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Adverbs are words that modify everything but nouns and pronouns. They modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. A word is an adverb if it answers how, when, or where.
The only adverbs that cause grammatical problems are those that answer the question how, so we will focus on these. Examples He speaks slowly.
Answers the question how.
He speaks very slowly.
Answers the question how slowly.
Rule 1. Generally, if a word answers the question how, it is an adverb. If it can have an ly added to it, place it there. Examples She thinks slow/slowly.
She thinks how slowly.
She is a slow/slowly thinker.
Slow does not answer how so no ly is attached. Slow is an adjective here.
She thinks fast/fastly.
Fast answers the question how, so it is an adverb. But fast never has an ly attached to it.
We performed bad/badly.
Badly describes how we performed.
Rule 2. A special ly rule applies when four of the sensestaste, smell, look, feelare the verbs. Do not ask if these senses answer the question how to determine if ly should be attached. Instead, ask if the sense verb is being used actively. If so, use the ly. Examples Roses smell sweet/sweetly.
Do the roses actively smell with noses No, so no ly.
The woman looked angry/angrily.
Did the woman actively look with eyes or are we describing her appearance
We are only describing appearance, so no ly.
The woman looked angry/angrily at the paint splotches.
Here the woman did actively look with eyes so the ly was added.
She feels bad/badly about the news.
She is not feeling with fingers, so no ly.
Rule 3. The word good is an adjective while well is an adverb. Examples You did a good job.
Good describes the job.
You did the job well.
Well answers how.
You smell good today.
Describes your odor, not how you smell with your nose, so follow with the adjective.
You smell well for someone with a cold.
You are actively smelling with a nose here so follow with the adverb.
Rule 4. When referring to health, always use well. Examples I do not feel well.
You do not look well today.
Rule 5. A common error in using adjectives and adverbs arises from using the wrong form for comparison. For instance, to describe one thing we would say poor, as in, "She is poor." To compare two things, we should say poorer, as in, "She is the poorer of the two women." To compare more than two things, we should say poorest, as in, "She is the poorest of them all." Examples
Three or More
*Usually with words of three or more syllables, don't add -er or -est. Use more or most in front of the words.
Rule 6. Never drop the ly from an adverb when using the comparison form. Correct She spoke quickly.
She spoke more quickly than he did. Incorrect She spoke quicker than he did. Correct Talk quietly.
Talk more quietly. Incorrect Talk quieter.
Rule 7. When this, that, these, and those are followed by nouns, they are adjectives. When they appear without a noun following them, they are pronouns. Examples This house is for sale.
This is an adjective here.
This is for sale.
This is a pronoun here.
Rule 8. This and that are singular, whether they are being used as adjectives or as pronouns. This points to something nearby while that points to something "over there." Examples This dog is mine.
That dog is hers.
This is mine.
That is hers.
Rule 9. These and those are plural, whether they are being used as adjectives or as pronouns. These points to something nearby while those points to something "over there." Examples These babies have been smiling for a long time.
These are mine.
Those babies have been crying for hours.
Those are yours.
Rule 10. Use than to show comparison. Use then to answer the question when. Examples I would rather go skiing than rock climbing.
First we went skiing; then we went rock climbing
How to recognize an adverb
Many adverbs end with the suffix -LY. Most of these are created by adding -LY to the end of an adjective, like this:
However, this is NOT a reliable way to find out whether a word is an adverb or not, for two reasons: many adverbs do NOT end in -LY (some are the same as the adjective form), and many words which are NOT adverbs DO end in -LY (such as kindly, friendly, elderly and lonely, which are adjectives). Here are some examples of adverbs which are the same as adjectives:
The best way to tell if a word is an adverb is to try making a question, for which the answer is the word. If the question uses how, where or when, then the word is probably an adverb. Here is an example:
Word in context
Junko plays tennis aggressively.
How does Junko play tennis
Yes -- uses HOW.
They have a small house.
What kind of house do they have
No -- uses WHAT KIND OF, so this is an adjective.
Matthew called the police immediately.
When did Matthew call the police
Yes -- uses WHEN.
Making adverbs from adjectives
Adverbs are usually made from adjectives, by adding -LY. However, there are some exceptions. These are the rules:
Adjective ending in...
How to make the adverb
Change Y to I and add -LY
heavy - heavily
happy - happily
lazy - lazily
Just add -LY
warm - warmly
nice - nicely
loud - loudly
However, there are some important exceptions:
("Lately" means recently.
It is not the adverb
("Hardly" means not much.
It is not the adverb
Avoiding Common Errors
Bad or Badly
When you want to describe how you feel, you should use an adjective (Why Feel is a sense verb;see rule #3 above). So you'd say, "I feel bad." Saying you feel badly would be like saying you play football badly. It would mean that you are unable to feel, as though your hands were partially numb.
Good or Well
Good is an adjective, so you do not do good or live good, but you do well and live well. Remember, though, that an adjective follows sense-verbs and be-verbs, so you also feel good, look good, smell good, are good, have been good, etc. (Refer to rule #3 above for more information about sense verbs and verbs of appearance.)
Confusion can occur because well can function either as an adverb or an adjective. When well is used as an adjective, it means "not sick" or "in good health." For this specific sense of well, it's OK to say you feel well or are well -- for example, after recovering from an illness. When not used in this health-related sense, however, well functions as an adverb; for example, "I did well on my exam."
Scarcely and hardly are already negative adverbs. To add another negative term is redundant, because in English only one negative is ever used at a time
They found scarcely any animals on the island. (not scarcely no...)
Hardly anyone came to the party. (not hardly no one...)
Sure or Surely?
Sure is an adjective, and surely is an adverb. Sure is also used in the idiomatic expression sure to be. Surely can be used as a sentence-adverb. Here are some examples that show different uses of sure and surely. Light blue arrows indicate adjectives and green arrows indicate adverbs.
Here sure is an adjective that modifies the pronoun I.
Here surely is an adverb that modifies the adjective ready.
Here sure to be is an idiomatic phrase that functions as an adjective that modifies the pronoun she.