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The Adverb

Recognize an adverb when you find one.

Adverbs tweak the meaning of verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and clauses.

Read, for example, this sentence:

Our basset hound Bailey sleeps on the living room floor.

Is Bailey a sound sleeper, curled into a tight ball? Or is he a fitful sleeper, his paws twitching while he dreams? The addition of an adverb adjusts the meaning of the verb sleeps so that readers have a clearer picture:

Our basset hound Bailey sleeps peacefully on the living room floor.

Adverbs can be single words, or they can be phrases or clauses. Adverbs answer one of these four questions: How? When? Where? and Why?

Here are single-word examples:

Lenora rudely grabbed the last chocolate cookie.

The adverb rudely fine-tunes the verb grabbed.

Tyler stumbled in the completely dark kitchen.

The adverb completely fine-tunes the adjective dark.

To work on her research essay one more day, Roxanne quite happily accepted the ten-point late penalty.

The adverb quite fine-tunes the adverb happily.

Surprisingly, the restroom stalls had toilet paper.

The adverb surprisingly modifies the entire main clause that follows.

Many single-word adverbs end in ly. In the examples above, you saw peacefully, rudely, completely, happily, and surprisingly.

Not all ly words are adverbs, however. Lively, lonely, and lovely are adjectives instead, answering the questions What kind? or Which one?

Many single-word adverbs have no specific ending, such as next, not, often, quite, seldom, and then. If you are uncertain whether a word is an adverb or not, consult a dictionary to determine its part of speech.

Adverbs can also be multi-word phrases and clauses.

Here are examples:

At 2 a.m., a bat flew through Deidre's open bedroom window.

The prepositional phrase at 2 a.m. indicates when the event happened. The second prepositional phrase, through Deidre's open bedroom window, describes where the creature traveled.

With a fork, George thrashed the raw eggs until they foamed.

The subordinate clause until they foamed describes how George prepared the eggs.

Sylvia emptied the carton of milk into the sink because the expiration date had long passed.

The subordinate clause because the expiration date had long passed describes why Sylvia poured out the milk.

Avoid an adverb when a single, stronger word will do.

Many readers believe that adverbs make sentences bloated and flabby. When you can replace a two-word combination with a single, more powerful word, do so!

For example, avoid drink quickly when you mean gulp, or walk slowly when you mean saunter, or very hungry when you mean ravenous.

Form comparative and superlative adverbs correctly.

To make comparisons, you will often need comparative or superlative adverbs. You use comparative adverbs—more and less—if you are discussing two people, places, or things. You use superlative adverbs—most and least—if you have three or more people, places, or things.

Consider these two examples:

Beth loves green vegetables, so she eats broccoli more frequently than her brother Daniel.

Among the members of her family, Beth eats pepperoni pizza the least often.

Do not use an adjective when you need an adverb instead.

People will often say, "Anthony is real smart" or "This pizza sauce is real salty."

Real is an adjective, so it cannot modify another adjective like smart or salty. What people should say is "Anthony is really smart" or "This pizza sauce is really salty."

If you train yourself to add the extra ly syllable when you speak, you will likely remember it when you write, where its absence might cost you points from a grade or respect from your colleagues!

Realize that an adverb is not part of the verb.

Some verbs require up to four words to complete the tense. The resulting verb phrase has a base or main part as well as auxiliary (or helping) verbs with it.

When a short adverb such as also, never, or not interrupts, it is still an adverb, not part of the verb.

Read these examples:

For his birthday, Frank would also like a jar of dill pickles.

Would like = verb; also = adverb.

After that dreadful casserole you made last night, Julie will never eat tuna or broccoli again.

Will eat = verb; never = adverb.

Despite the approaching deadline, Sheryl-Ann has not started her research essay.

Has started = verb; not = adverb.

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