“I want to speak English fluently.”
Have you ever said that sentence? Since you’re learning English, the answer is probably “Yes.”
Fluency is the goal of most English learners. You don’t just want to be able to communicate a bit or speak English poorly.
You might even be scared to speak poorly.
It’s not good if someone hears you speaking and says, “She hardly speaks English.”
So fluency is the goal, but what about your English right now?
How do you speak English?
I can’t guess your answer, but I know it would be an adverb which tells others more about your ability to speak the language.
Your answer might use an adverb like poorly or hardly, or you could be more optimistic and use other adverbs like excellently or extremely fluently!
In the world of English grammar, adverbs are very common yet unpredictable. That’s why many learners find them confusing and intimidating.
You don’t need to worry, though, because this post is a guide to the most common types of adverbs to help you finally master this subject.
Hopefully, it will help you not only to speak English better, but also to noticeably improve your writing skills.
Another tool you have to try to get better at English is FluentU.
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What Are Adverbs?
First things first: What is an adverb?
An adverb is a word (or a phrase) that modifies another word. Usually, the word that an adverb modifies is a verb.
Many people—including native English speakers—confuse the words “adverb” and “adjective.” You might find it easier to remember if you remind yourself that the word “verb” is a part of “adverb.”
Adverbs that modify a verb
Some of the most recognizable adverbs give information about how an action happens. Because verbs are “action words,” it makes sense that many adverbs modify verbs.
Here’s an easy example of this:
My mother drives aggressively.
In this example, “aggressively” is an adverb that modifies the verb “drive” to explain how my mother drives.
Here’s another basic example:
The couple on the bridge kissed passionately.
In this case, the adverb “passionately” describes how the couple kissed.
Here’s one more example that’s a bit more complicated:
He talks enthusiastically about the years he lived in Portugal.
Here, “enthusiastically” is an adverb that modifies the verb “talks.”
In all of these examples, the adverbs are modifying verbs. That’s pretty easy, so let’s get a bit more advanced.
A speaker can also use an adverb to express the intensity of an adjective, another adverb or a viewpoint about an action.
Let’s break this part down into more examples:
Adverbs that modify an adjective
Remember, an adjective is a word that describes a noun, and a noun is usually a person, a place, a thing or an idea.
An adverb can make an adjective stronger or weaker. For example:
His stories about Portugal are extremely fascinating.
In this example, “incredibly” is an adverb that modifies an adjective (“fascinating”).
Here’s another example:
We were slightly hungry so we grabbed a sandwich at the train station.
Here, the adverb “slightly” modifies the adjective “hungry” to indicate that weren’t incredibly hungry, but only a little bit—just slightly hungry.
Adverbs that modify another adverb
An adverb can change the degree or precision of another adverb. For example:
He talks rather enthusiastically about the years he lived in Portugal.
Here, “rather” is the adverb that modifies another adverb, “enthusiastically.”
The girl spoke too softly and nobody could hear her.
In this example, “too” is the adverb that tells how softly the girl spoke. “Softly” is the modified adverb.
Adverbs that express a viewpoint
An adverb can also express a viewpoint or an opinion. For example:
His Portugal stories are absolutely fascinating.
In this example, the adverb “absolutely” expresses the viewpoint “I’m certain that I find the stories fascinating.”
I think the comedian is really hilarious.
Here, the speaker finds a comedian hilarious (perhaps in contrast to another friend who doesn’t think the same comedian is funny at all).
By now you may have noticed that many adverbs—but definitely not all of them!—end with the letters -ly. That’s often a signal that a word is an adverb.
But remember that there are some adverbs that don’t end in -ly, and there are also many other words that do end in -ly, but which aren’t adverbs! And finally, there are some words that can be adverbs in some cases and adjectives at other times, depending on how they’re used in a sentence.
If that’s confusing, remember that you can distinguish between an adverb and an adjective because adjectives only describe people, places, things or ideas.
If you need more help with these concepts, refer to the third rule in this list of grammar rules.
But what if there’s a sentence that doesn’t have any words that end in -ly, and you’re confused again about adjectives an adverbs?
In that case, you should ask the “adverb questions.”
