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  Adverbs in English

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Adverbs in English

Types of adverb and their usage

Subject index:  Categories and functions of adverbs Adverbs related to adjectives Adverbs unrelated to adjectives 

1.1. Two categories of adverb:

Many grammars and manuals of syntax suggest that there are a lot of different categories of adverb; but that is to complicate a situation that is really quite simple.
    There are  two main categories of adverb:
  1. Adverbs related to or derived from  adjectives or prepositions
  2. Adverbs unrelated to adjectives or prepositions.
Adverbs from either category may fullfil identical functions in the sentence. Each category includes adverbs of four main types: time, place, manner and degree
Category 1 :
Time ( duration, sequence)  :  presently, previously, fast,  
Place (position or direction) : locally, closely,  upwards,  nearby
Manner : Quickly, easily, consequently
Degree: Extremely, generally, highly, nearly
Category 2 :
Time ( duration, sequence)  :  already, soon, tomorrow, next
Place (position or direction) : Here, there, somewhere, away
Manner :  too, thus, therefore
Degree: very, quite, 
To understand how "sentence adverbs" (see below) such as therefore or thus are adverbs like the others (and not conjunctions), just consider that therefore is a synonym of consequently, and that thus can be a synonym of accordingly.

1.2. Function  of adverbs:

Whereas adjectives are used to qualify a noun, adverbs are used to qualify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.  Some adverbs - called "sentence adverbs" - can also qualify a whole sentence (see below).
Here are some examples of adverbs.

2. Adverbs related to adjectives

Most adverbs in English are related to adjectives; for example high (adjective)  and highly (adverb).

Adjectives Adverbs
Qualifying a noun qualifying a verb qualifying an adjective
a high mountain I think highly of you That is highly improbable
A real surprise He really likes you You are really nice.
A fast train It went very fast This is a fast moving situation.
In actual fact I actually laughed
A bitter disappointment I bitterly regret saying that. A bitterly cold day
Extreme sports I'm extremely busy

2.1 Formation of adverbs:

As the examples above show, many adverbs are formed by adding the ending -ly to an adjective. Adverbs can be formed from many adjectives in this manner; that includes many participles.
Examples: (adjective / adverb)
New / newly,  continuous / continuously,  recent / recently,  
Adjectives ending in -ful form adverbs ending in -fully:  careful / carefully,
Adjectives ending in -y form adverbs ending in -ily : happy / happily,
Participial adjectives :
Surprising / surprisingly,  disgusting / disgustingly,  decided / decidedly
There are a few exceptions to this principle:

2.2 Adjectives and adverbs with identical forms

Here are the eight most common adjective/adverb pairs that share identical forms :
Adjectives Adverbs Notes:
A fast train It went very fast
A hard day I'm working hard hardly also exists - but the meaning is different
A late reply He's working late. lately also exists - but the meaning is different
A long day I long thought he'd never return. long, adverb, has the meaning of for a long time
the Daily Express We check it daily.
A monthly bill I pay it monthly
The wrong answer We went wrong. wrongly also exists - but usage depends on contex
The next day Who's going next ?

2.3 Comparatives and superlatives:

Adjective and adverbial forms are also identical when adjectives are in a comparative or superlative form  – unless this is formed with more or most:
Examples: (adjective / adverb)
better / better,  fastest / fastest,  more recent / more recently,  
There was a bright flash  / The light was shining brightly
I need a brighter light  /  The sun shone brighter ( more brightly) in the evening.

A few adverbs are formed by adding the endings -ward(s) or -wise to nouns or prepositions:
  • clockwise ,  anti-clockwise,     inwards,  upwards,  skywards   etc.
Finally, note that the normal adverb corresponding to the adjective good is well, not goodly.

3. Adverbs unrelated to adjectives

There are many common adverbs in English that are not related to adjectives; they can be found in all four types, as illustrated above.  These adverbs include some important groups:
  • Several common adverbs of frequency: sometimes, seldom, often etc.
  • Several common adverbs of degree : quite, very, too, enough
  • A number of "Sentence adverbs" , which qualify whole clauses or sentences.

Do you come here often ?
This is a seldom-performed symphony by Brahms.
We sometimes go to the cinema on Fridays.
You are quite sure, aren't you ?
That is quite extraordinary !
I quite like that shirt.
That really is not good enough.
Important: note that enough, as an adverb of degree, follows the adjective it is qualifying. For more on this see enough

4. Sentence adverbs 

Adverbs qualifying a whole clause or a whole sentence

Some adverbs can apply (or in some cases only apply)  to a whole sentence or statement.
These can be
  • adverbs formed from adjectives, such as consequently, possibly,  clearly, naturally, obviously, surprisingly, fortunately, or
  • conjunctive adverbs such as  therefore, perhaps, so, nevertheless, also...  For more on this see Conjunctive adverbs.
To understand how  adverbs such as therefore or perhaps are adverbs like the others, just consider that therefore is a synonym of consequently, and that perhaps can be a synonym of possibly.  These sentence adverbs are not conjunctions (like but and for or as), since conjunctions must come at the start of their clause; sentence adverbs may have more than one possible position in the clause.

Clearly you have not understood what I am saying.
You have clearly not understood what I am saying.
It's snowing, therefore (consequently) the match has been cancelled.
It's snowing,  the match has therefore (consequently) been cancelled.
We will obviously try to find the right answer.
Naturally, you will have to buy a ticket before you leave.
These adverbs are in reality contractions of a longer clause:
Clearly means "It is clear that..."
Naturally means "It is natural that..."  etc.

Going further: See here for the position of adverbs in the sentence.

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Les adverbes en anglais


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