What is an Adverb?

Describing situations in detail helps readers more vividly understand what is taking place. When describing things in more detail, adverbs are a helpful addition to make your sentences more colorful and portray the event clearly. In this video, we’ll take a look at what adverbs do, how to identify them, and how to best use them in our writing. Let’s get started!

The easiest way to find an adverb in a sentence is to ask these questions:

  • Where was something done?
  • When was it done?
  • How was it done?
  • To what extent was it done?

An adverb will always answer one of those questions. For example, the adverb here answers the question “Where?”, and the adverb randomly answers the question “How?”.

Adverb Descriptors
WhereWhenHowWhat Extent
UndergroundEarlySoftlyQuite
HereLaterQuietlyBarely
OutsideNowRandomlyToo

An easy identifier for adverbs is the suffix -ly. Not all adverbs use it, but the majority of adverbs do.

Let’s identify some adverbs by using our four questions.

She went outside and walked the dog.

Do any of the words in this sentence answer the question “Where, when, how,” or “to what extent”? In this example we see that outside is the adverb because it tells us where she went.

Let’s look at another:

They briskly jogged through the park.

Here, we see that the word briskly answers the question how something was done, making it the adverb in the sentence.

Let’s try one more example.

She almost tripped while jogging but regained her balance.

This one might be tricky. In this example we see that almost describes the extent to which something happens, which in this case was tripped – she almost tripped, making almost the adverb here.

Adverbs not only modify verbs, they are also used to describe comparisons of two things. Adverbs have three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative, and superlative. The best way to explain positive, comparative, and superlative adverbs is to think of them as “well, better, and best”.

When we want to describe the quality of something, we can say the thing itself is done well – that would be a positive adverb. We may compare that thing to something else and say, “this thing is better than something else”, which is known as a comparative adverb, or we may simply say, “this thing is the best”, which is superlative. As you can see, with each comparison the degree of its descriptor increased.

There are many ways of changing adverbs from positive to comparative and superlative. Let’s go over each one with real examples and see how they differ.

Adverb Degrees of Comparison
PositiveComparativeSuperlatives
SoftSofterSoftest
LoudLouderLoudest
BadlyWorseWorst
LittleLessLeast
PainfullyMore PainfullyMost Painfully

What’s important to note about positive adverbs is that the words used don’t necessarily have to be positive or “good” words. For example, the word badly is a positive adverb because it is the first or basic degree you can use to describe something without comparing it to anything else.

Many adverbs can be modified to show different degrees by simply adding -er or -est to the end of the word. Adding -er to a word makes it comparative, meaning it is not the most of something, but it is more than something else. Adding -est to the end of a word means that the word it is describing is the most of something and nothing can be compared as being better than it. Here’s an example:

He ran through the field faster than his sister.

In this example, the adverb faster responds to the question of how something was done. We also know this is a comparative adverb because of the added -er to the end of fast – this lets us know that this person ran at a higher speed compared to his sister. Here’s another example:

She was the quickest of everyone who ran the 5k.

Here we see the adverb quickest answers the question of how something was done. Because there is an -est at the end of quick, we know that this adverb is superlative because no one else ran more quickly than this person.

Some adverbs, especially those that end in -ly can’t have their degrees increased to comparative or superlative forms by simply adding -er or -est to the end. These adverbs must have more and most preceding the word to be modified. Let’s look at a few examples.

The crowd cheered for her more joyfully than for the other performers.

Here, we can see that joyfully is the adverb because it answers the question of how the crowd cheered. We can also see that joyfully is a comparative adverb because of the word more before it. With this, we know that the crowd cheered more, but not the most joyfully.

He completed his task most efficiently of all the employees.

Again, in this example, the adverb efficiently is easy to spot, not only because it ends in -ly but because it answers the question of how the song was performed. We also find the word most preceding efficiently, which means this is a superlative adverb and no task was completed more efficiently than his.

Some adverbs can’t be made comparative and superlative with the use of -er, -est, more, or most. For irregular adverbs, changing their degree of comparison means changing the word and it’s spelling entirely. There is no special trick to these irregular adverbs, so they must be memorized over time to understand their implied degree of comparison.

The word badly is an example of an irregular adverb. To make it comparative, you wouldn’t say “more badly” or “badlier”. The comparative form of badly is worse, and the superlative form is worst. Other examples of irregular adverbs include little, which becomes less and least, and good, which becomes better and best.

Now let’s look at adverbial phrases. Adverbial phrases perform the same function as adverbs and describe when, how, to what extent, and where something happens. What makes them different from normal adverbs is they are phrases, which means they are a group of two or more words and they don’t always contain a typical -ly adverb in the phrase. Here are some examples that answer the question “When?”:

He goes camping every summer.
They are going to sleep earlier than usual.

Here, these highlighted phrases signify a time in which something occurs. In this sentence:

He was driving haphazardly and recklessly.

This adverbial phrase is made up of two adverbs and a conjunction to make a phrase that describes how something occurred.

An adverbial clause is similar to an adverbial phrase; however, adverbial clauses, just like the name suggests, are clauses, which means they contain a subject, verb, and subordinating conjunction. Let’s look at some examples:

Sit at the table until your food is eaten.

In this example, the adverbial clause, “until your food is eaten” describes when something occurs. We also know it is a clause because it has a subject, food, and verb, eaten, as well as a subordinating conjunction, until.

My sister, although she was hungry, wouldn’t eat until I arrived.

Here the adverbial clause starts with a subordinating conjunction, although, has a subject, she, and a verb is. Together they describe the extent to which the sister wouldn’t eat.

Make sure you are polite to people wherever you go.

This example shows the subordinating conjunction wherever, subject you, and verb go, to show when something happened.

Before we go, let’s do a little practice to refresh what we’ve learned:

1. Which of the following are not adverbs?

  1. Entirely
  2. Rather
  3. Them
  4. Cautiously

The answer is C, Them. The word them is a pronoun.

2. The highlighted word is an example of what?
Some people agree that Serena Williams is the greatest athlete of all time.

  1. Adverbial phrase
  2. Subordinating conjunction
  3. Comparative adverb
  4. Superlative adverb

The answer is D, Superlative.

Thanks for watching, and happy studying!

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: March 16, 2020