Definition: Averbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs or whole sentences.
To modify means to change a little. Adverbs change sentences by adding to the meaning of the words they modify. Look at the following sentences.
I saw a man running out of the house.
I saw a man running quickly out of the house.
In the first sentence, a man is running, but, in the second sentence a man is running quickly. The second sentence gives more information about how the man is running.
Adverbs usually answer the following questions:
- When: I usually go to bed by mid-night. Adverbs that tell when or how often something happens are commonly referred to as adverbs of frequency.
- Why: Jerry broke the rules by staying out too late; consequently, he won't get to go to the dance tomorrow night.
- Where: Becky glanced sideways at him.
- How: The detective walked slowly up the stairs.
- To what degree, or how much: Bob's car was badly damaged in the accident.
Adverbs are also used as intensifiers by making the adjective or verb they modify stronger. Compare the following sentences.
- This coffee is hot.
- This coffee is very hot.
- This coffee is too hot.
In sentence one the coffee is hot. We do not know how hot or if the speaker can drink the coffee or not.
In the second sentence very is used to modify the adjective hot. The coffee is not just hot; instead, it is very hot.
The speaker may or may not be able to drink the coffee. In sentence 3; however, the coffee is too which indicates that the speaker cannot drink the coffee until it cools.
Position of Adverbs
Adverbs can generally shift position within a sentence with greater ease than other parts of speech. However, when using adverbs of frequency (also know as mid-sentence adverbs) there are a few rules that must be followed.
- When using adverbs of frequency in sentences with the ~to be~ verb, the adverb comes after the ~to be~ verb.
He was always late for class.
- When using adverbs of frequency in sentences that contain a helping verb and a main verb, the adverb comes between the helping and main verb.
I have never liked fried chicken.
- In sentences without the ~to be~ or helping verb, the adverb of frequency should come between the subject and main verb.
I usually sleep late on Sundays.
Finally, when a sentence contains two or more words that the adverb may modify, one must take care to place the adverb so as to give the intended meaning. Adverbs like almost, nearly, approximately and often are trouble adverbs and must be used with caution. Compare the following sentences.
- Mother almost cooked three hundred meals.
- Mother cooked almost three hundred meals.
- I often remind myself of the need to balance my account.
- I remind myself of the need to balance my account often.
In sentence 1 the adverb almost modifies the verb cooked. 'Mother almost cooked, (she planned to cook), three hundred meals.,' but something happened to prevent her from cooking that many meals.
In sentence 2, almost modifies three hundred. 'Mother cooked almost three hundred meals.,' which means that there were close to three hundred meals cooked. Maybe there were 290 or 298 meals cooked. We don't know the exact number, but we do know that there were a lot of meals cooked.
In sentence 3, the adverb often modifies the verb remind. When does the speaker remind him/herself to balance his or her account? Often.
In sentence 4, often modifies the verb phrase need to balance. When does the speaker need to balance his or her account? Often.