An easy way to identify an adverb, as well as its type, is to learn the adverb questions. An adverb tells you more information about an action, and it answers at least one of the following questions.
Question 1: How?
Example: How does he speak English?
Answer: He speaks English fluently.
(“Fluently” is an adverb, modifying the verb “speak.”)
Question 2: When?
Example: When did you finish writing the essay?
Answer: I finished writing yesterday.
(“Yesterday” is an adverb, modifying the verbs “finished writing.”)
Question 3: (For) how long?
Example: (For) how long have you been learning English?
Answer: I’ve been learning English for five years.
(“For five years” is the adverb—actually, here it’s an adverbial phrase because it has more than one word—that modifies the verbs “have been learning.”)
Question 4: How often?
Example: How often should I practice English listening?
Answer: You should practice English listening daily.
(“Daily” is the adverb, modifying the verbs “should practice.”)
Question 5: Where?
Example: Where do you live?
Answer: I live nearby.
(“Nearby” is the adverb, modifying the verb “live.”)
Question 6: To what extent?
Example: To what extent are you satisfied with the service?
Answer: I am reasonably satisfied with the service.
(“Reasonably” is the adverb, modifying the adjective “satisfied.”)
5 Types of Adverbs
In the world of English, there are many types of adverbs, and all have their rules and exceptions. However, the five most common ones are adverbs of manner, time, frequency, place and degree.
Let’s see some more information about each of these kinds of adverbs, including where to put them in a sentence. To make things a bit less complicated, we’ll mostly look at the rules and not their exceptions, unless an exception is common or important.
1. Adverbs of manner (How?)
Adverbs of manner tell us how something happens (Question 1 above).
There are many words in this group, including adverbs that are often formed by adding –ly to an adjective.
For example, “beautifully” is the adverb that comes from the adjective “beautiful.” The following two sentences have similar meanings, yet the first one uses the adjective and the second one uses the adverb that roots from it.
- She has a beautiful voice.
- She sings beautifully.
Position: before a verb
Many adverbs of manner, such as slowly, carefully or carelessly, can stand before the verb.
- She slowly opened the window and reluctantly looked outside.
- The dog quickly ate the cake.
Position: right after an intransitive verb
An adverb of manner for an intransitive verb (that’s a verb that doesn’t take an object) can also come immediately after the verb. If there is a prepositional phrase, the phrase comes after the adverb.
- Correct: She walks carefully along the ridge.
- Also Correct: She carefully walks along the ridge.
- Incorrect: She walks along the ridge carefully.
Here we should normally put the adverb “carefully” before the prepositional phrase “along the ridge,” but there are some people who informally put it after the phrase.
Another common adverb, well, is the adverb form of the adjective “good.” It also works in this category, like in this example:
- My mother drives well.
Position: after the object of a transitive verb
An adverb of manner can also come after the object. Therefore, the above sentences also have another correct order:
- She opened the window slowly and looked reluctantly outside.
- The dog ate the cake quickly.
And to return to the example of my mother and her driving skills, if we want to include an object (the thing she drives), we can also use adverbs like well here:
- My mom drives her truck well.
In this example, the adverb “well” describes how my mother drives her truck, which is the object. Note that it’s incorrect to say “
My mother drives well her truck,” since it puts the adverb before the object.
2. Adverbs of time (When? / For how long?)
Adverbs of time tell us when an action occurs, and for how long (Questions 2 and 3 in the previous section).
They are common in English, and their placements are pretty straightforward.
Position: the end
In most cases, an adverb of time stays at the end of a sentence.
- I have been cycling to work for two years / since last May.
- He arrived yesterday / last week / in February of 2015.
You can see that this rule works with adverbs that answer either the “When?” or the “For how long?” question.
Position: the beginning
An adverb of time can also be placed at the start of a phrase or a sentence if a speaker wants to emphasize when the action happens.
Let’s analyze some examples together:
- Last week I went to the dentist for an annual check-up, and now my wisdom tooth is sore. What a hassle!
Using this order, a speaker stresses the (often unfortunate) order of events. When a person simply tells a story, they can say:
- I went to the dentist for the annual check-up last week, so I am good for another year.
