Adventures in Adverbs

Oberon & Tatiana

Today, my lovely readers, we’re going to talk about adverbs, which far too often take a backseat to their glamorous cousins, the adjectives.

However, adverbs play an equally important role in English grammar. They are used to modify, qualify, limit and describe by indicating things such as time, place, quantity and manner. They provide the answer to questions like: when? where? how? and how much? And don’t let their name fool you. While adverbs do modify verbs, they have also been known to modify adjectives, other adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and clauses.

In fact, adverbs are kind of like the miscellaneous bin of English grammar. Words that don’t easily fit into other categories usually end up labelled as adverbs.

So now that you have a little background, let’s look at some examples of adverbs modifying all those different parts of speech. The adverbs are in bold and the words they modify are in italics.

Adverb modifying a verb:

  • The Weird Sisters stirred the cauldron vigorously.

Adverb modifying an adjective:

  • Iago’s misguided revenge on Othello was incredibly twisted.

Adverb modifying another adverb:

  • Once her mind was made up, Lady Macbeth acted very swiftly.

Adverb modifying a preposition:

  • Hamlet showed Horatio the skull he had discovered just beneath his feet.

Adverb modifying a conjunction:

  • That was exactly when Falstaff fell over.

Adverb modifying a clause:

  • Apparently Oberon and Titania had a complicated relationship.

See, adverbs can be glamorous too! Be sure and spread the word.


Image credit: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Meeting of Oberon and Titania, by Arthur Rackham (1905)


8 thoughts on “Adventures in Adverbs

  1. I’m glad to read a post like yours that doesn’t regard adverbs as evil. I was banned from a Facebook writers’ group for daring to suggest that adverbs are a valid part of the English language and can serve a useful function. The administrator had taken Stephen King’s “The Road to Hell is Paved with Adverbs” to heart and flatly stated that “if a story has adverbs in it, it is not a good story.” That makes everyone from William Shakespeare to Herman Melville to JK Rowling terrible writers. The contention is that adverbs commit the sin of “telling, not showing”. How awful that we storytellers should be telling our stories! His example was to use “waited like a soldier” instead of “waited patiently”. How do soldiers wait? At attention? Weapons drawn? Nervously? On edge? Do they never fidget or gripe? I was told that instead of “The captain checked the engines thoroughly”, I should bring the story to a standstill by showing him inspecting every little cog and gear. The Saint stories by Leslie Charteris use adverbs to wonderful effect with phrases like ” … the Saint said piously” We know that the Saint is anything but pious, so the adverb reminds use that he is not being serious. A writer I edit uses adverbs as metaphors with things like “The ship took to the air enthusiastically”, thereby anthropomorphizing the airship. If you’re going to ban adverbs, why not adjectives too? Don’t tell the reader that the object was green: say “it shimmered like an emerald”. Sorry for the rant, but your post is a breath of fresh air.

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