, uses such as:
    We don't speak proper round here
    Speak nice to your grandma
are also common.
Even in more formal English, some uses of adjectives where an adverb would be technically required are seen and heard as in, for example:
    Come quick!
    She arrived as quick as she could
    They were hurt quite bad
    I looked closer
    She copied it near perfect
    He was sore afraid

(Historically, the separation of adverbs from adjectives was not rigidly made until well after Shakespeare's time and word classes of all sorts were much more fluid.  When people began to attempt to codify the language some recommended a distinction, for example, between the preposition toward and the adverb towards (only the latter survives commonly as a preposition).  The recommendation, too, was to make a distinction between the adverb forwards and the adjective forward (and both are now routinely used as adverbs while forward as an adjective is somewhat rare and akin in meaning to impertinent or unashamed)).


Proleptic adjective use

Purists should not take their insistence on the adjective-adverb distinction too far.  Consider, for example:
    Hammer the iron repeatedly
    Hammer the iron flat

In the first, we have the normal adverb modifying the verb hammer, of course, and none would complain about the rightness of the use.  However, in the second, few would suggest that the word should be flatly as in, for example:
    He flatly refused to help
What we have here is an example of a proleptic use of an adjective, not an adjective masquerading as an adverb at all.  Proleptic means, roughly speaking, anticipatory and proleptic use implies that we are considering the end effect, not the current action.  In other words, the adjective is modifying the noun iron (as is the proper role of adjectives), not the verb.  Other examples of such uses are:
    Play the music loud
    Roll the pastry smooth
    Pull the rope tight

in which the adjective is being used to modify the music, pastry and rope, respectively and not modifying the verb.  Compare:
    Play the music loudly
    Roll the pastry smoothly
    Pull the rope tightly

in which the adverb is preferred because it is the verb (manner) which we wish to modify.


Adjectives which look like (or act like) adverbs

Some adjectives, it was noted above, look like adverbs and this betrays their origin.  For example, the adjective friendly looks very much like an adverb with its -ly ending and gives rise to the awkward expression friendlily as its parallel adverb.
Originally, the word derives from Old English freondliche, and the -che inflexion was lost later so the word now functions only as an adjective having passed through a phase in which it performed both roles.
The word seemly, for example, has a similar route into modern English and now the -ly inflexion is routinely used to make adverbs and the suffix -y to make adjectives.

Here's a short list of adjectives which look like adverbs and cause some awkwardness when we try to form the corresponding adverb.  Many will not accept the unattractive forms such as livelily, measlily and so on.







Many of these words are the result of conventional -y suffixation to form an adjective from a verb or noun with the word from which they are formed happening to end in -l or -le.  Nonce words, such as jungly or tangly, may often be formed this way because the -y suffix is still very productive in the formation of adjectives from nouns.

All adjectives referring to definite frequency in this list are also adverbial so we allow both, e.g.:
    We had an hourly meeting
    We met hourly
The words seasonally and annually do not work in this way, being confined to adverb status, derived from the adjectives seasonal and annual.

The adverb early also functions as an adjective so we can have:
    We had an early breakfast
    We ate breakfast early

The words kindly and unkindly are both adverbs formed from the adjective kind but also, confusingly, operate as adjectives so we allow, e.g.:
    He spoke kindly / unkindly
    He was a kindly / unkindly man

Adverbs formed from such adjectives are so unappealing to many that the preferred adverbial expression will be something like:
    in a(n) [adjective] manner / way.  For example:
    She spoke to me in a friendly way
    She spoke to me friendlily

If you would like that list as a PDF document, click here.

A few adjective-adverb forms are identical and the list includes hard and fast so we find:
    It's a fast car
    It's a hard job
    She drove too fast
    They worked very hard

And also:
    We need an outside light
    We went outside
    He's in the upstairs / downstairs study
    He walked upstairs / downstairs

Finally, there are some adjectives which take on adverb-like characteristics because, semantically, they imply the description of a verb not a noun.  In this list we find:
    She's a hard worker (i.e., She works hard)
    It's a fast road (i.e., You can drive fast on it)
    They are frequent visitors (i.e., They visit frequently)
    I was a heavy smoker (i.e., I smoked heavily)
    She's a light sleeper (i.e., She sleeps lightly)
    They are occasional customers (i.e., They come occasionally)
    It was heavy rain (i.e., It rained heavily)
    She's an attractive writer (i.e., She writes attractively)
    He's a beautiful singer (i.e., He sings beautifully)
In all these cases, the usual meaning of the adjective does not apply to the noun phrase, it applies to the way something is done so the adjectives are really adverbials.



