How Well Do You Know Your Adverbs?

An adverb is a word that answers the questions: how, when, why and where.Traditionally, an adverb qualifies a verb in a sentence.We were taught in secondary school that adverbs are words that end in 'ly' e.g. quickly, smoothly, swiftly etc. Well, no doubt but it is only to a limited degree because not all words that end in 'ly' are adverbs, e.g. friendly, godly, lonely etc.  All these words (friendly, godly, lonely) are adjectives and not adverbs.

Again, not all adverbs end in 'ly' e.g. soon, now, there, kind of etc. This has undoubtedly created problem for the correct identification of adverbs.

Another problem with the 'adverb,' is its multiple word class membership. In other words, an adverb belongs to more than one parts of speech. A word that is an adverb may also be an adjective. E.g. the word 'fast.'

1. This is a fast car.

2. She runs fast.

In sentence one, 'fast' is functioning as an adjective because it qualifies the noun, 'car' whereas in sentence two, it is functioning as an adverb because it answers the question 'how' and also, qualifies the verb, 'run. 

Some words that are adverbs also function as nouns or even adjectives. For example: Nowhere.

1. The kidnappers  abandoned their victim in the middle of nowhere.Remember, a noun is a name of a place too and in the above sentence, 'nowhere' is functioning as a noun because it is stating a place  where the victims were abandoned. 'Nowhere' in this case, means an unknown distance or place.

2. The book is nowhere to be found.

In sentence two, 'nowhere' is functioning as an adverb because it answers the question 'where.' For example: Where is the book?

3. That is a nowhere town.

'Nowhere' in sentence three is functioning as an adjective because it qualifies the noun, 'town.'

Many words that are traditionally prepositions also function as adverbs. E.g. along.

'Along' traditionally belongs to the part of speech called preposition. A preposition is a word that shows the relationship between two nouns in a sentence and in any sentence where you have a preposition which shows the relationship between two nouns, there is a noun immediately following the preposition.

 E.g. He is walking along the road.

In the example above, you can see the noun, 'road' or the noun phrase, 'the road' immediately following the preposition, 'along.' Again, you can see that 'along' is functioning as a preposition because it shows the relationship between the noun at the subject position which is a pronoun,'He' and the noun at the object position, 'the road.'

However, 'along' can also function as an adverb. 
1. Do you want to come along?

2. He was walking along with his wife.
'Along' in examples 1 &2 is functioning as an adverb and not as a preposition because it can answer the question 'how' and there is no noun immediately following it in both sentences.

The word, 'kindly' which is traditionally an adverb can also function as an adjective.
E.g. It is a kindly weather today.                    

In the example above, 'kindly' is qualifying the noun, 'weather.'

Now let's see 'kindly' functioning as an adverb:

E.g. Please kindly reply as soon as possible.
In this case, 'kindly' is qualifying the verb,'reply' and also answering the question, 'how.'

From the morphological point of view, we can categorize adverbs into two:

1. Morphological Marked Adverbs.
These are adverbs that have suffixes attached to them. I think they are the ones you are conversant with. E.g. Slowly, carelessly, beautifully, smoothly, etc. The underlined letters  are the suffixes or bound morphemes. However, you should know that not all words that end with 'ly' are adverbs.

2. Non Morphologically Marked Adverbs
These adverbs don't have suffixes or bound morphemes attached to them. The only way you can tell whether they are adverbs is through their functions. E.g. so, soon, now, very, there, nowhere etc.

Adverbs are very deceptive because of their multiple word class membership and I call adverbs, 'prostitutes' because of  their multiple functions. Adverbs can function as nouns and adjectives. It only takes someone with a good knowlege of the English language to detect or notice when an adverb functions aside its traditional function. 

I hope this article guides you anytime you want to make such detection.

Go Up