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238. The adverb is a word denoting circumstances or characteristics which attend or modify an action, state, or quality. It may also intensify a quality or characteristics.

From this definition it is difficult to define adverbs as a class, because they comprise a most heterogeneous group of words, and there is considerable overlap between the class and other word classes. They have many kinds of form, meaning and function. Alongside such undoubtful adverbs as here, now, often, seldom, always, there are many others which also function as words of other classes. Thus, adverbs like dead (dead tired), clear (to get clear away), clean (I've clean forgotten), slow, easy (he would say that slow and easy) coincide with corresponding adjectives (a dead body, clear waters, clean hands). Adverbs like past, above are homonymous with prepositions. There is also a special group of pronominal adverbs when, where, how, why used either as interrogative words or as connectives to introduce subordinate clauses.

Where shall we go? (an interrogative pronominal adverb)

Well go where you want (a conjunctive pronominal adverb).

Some adverbs may be used rather like a verb, as in Up. Jenkins! Down, Peter!, where the first word is like an imperative.

In many cases the border-line between adverbs and words of the other classes is defined syntactically.

He walked past. (adverb)

He walked past the house. (preposition)

They took the dog in. (adverb)

They left the dog in the house, (preposition)

He did everything slowly but surely. (adverb)

Surely you know him. (modal word)

There are three adverbs connected with numerals: once, twice, and thrice (the latter being archaic). They denote measure or frequency.

She went there once a week.

I saw him twice last month.

Twice is also used in the structure twice as long, etc.

He is twice as tall as his brother.

She is twice as clever.

Beginning with three the idea of frequency or repetition is expressed by the phrases three times, four times; He went there four times; he is four times as bigger; she is ten times cleverer.

Morphological composition

239. Adverbs vary in their structure. There are simple, derived, compound, and composite adverbs.

Simple adverbs are after, here, well, now, soon, etc.

In derived adverbs the most common suffix is -ly, by means of which new adverbs are coined from adjectives and participles: occasionally, lately, immediately, constantly, purely, slowly, charmingly.

The less common snffixes are the following:







clockwise, crabwise, corkscrew -wise, education- wise

onward(s), backward(s), homeward(s), eastward(s)

twofold, manifold


innermost, outermost

longways, sideways

Of these suffixes the first two are more ptoductive than the rest.

Compound adverbs are formed of two stems:

sometimes, somewhere, everywhere, downstairs, etc.

Composite phrasal adverbs consist of two or more word-forms, as

a great deal, a little bit, far enough, now and then, from time to time, sort of, kind of, a hell of, a lot of, a

great deal of.

Morphological characteristics

240. The only pattern of morphological change for adverbs is the same as for adjectives, the degrees of comparison. The three grades are called positive, comparative, and superlative degrees.

Adverbs that are identical in form with adjectives take inflections following the same spelling and phonetic rules as for adjectives:





- earlier

- later

- harder

- slower

- earliest

- latest

- hardest

- slowest

Several adverbs ending in -ly (quickly, loudly) form comparatives according to the same pattern, dropping their adverb-forming suffix. These adverbs acquired the form in -ly only recently and retained the older forms of the comparative and superlative:



- quicker

- louder

- quickest

- loudest

However most disyllabic adverbs in -ly and all polysyllabic ones form the comparative and superlative analytically, by means of more and most:




- more wisely

- more softly

- more deeply

- most wisely

- most softly

- most deeply

The adverb often occurs with both types of comparison:



more often

As with adjectives, there is a small group of adverbs with comparatives and superlatives formed from different stems (suppletive forms). These comparatives and superlatives are identical with those for the corresponding adjectives and can be differentiated from the latter only syntactically.






- better

- worse

- less

- more


- best

- worst

- least

- most

- furthest

- farthest

Which do you like best?

This is least painful for you.

Either farther (farthest) or further (furthest) are used when speaking of places, directions, or distance:

He is too tired to walk any farther (further).

But only further (furthest) is used with the meaning more, later:

Dont try my patience any further.

Most of the adverbs, however, stand outside the degrees of comparison:

pronominal adverbs denoting place and time

(here, somewhere, there, sometimes, when),

denoting manner

(somehow, thus), and

adverbs of manner denoting gradation

(minimally, optimally, proximally - ).

Semantic characteristics

241. According to their meaning adverbs fall into many groups. Here are the main ones:

Adverbs of place: outside, there, in front, etc.

Adverbs of time include those denoting duration (long, continually), interval (all day), timing (yesterday, today, recently, lately, immediately, once, at once, now), frequency (often, now and then, occasionally). Several of them denote an indefinite time - soon, yet, always, already, never, ever.

Adverbs of manner: well, carefully, intentionally, silently, clearly, etc.

Adverbs of degree: thoroughly, very, much, completely, quite, rather, a lot, a little, a great deal, badly, greatly, hardly, barely, scarcely, narrowly, just, almost, mostly, enormously, largely, tremendously, keenly, somewhat, too, so, most, all but.