Adverbs in other languages

All languages have ways to modify verbs and adjectives but how they do it and how recognisably different an adverb is from an adjective is very variable.  No list of this kind is likely to get close to being exhaustive but here are some of the most obvious variations.

English frequently forms adverbs by suffixation, usually with -ly, as we saw, but there are other possibilities such as -wards.
Many, especially European, languages do the same kind of thing:
Romance languages, such as Spanish, Romanian, French and Italian, often add a suffix like -ment or -mente to the adjective form, from the Latin mentis [mind].  For example, the English adverb comfortably translates as:
cómodamente (Spanish), comodamente (Italian), confortablement (French), confortavelmente (Portuguese) and so on.
Scandinavian languages also use a suffix, -t, to make the adverb from the adjectives but, unfortunately, this sometimes makes it identical to a form of the adjective.  For example, comfortable translates as:
bekvämt (Swedish), komfortabelt (Danish and Norwegian).
Japanese, too, has a range of suffixes to denote the change in word class, for example, the addition of /ku/ to the stem so we get:
haya (quick) and hayaku (quickly).
Hungarian works similarly with four possible suffixes.
Standard Arabic also has a suffix to denote an adverb (-an).  Other varieties may differ.
Once learners with these backgrounds are alert to the parallel suffixation phenomenon, it is usually reasonably easy for them to form English adverbs naturally.
replacing the suffix
In some languages, an adjective may be recognisable from its suffix and in some of these, the suffix denoting an adjective is removed and replaced by one denoting an adverb.
Greek, for example, replaces an inflexional suffix on an adjective to make it an adverb (usually by inserting -os or -a) so comfortable translates as:
άνετος (ahnetos)
but comfortably translates as
άνετα (ahneta).
In Russian also, and some other Slavic languages, including Latvian, adverbs can be formed by removing the adjectival suffixes from the adjective and replacing it with the adverb suffix (often -o in Russian).
In Korean, adverbs are often formed in a similar way, replacing endings rather than simply adding them.
In these languages, the normal inflexions that the adjectives take to agree with the nouns they modify are dropped when the adverb is formed.
using the adjective forms
Dutch and German can use the same form as the adjective but make it operate, invariably, as an adverb.  Both the adjective comfortable and the adverb comfortably then translate simply as:
bequem (German) and comfortabel (Dutch and Afrikaans).
Turkish, Persian languages (except on words derived from Arabic), Bosnian, Croatian and Slovenian, too, make adjective forms stand equally well as adverbs.
Learners from these language backgrounds may not see the necessity to change the form of an adjective when it is converted into an adverb and that leads to error such as:
    *He drove quick
    *I sat comfortable
non-inflecting or isolating languages
The classic example here is the Chinese languages in which a new word is inserted to denote the adverbial use of an attribute and distinguish it from the adjective.


Related guides
the word-class map for links to guides to the other major word classes
adverbs essentials for the essentials-only guide in the initial plus section of the site
adverbials for more on adverbials which are not adverbs and distinctions between adjuncts, disjuncts and conjuncts
adverbial intensifiers for a guide to intensifiers: amplifiers, emphasisers, downtoners and approximators (which are mostly adverbs)
multi-word verbs for the guide which distinguishes an adverb from a preposition and much else
disjuncts for a dedicated guide to adverbials acting to modify all the following text (also called sentence adverbials)
conjuncts for a guide to how some adverbs function as cohesive cohesive devices, linking clauses and sentences
circumstances for an alternative functional view of this area
fronting for a discussion of how elements (often adverbs) can be moved out of their normal position for effect
prepositional phrases for more on how these may act as adverbials
place adjuncts which considers both adverbs and prepositional phrases of place only (i.e., position and direction)
time adjuncts which considers the complicated and difficult area of adverbs and prepositional phrases of time
assertion and non-assertion for more on these two concepts and how they apply to adverbs such as yet and already
negation for much more in this area, including inversion after negative adverbs
cause and effect for more on how some adverbs and other adverbials can link cause and effect
adjectives for more on inflexional and periphrastic comparison and proleptic uses

There is, of course, a test on this.

Quirk, R, Greenbaum, S, Leech, G & Svartvik, J, 1972, A Grammar of Contemporary English, Harlow: Longman