October 30, 2020

Grammatical Name and Functions of Adverbs

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Today I’m going to show you how to perform two important grammar wonders – identify an adverb and state the functions of adverbs.

To be able to easily identify a word as an adverb, knowledge of the definition of adverbs is helpful.

So, let’s move quickly to once and for all discover the definition of adverbs and the other characteristics of words that may be called adverbs.

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What is an adverb?

One way to identify an adverb in a sentence is provided by the definition given in the Cambridge English Dictionary.

An adverb is a word which describes or gives more information about a verb, adjective, adverb or phrase.

In the following sentences, cheerfully, spotlessly, extremely, well and right are adverbs.

She smiled cheerfully.

The house was spotlessly clean.

He is managing extremely well.

The shot was heard right outside the door.

Many adverbs end with “-ly”

Another characteristic of adverbs is that they usually have the affix ‘-ly’ attached to them. Many of these are derived from adjectives.  

Example: fortunate – fortunately

Others include: shortly, briefly, importantly, mostly, normally,

Some adverbs begin with “-a”

A few adverbs begin with the morpheme ‘a-‘


abroad, ahead, abreast, around, aloof, alert, astray

An adverb may end with “-like”, “-wise” and “-ward”

A few adverbs have the suffixes ‘-like’, ‘-wise’, ‘-ward’


He walked crablike

Note, however, that crablike is an adjective in the sentence below:

This is a crablike behavior.

Adverbs can be compared.

Many adverbs have  comparative and superlative forms.


– well, better, best

– Little, less, least

– Far, farther/further, farthest

– Badly, worse, worst

– Much, more, most

– Soon, sooner, soonest

How the word is used is important

A large number of adverbs take the same form as adjectives.

For that matter, such words are only identifiable as adverbs (or adjectives) depending on the function they perform in a particular sentence.


i) Frankie Fredericks ran very fast (adverb)

  ii) Usain Bolt is a fast runner (adjective)

Others are: quick, hard, daily, late, long, early, round, high, only, far, past etc.


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Subordinating conjunctions as adverbs

A number of adverbs take the form of conjunctions.

These words often introduce (begin) subordinate clauses and are, therefore, sometimes referred to as subordinating conjunctions.

At other times, they are known as relative adverbs or interrogative adverbs.  

We shall take a closer look at subordinating conjunctions in another tutorial devoted to clauses.


when, why, though, since, while, until, as, if, because, after, before, so

i) Tell me when to stop

ii) I don’t know why Charlotte fought her twin brother.

“This” as an adverb

‘This’ can be used as an adverb (meaning ‘as much’)

e.g. She has never been this late for school.

Conjunctive Adverbs

Following is a list of words that we call conjunctive adverbs.



















The main grammatical function of a conjunctive adverb is to join independent clauses to form one sentence.


You have just been appointed our new head of department; therefore, you must move to your new office.

At other times, a conjunctive adverb may begin a main clause.


She hasn’t told anybody about the incident. Nevertheless, many people are aware of it.

Note, carefully, the placement of the semi-colon and the comma in the above two examples.

Functions of adverbs

The key point to note about the functions of adverbs is that, as the word sounds (AD-VERB), they tend to provide additional information about verbs (or actions).

Let’s take a quick look at the most important functions of adverbs.

I am referring to those functions of adverbs that you should know in preparation for your WAEC/WASSCE English Language Comprehension paper.

Adverbs function as adjuncts

The adverb may function as an adjunct. In this case, it provides more information about the verb in terms of how, where, when or how often (something happens).

HOW: (Adjunct of manner)


We enjoyed the film greatly.

Justin Bieber sings beautifully.

WHERE: (Adjunct of place)


Let’s go inside.

The people who live upstairs are very noisy.

Note, however, that in the sentence,

Sadly, the upstairs of the office building was gutted by fire.,

upstairs is a noun inside the noun phrase, “THE UPSTAIRS OF THE OFFICE BUILDING”. Here, therefore, it is performing the characteristic function of subject of the sentence.

WHEN: (Adjunct of time)


I haven’t read the newspaper yet.

It is going to rain soon.

HOW OFTEN (An adjunct of frequency)


He plays the guitar occasionally.

We never ate fufu on Sundays

President Donald Trump seldom pays us a visit

She always drives a luxury car.

Adverbs function as disjuncts

Adverbs also function as disjuncts.  In other words, they provide information about the speaker’s or writer’s viewpoint or attitude.


Surprisingly, all the laptops are in working order.

Politically, that was a bad policy on tourism.

Clearly, Elizabeth is a serious student.

Adverbs function as conjuncts 

This is to say, they can join together two clauses, sentences or paragraphs.

Note that words like, first, next and so on could be conjuncts (or adjectives) depending on how they are used.

Other conjuncts can be seen in the following examples.

I talked to him; then I pleaded with him, so he changed his mind.

She has been to jail on several occasions, yet she refuses to change her ways.

One of the most important functions of adverbs is that they act as modifiers or intensifiers of verbs, adjectives, other adverbs/adverbials or preposition phrases.  

Most of these adverbs are clearly adjuncts of manner.


Intensifier of a verb

The car almost crashed.

The medicine helped me tremendously.

He just did it.

The blogger was discharged after he had fully recovered.

Modifier/intensifier of an adjective

i)It is very unfortunate.

Note however that “very” becomes an adjective (meaning EXACT) when it is used in such sentences as:

Sandra is the very woman I will marry

ii) The Clinton administration was enormously popular both in America and in the rest of  the world.

Modifier / intensifier  of another adverb /adverbial phrase


We will finish quite soon.

Akofa, my daughter, speaks amazingly fast

It happened all too soon.

Modifier / intensifier of a prepositional phrase.


The glass broke right down the middle.

We heard the sound far across the street.

The stock market responded fast amidst the crisis.

Wrapping it all up …

Congratulations for making it this far. This is an effort that is definitely worth your time.

Now you know the characteristics of words that qualify to be identified as adverbs. Also, you can now easily cite any one of the functions of adverbs whenever the situation demands.

What other ideas, suggestions or questions do you have for me? Feel free to express yourself in the comment box below.

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Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

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