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Adverbs form an open class

Like lexical verbs , nouns and adjectives, adverbs constitute an open class. This means that the membership of the class can increase as new adverbs are coined and added. Some recently added (or re-adopted) adverbs include:

  • Right-angularly: at right angles; so as to form a right angle. [According to the Oxford English Dictionary, right-angularly was actually first used in 1670.]
  • Majorly: like ‘very’ only stronger, e.g. I majorly messed up that assignment.
  • Blingy: shiny
  • Automagically: automatically, especially in a way that seems ingenious or inexplicable; as if by magic [The Oxford English Dictionary cites this as having first been used in 1945.]

Adverbs are modifiers

Adverbs are words that are used to modify a verb, adjective or another adverb. They are typically used to either provide circumstantial information surrounding an action or event (such as the time, manner, place or cause) or to intensify adjectives and other adverbs.

They can sometimes be left out of an utterance without making it totally nonsensical. This is because adverbs often provide gratuitous information that may not be essential for understanding. Consider the following utterance.

Sarah painted the picture quickly

The adverb quickly functions to describe the manner in which John painted the picture. This information is said to be gratuitous because if it is omitted (i.e. John painted the picture) we can still understand the essential meaning, i.e. that John painted a picture. Similarly, in the following utterance, the adverb yesterday can be omitted without spoiling the essential meaning.

the therapists ate at Rossi’s yesterday

By omitting the adverb yesterday we still understand that the therapists ate at Rossi’s. Of course, adverbs do provide additional meaning: in this case, we now understand something more about the actual time when the therapists ate. This is an example of a temporal adverb. There are four main types of adverb:

  1. temporal
  2. locative
  3. manner
  4. intensifying

Temporal adverbs

Temporal adverbs are used to specify the timing of an action or event. For example:

she went home yesterday

United won the Premiership last weekend

next week we’ll visit Hartlepool

Locative adverbs

These adverbs supply information related to the location of an action or event, or the direction of an action. For example:

Kathy went outside to collect her products

they travelled east to Darlington

she turned the knob anti-clockwise

Manner adverbs

These indicate something about the way in which an action or event is performed. For example:

the boy ran slowly to his mother

happily, she took him in her arms

she asked nervously

Intensifying adverbs

Consider the following utterance.

the child is skillful

This utterance describes the state of a child. Specifically, the adjective skillful serves to qualify the noun child by providing additional information. We know that this child has a certain quality, i.e. it is a skillful child. Certain adjectives allow us to ask further questions. For example, how skillful is the child? There is a sense in which the adjective skillful can be graded or intensified. Consider the following.

the child is very skillful

We now have an answer to our question. The child is not just skillful, the child is actually very skillful! Very is an adverb that serves to grade, or intensify, the adjective. It is, therefore known as an intensifying adverb. However, intensifying adverbs do not just function to increase the strength of another word (here: skillful) they can also tone down its strength, e.g.

the child is slightly skillful

Hence, the term grading adverb is sometimes used.

Intensifying adverbs (grading adverbs) do not just modify adjectives, however. They can also be used to modify other adverbs. Consider the following utterance.

Steve hit the shuttlecock quickly

In this utterance, the adverb quickly is used to tell us something about the manner in which Steve hit the shuttlecock, i.e. that he did not hit it slowly but, rather, he hit it quickly. As before, we can ask questions of certain adverbs, e.g. how quickly did Steve hit the shuttlecock? Again, the answer can be provided by the insertion of an intensifying adverb, as follows.

Steve hit the shuttlecock very quickly

On this occasion, therefore, the intensifying adverb very has been used to modify not an adjective but another adverb. Here are some more examples of the use of intensifying adverbs (note that they always precede the associated adjective or adverb):

the dog is very quick

[modifies the adjective quick]

she was extremely quiet

[modifies the adjective quiet]

Kulvinder seemed more happy

[modifies the adjective happy]

the dog moved very quickly

[modifies the adverb quickly]

she speaks extremely quietly

[modifies the adverb quietly]

Kulvinder played more happily

[modifies the adverb happily]