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Adverbs: Formal characteristics of adverbs, adverbs and adjectives,


6 Adverbs

 

Adverbs are used to modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb:  

[1] Mary sings beautifully  
[2] David is extremely clever  
[3] This car goes incredibly fast 

In [1], the adverb beautifully tells us how Mary sings. In [2], extremely tells us the degree to which David is clever. Finally, in [3], the adverb incredibly tells us how fast the car goes.  

Before discussing the meaning of adverbs, however, we will identify some of their formal characteristics.  

6.1 Formal Characteristics of Adverbs

From our examples above, you can see that many adverbs end in -ly. More precisely, they are formed by adding -ly to an adjective:  
  
  

Adjective

slow

quick

soft

sudden

gradual

Adverb

slowly

quickly

softly

suddenly

gradually

 

  

Because of their distinctive endings, these adverbs are known as -LY ADVERBS. However, by no means all adverbs end in -ly. Note also that some adjectives also end in -ly, including costly, deadly, friendly, kindly, likely, lively, manly, and timely.  

Like adjectives, many adverbs are GRADABLE, that is, we can modify them using very or extremely:  

 

 

softly

very softly

suddenly

very suddenly

slowly

extremely slowly

 

  

The modifying words very and extremely are themselves adverbs. They are called DEGREE ADVERBS because they specify the degree to which an adjective or another adverb applies. Degree adverbs include almost, barely, entirely, highly, quite, slightly, totally, and utterly. Degree adverbs are not gradable (*extremely very).  

Like adjectives, too, some adverbs can take COMPARATIVE and SUPERLATIVE forms, with -er and -est:  
 

John works hard -- Mary works harder -- I work hardest 

However, the majority of adverbs do not take these endings. Instead, they form the comparative using more and the superlative using most:  

 

 

Adverb

Comparative

Superlative

recently

more recently

most recently

effectively

more effectively

most effectively

frequently

more frequently

most frequently

 

  

In the formation of comparatives and superlatives, some adverbs are irregular:  

 

 

Adverb

Comparative

Superlative

well

better

best

badly

worse

worst

little

less

least

much

more 

most

 

6.2 Adverbs and Adjectives

Adverbs and adjectives have important characteristics in common -- in particular their gradability, and the fact that they have comparative and superlative forms. However, an important distinguishing feature is that adverbs do not modify nouns, either attributively or predicatively:  

 

 

Adjective

Adverb

David is a happy child

*David is a happily child

David is happy

*David is happily

 

  

The following words, together with their comparative and superlative forms, can be both adverbs and adjectives:  

early, far, fast, hard, late  

The following sentences illustrate the two uses of early:  

 

 

Adjective

Adverb

I'll catch the early train

I awoke early this morning

 

  

The comparative better and the superlative best, as well as some words denoting time intervals (daily, weekly, monthly), can also be adverbs or adjectives, depending on how they are used.  

We have incorporated some of these words into the following exercise. See if you can distinguish between the adverbs and the adjectives. 

Although endings, gradability and comparison allow us to identify many adverbs, there still remains a very large number of them which cannot be identified in this way. In fact, taken as a whole, the adverb class is the most diverse of all the word classes, and its members exhibit a very wide range of forms and functions. Many semantic classifications of adverbs have been made, but here we will concentrate on just three of the most distinctive classes, known collectively as circumstantial adverbs.  
  


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