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An adverb is a part of speech. It is any word that modifies any other part of language: verbs, adjectives (including numbers), clauses, sentences and other adverbs, except for nouns; modifiers of nouns are primarily determiners and adjectives.

Adverbs typically answer such questions as how?, when?, where?, To what extent?, In what kind or how often? This function is called the adverbial function, and is realized not just by single words (i.e., adverbs) but by adverbial phrases and adverbial clauses. Adverbs also describe adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs.

An adverb as an adverbial may be a sentence element in its own right.

They treated her well. (SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT + ADVERBIAL)

Alternatively, an adverb may be contained within a sentence element.

An extremely small child entered the room. (SUBJECT + ADVERBIAL + OBJECT +VERB)

Adverbs in English[]

In English, adverbs of manner (answering the question how?) are often derived from adjectives by using the suffix -ly. The -ly is a common, but not reliable, marker of a word being an adverb, since many adjectives also end in -ly. In some cases, the suffix -wise may be used to derive adverbs from typical nouns. Historically, -wise competed with a related form -ways and won out against it. In a few words, like sideways, -ways survives; words like clockwise show the transition. Again, it is not a foolproof indicator of a word being an adverb. There are a number of other suffixes in English that derive adverbs from other word classes, and there are also many adverbs that are not morphologically indicated at all. Comparative Adverbs include more, most, least, and less.

Formally, adverbs in English are inflected in terms of comparison, just like adjectives. The comparative and superlative forms of adverbs are generated by adding -er and -est. Many adverbs are also periphrastically indicated by the use of more or most. Adverbs also take comparisons with as ... as, less, and least. The usual form pertaining to adjectives or adverbs is called the positive.

Adverbs as a "catch all" category[]

Adverbs are considered a part of speech in traditional English grammar and are still included as a part of speech in grammar taught in schools and used in dictionaries. However, modern grammarians recognize that words traditionally grouped together as adverbs serve a number of different functions. Some would go so far as to call adverbs a "catch all" category that includes all words that don't belong to one of the other parts of speech.

A more logical approach to dividing words into classes relies on recognizing which words can be used in a certain context. For example, a noun is a word that can be inserted in the following template to form a grammatical sentence:

The _____ is red. (For example, "The hat is red.")

When this approach is taken, it is seen that adverbs fall into a number of different categories.

For example, some adverbs can be used to modify an entire sentence, whereas others cannot. Even when a sentential adverb has other functions, the meaning is often not the same. For example, in the sentences She gave birth naturally and Naturally, she gave birth, the word naturally has different meanings (actually the first sentence could be interpreted in the same way as the second, but context makes it clear which is meant). Naturally as a sentential adverb means something like "of course" and as a verb-modifying adverb means "in a natural manner". The "hopefully" controversy demonstrates that the class of sentential adverbs is a closed class (there is resistance to adding new words to the class), whereas the class of adverbs that modify verbs is not.

Words like very and particularly afford another useful example. We can say Perry is very fast, but not Perry very won the race. These words can modify adjectives but not verbs. On the other hand, there are words like here and there that cannot modify adjectives. We can say The sock looks good there but not It is a there beautiful sock. The fact that many adverbs can be used in more than one of these functions can confuse this issue, and it may seem like splitting hairs to say that a single adverb is really two or more words that serve different functions. However, this distinction can be useful, especially considering adverbs like naturally that have different meanings in their different functions.

Not is an interesting case. Grammarians have a difficult time categorizing it, and it probably belongs in its own class (Haegeman 1995, Cinque 1999).

Adverbs in other languages[]

Other languages may form adverbs in different ways, if they are used at all:

  • In Dutch and German, adverbs have the basic form of their corresponding adjectives and are not inflected (except for comparison in which case they are inflected like adjectives, too).
  • In Danish adverbs are typically derived from adjectives by adding the suffix '-t'. Danish adjectives, like English ones, are inflected in terms of comparison by adding '-ere' (comparative) or '-est' (superlative). In inflected forms of adjectives the '-t' is absent. Periphrastic comparison is also possible.
  • In Romance languages many adverbs are formed from adjectives (often the feminine form) by adding '-mente' (Portuguese, Spanish, Italian) or '-ment' (French, Catalan). Other adverbs are single forms which are invariable. In Romanian, the vast majority of adverbs are simply the masculine singular form of the corresponding adjective – one notable exception being bine ("well") / bun ("good").
  • Interlingua also forms adverbs by adding '-mente' to the adjective. If an adjective ends in c, the adverbial ending is '-amente'. A few short, invariable adverbs, such as ben, "well", and mal, "badly", are available and widely used.
  • In Esperanto, adverbs are not formed from adjectives but are made by adding '-e' directly to the word root. Thus, from bon are derived bone, "well", and 'bona', 'good'.
  • Modern Standard Arabic forms adverbs by adding the indefinite accusative ending '-an' to the root. For example, kathiir-, "many", becomes kathiiran "much". However, Arabic often avoids adverbs by using a cognate accusative plus an adjective.
  • Austronesian languages appear to form comparative adverbs by repeating the root (as in WikiWiki), similarly to the plural noun.
  • Japanese forms adverbs, depending on the adjective's nature, either by changing the final syllable from い to く or by changing the particle that follows from な to に. Certain adjectives cannot be made into adverbs, among other restrictions on their use.
  • In Irish, an adverbial form is made by preceding the adjective with "go" (literally "until").
  • In Modern Greek, an adverb is most commonly made by adding the ending -α or -ως to the root of an adjective. Often, the adverbs formed form a common root using each of these endings have slightly different meanings. So, καλός (/kalós/, meaning "good" or "correct") yields καλά (/kalá/, "well") and καλώς (/kalós/, "correctly"). Not all adjectives can be transformed into adverbs by using both endings. Γρήγορος (/ghríghoros/ "fast") becomes γρήγορα (/ghríghora/,"quickly"), but not normally *γρηγόρως. When the -ως ending is used to transform an adjective whose tonal accent is on the third syllable from the end, such as επίσημος (/epísimos/, "official"), the corresponding adjective is accented on the second syllable from the end. Compare επισήμως (/episímos/) and επίσημα (/epísima/), which both mean "officially".
  • In Latvian, an adverb is formed from an adjective, by changing the masculine or feminine adjective endings -s and -a to -i. "Labs", meaning "good", becomes "labi" for "well". Latvian adverbs have a particular use in expressions meaning "to speak" or "to understand" a language. Rather than use the noun meaning "Latvian/English/Russian", the adverb formed form these words is used. "Es runāju latviski/angliski/krieviski" means "I speak Latvian/English/Russian", or very literally "I speak Latvianly/Englishly/Russianly". When a noun is required, the expression used means literally "language of the Latvians/English/Russians", "latviešu/angļu/krievu valoda".
  • In Ukrainian, an adverb is formed by removing the adjectival suffices "-ий" "-а" or "-е" from an adjective, and replacing them with the adverbial "-о". For example, "швидкий", "гарна", and "добре" (fast, nice, good) become "швидко", "гарно", and "добро" (quickly, nicely, well). As well, note that adverbs are placed before the verbs they modify: "Добрий син гарно співає." (A good son sings niceley/well)

See also[]

  • Grammatical conjunction
  • [[Form classes (language)


  • Cinque, Guglielmo. 1999. Adverbs and functional heads -- a crosslinguistic perspective. Oxford: Oxford University press.
  • Ernst, Thomas. 2002. The syntax of adjuncts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Haegeman, Liliane. 1995. The syntax of negation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jackendoff, Ray. 1972. Semantic Interpretation in Generative Grammar. MIT Press,
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