The order of two or more adverbs of time
When you have more than one adverb of time in a sentence, the adverb answering the “For how long?” question often comes before the one answering “When?”
- I traveled for ten months last year.
However, if you want to place emphasis on the time, for example, to point out the contrast between “last year” and “this year,” you can say:
- Last year, I didn’t take any trips because I wanted to save money. This year, I can travel for six months or more.
3. Adverb of Frequency (How often?)
Adverbs of frequency, such as daily, weekly, quarterly or annually, tell listeners how often an action happens (Question 4).
Position: before the main verb and after the auxiliary verb(s)
If there’s only one verb in the sentence, the adverb goes immediately before that verb.
If there is an auxiliary verb (or more than one), the adverb comes after the auxiliary verb(s) and before the main verb.
Here are examples that illustrate the rule:
- She always writes at night.
(There’s only one verb, “writes,” so the adverb goes before it.)
- You should always get up early in the morning.
(The adverb goes after the auxiliary “should” and before the verb “get up.”)
- When the baby was young, they must have always stayed up all night.
(This sentence also has multiple auxiliaries—”must have”—so the adverb comes after them.)
Exception: at the beginning
Adverbs of frequency, such as every day, each year or twice a week, can be placed at the start of a sentence if a speaker wants to emphasize how regularly something happens.
- Every day she comes to work late.
- Twice a week he runs 10 kilometers.
4. Adverbs of place (Where?)
Adverbs of place tell listeners information about the location of an action (Question 5). Because they answer the question “Where does an action happen?” they only work with verbs, not adjectives or other adverbs.
Position: the end
Adverbs of place, such as outside, around, nearby, everywhere, here and there, stay at the end of a phrase or sentence. The adverb comes after the main verb or the object of the main verb.
Here are some examples:
- The children like to play outside.
- I’ll see you around.
- We are planning a vacation nearby.
Exceptions: Here and There
“Here” and “There” sometimes come first in a sentence. If an exclamation is involved, the sentence that follows is in reverse order.
- “Here you go,” the bartender said while handing me a glass of wine. (Standard order)
- Here comes the bus, finally! I had started to think I had to order an Uber. (Reverse order)
5. Adverbs of degree (To what extent?)
Adverbs of degree, such as too, enough, very or extremely, tell us about the intensity of something. They answer Question 6 above, “To what extent does somebody do something?”
These adverbs usually come before the adjective, the adverb or the verb that they modify. There are some exceptions, though.
Position: before the adjective, adverb or verb
Unlike adverbs of place, this kind of adverb can modify more than just a verb, but also an adjective and an adverb.
Here are examples of each usage:
- I totally agree with you!
- I really want a new laptop.
(The adverbs “totally” and “really” modify the verbs “agree” and “want.”)
- She is quite young to be a mother.
- He is too naive to be an effective politician.
(The adverbs “quite” and “too” modify the adjectives “young” and “naive.”)
- She dances extraordinarily well.
- He talks too loudly about his work problems.
(The adverbs “extraordinarily” and “too” modify the adverbs “well” and “loudly.”)
Exceptions for negative adverbs
Negative modifiers, such as seldom, rarely, hardly or scarcely, can stay at the beginning of a sentence. In this case, the sentence that follows is in reverse order (with the auxiliary coming before the subject). This structure is also much less common and sounds formal or poetic. For example:
- Scarcely did he work during weekends in his 40 years at the company.
(Normal Order: He scarcely worked during weekends in his 40 years at the company.)
- Rarely did she leave the house.
(Normal Order: She rarely left the house.)
- Never had I seen such natural beauty as I did when I was in Norway.
(Normal Order: I had never seen such natural beauty as I did when I was in Norway.)
So here you have it: the five most commonly used types of adverbs.
They tell you about how something happens, as well as the time, the frequency and the place where it happens. They also give you an idea of the degree of certainty about the action.
If you want to put these adverbs into action, here are some links to exercises that can help you practice using adverbs:
If you confidently start using these awesome adverbs in your English, I’m very sure you’ll be speaking fluently in no time!
And One More Thing...
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