Among these some are synonymous (much, very), but their combinability is different. Thus much is used to modify verbs, nouns, statives and adjectives, and very is used with adjectives and adverbs in the positive and superlative degrees, whereas with comparatives only much is used:

to travel much

to be much improved

much better

much slower

very much in love

very much alive

very much alike

very much afraid

very nice

very glad

very slow

very quickly

With participles, however, both much and very may be used, often they go together:

much admired, very surprised, very much amused.

Among adverbs of degree there are many the meaning of which has become weakened and which are used as intensifiers, adding emotional colouring to the content of what is said. This group of adverbs is very difficult to define because adverbs of other semantic groups can occasionally function as intensifiers:

awfully painful,

very quiet,

rather calm,

most expensive,

terribly unjust,

faintly uneasy,

really pretty,

positively wonderful,

extremely beautiful,

too frightful,

so nice,


Syntactic functions and patterns of combinability

242. Adverbs may perform different functions, modifying different types of words, phrases, sentences. Some adverbs are restricted in their combinability whereas others may modify different words, for instance enough, which may be used in to work enough, not quickly enough, quick enough. The most typical function of the adverb is that of adverbial modifier.

The combinability and functions of the adverbs are as follows:

1. Adverbs may function as adverbial modifiers of manner, place, time, degree to a finite or non-finite form of the verb:

He spoke aloud; I quite forgot about it; he spoke well.

Some adverbs of time though synonymous, are used in different syntactical patterns. Thus, already is used in affirmative sentences, and yet - in interrogative and negative sentences:

They have already finished.

They havent finished yet.

Have they finished yet?

However, already may occur in interrogative and negative sentences when there is an element of surprise or the question is suggestive, that is the speaker expects an affirmative answer.

Have they finished already? (The speaker is surprised at their having already finished.)

In the same way still, meaning continuously, up to this moment, is used in affirmative sentences and any more in negative sentences. If any more is used in a question, it implies that the speaker expects a negative answer.

He still works at the library.

He does not work there any more.

Does he take music lessons any more? - No, he doesnt.

2. Adverbs may function as adverbial modifiers to an adjective or another adverb. Usually the modifying adverb is an intensifier:

very, rather, awfully, so, terribly, extremely, most, utterly, unusually, delightfully, unbelievably,

amazingly, strikingly, highly, that, etc.

The same applies to composite adverbs, such as

kind of, sort of, a good bit of, a lot of, a hell of, a great deal of, etc.

She is terribly awkward; they are very happy: Meg is clever enough; you speak so slowly; they settled in a rather quiet street; the boy is unbelievably fat; she was strikingly handsome; we did it sort of proudly; quite definitely, too much, right there, a great deal too much.

Some adverbs - still, yet, far, much, any combine with comparative adjectives: much worse, not any better, still greater, etc.

He could not speak any plainer.

You could do it far more neatly.

She is much wittier than her friend.

Comparative adverbs are used in clauses of proportional agreement, that is, parallel clauses in which qualities or actions denoted in them increase or decrease at an equal rate. (See Syntax 177)

The longer I think about it the less I understand your reasons.

To express the idea that a quality or action decreases or increases at an even rate the comparative may be repeated, the two identical forms being connected by and:

He ran faster and faster.

3. There are some adverbs which may modify nouns or words of nominal character, functioning as attribute, as in:

the way ahead, the trip abroad, the journey home, his return home, the sentence above (below), my friend

here, the house opposite, the day before, etc.

A few adverbs can premodify nouns without losing their adverbial character:

the then president, in after years, the above sentence, the now generation.

Their combinability with prepositional phrases can be illustrated by the following:

right up to the ceiling.

Positional characteristics

243. As adverbs modify words of different classes, they accordingly occupy different positions in the sentence. In comparison with other words, adverbs may be considered as the most movable words. However, adverbs are not identical in their ability to be moved to another position in the structure. Thus, adverbs of manner and degree are very closely attached to the word they modify and cannot be moved away from it. He sings well is the only possible arrangement of the three words, unless the change of position is caused by inversion and a general shift of the communicative focus: Only well does he sing ( ). If such an adverb is put in other positions this may result in a change of meaning in which case it is no longer an adverb (it has already been mentioned that adverbs are often defined by position rather than form): well, he sings when nobody is in.

If the predicate is an analytical form adverbs of frequency and indefinite time are usually placed between its parts:

Have you ever seen him?

You are always laughing at me.

Adverbs of degree usually premodify adjectives or verbs:

awfully painful, terribly unjust, really pretty, so nice, to thoroughly understand, etc.

The most mobile are adverbs of time and place, which can occupy several positions without any change in their meaning, as in:

Usually he sings well.

He usually sings well.

He sings well usually.

The initial position of the adverb of manner always makes it emphatic.

Proudly he showed his diploma to his parents.

Carefully he signed his name.

In these sentences, despite the detachment of the adverbial modifier, its connection with the verb is evident (showed proudly, signed carefully).


Care should be taken not to confuse adverbs of manner and modal words, which may have the same word-form and occur in the same position. The only guide in these cases is punctuation and the relation between the words:

Naturally I wanted him to answer - modal word.

I wanted him to answer naturally - adverb.

They wanted to live naturally - adverb.

They wanted to live, naturally - modal word.