Less obvious adverbs

Checkpoint page
Your replies on this page can be graded by your teacher

Now what we've seen so far is what we might call the obvious adverbs, which are a bunch of -ly words that describe the manner in which an action or process is done. For example:

They stepped carefully into the chamber.

These -ly adverbs are almost always based on adjectives:

  • careful -> carefully
  • angry -> angrily
  • silent -> silently

But there's more to adverbs than -ly words:

  • Adverbs can describe more than just manner
  • Many adverbs don't end in -ly, and
  • Sometimes adverbs can be used to describe things as well as actions.

There's a saying among linguists (people who study the structure of language) that if you don't know what sort of word something is, then it's probably an adverb. They can turn up almost anywhere in a sentence, and can be used to create a huge range of different meanings.

See if you can find all the adverbs in the snippet below. (Hint: there are 4 of them!)

Ernie Prang, an elderly wizard wearing very thick glasses, nodded to Harry, who nervously flattened his fringe again and sat down on his bed.

Only 'nervously' is a common -ly adverb. The others aren't words that usually come to mind when we think of adverbs.

Three adverbs tell us about Harry's actions: in what way he flattened his fringe (nervously), the timing of his flattening (again), and the direction of his sitting (down).

But one word—very—is actually intensifying the quality of a thing (how thick are Ernie's glasses? Very thick!), so you might not even think of it as an adverb if you weren't told.

So you can see that adverbs are a versatile and diverse group of words.

First we said, "They're called adverbs because they attach to verbs."

Then we said, "Adverbs don't always attach to verbs."

The truth is, 'rules' in language are mostly approximations. The 'adverbs modify verbs' rule is one example of this.

Want to know how far back this goes?

'Adverb' is a Latin word that dates back more than 2000 years.

In Latin, ad means 'towards' and verb means 'verb, or word': which is how we get the definition for adverb to be 'added to the verb'.

But... since in Latin verb was a more general word, it kind of means something more like 'added to... a word'. Which is pretty vague.

So the fluid and flexible nature of adverbs goes back thousands of years.

Here's a challenge: write a new sentence or short paragraph that uses all four of the adverbs we saw above:

  • nervously
  • again
  • very 
  • down

Here are some examples:

He walked down the hall again, nervously twisting doorknobs in the hope of finding one unlocked, very thankful for the plush carpet that silenced his footsteps.

"Balaji told me he was very sorry for shooting your balloon," Octavia said as she nervously lay down the bow and arrows on the table. "I don't think you'll see him again." 

Write a sentence or short paragraph that uses the adverbs 'nervously', 'again', 'very', and 'down'.

In the next part of this lesson, we will explore how we use adverbs to communicate details about actions, including where, when, how, how much, and more!