Section 4: Adverbs

An ADVERB is a form-class word that usually modifies verbs, adjectives, adverbs, or a whole sentence and frequently can be moved around in its sentence and still make sense .

The more adverb characteristics a word has, the more prototypical it is:

  1. Adverb-making morpheme
  2. Comparative or Superlative (inflectional morpheme)
  3. Comparative or Superlative (more or most)
  4. Move in its sentence
  5. Can fit the adverb frame sentence: The man told his story __.

These characteristics serve as the primary tests for identifying adverbs. Prototypical adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, phrases, clauses, and whole sentences. They share many inflectional and derivational morphemes with adjectives. No single formal or functional characteristic can identify every adverb.

You can only be sure a word is an adverb if it fits the frame sentence. The frame sentence can be any complete sentence with a final slot available for an optional adverb. For example, the frame sentence could be:

  • The woman walked her dog _____.
  • The man told his story _____.
  • The child cried _____.
  • The dog ate his bone _____.

Prototypical adverbs like slow, slowlyfastgladlymechanically, and basically fit these sentences and have other characteristics of prototypical adverbs:

Has an adverb-making morpheme:

  • slowly
  • gladly
  • mechanically
  • basically

Takes a comparative or superlative morpheme:

  • faster, fastest
  • slower, slowest

Can be made comparative or superlative by using more or most:

  • more gladly, more mechanically
  • most gladly, most mechanically

Can be qualified:

  • rather slowly
  • very fast
  • quite gladly
  • most basically

Can be moved within a sentence:

  • He ate gladly.
  • He gladly ate.
  • Gladly he ate.

The fewer adverb characteristics a word has, the more peripheral it becomes as a possible adverb.

Members of all four form classes can be divided into further subclasses based on certain semantic features. These features often have grammatical consequences. Adverb subclasses include adverbs that describe the following categories:


  • The horses ran quickly/steadily/slowly/well/reluctantly.


  • Our guest arrived yesterday/then/immediately.


  • Your boss called here/somewhere/around/outside.


  • She is strikingly/incredibly/amazingly beautiful.

Frequency and Number

  • They met often/twice/seldom/frequently.


  • He always/still/briefly bragged about it.

Finally, an adverbial complement is an adverbial word or phrase that completes the meaning of an intransitive verb.

When analyzing for adverbs, we classify its FORM as adverb. We classify its FUNCTION as adverbial.

In this respect, an adverbial is an adverb or any group of words that can substitute for an adverb (word, phrase, or clause) and perform adverbial functions. In other words, they can do anything that an adverb can do.

To test your understanding of the concepts discussed on this page, begin with the link below for an example practice exercise:


For a bit more of a challenge, analyze the following sentence from The Brothers Karamazov for adverbs.

He completely abandoned the child of his marriage with Adelaïda Ivanovna, not from malice, nor because of his matrimonial grievances, but simply because he forgot him.

To review your answers to these two samples, check the ADVERB SAMPLES ANALYSES page.