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Adverbs typically express additional information about the situation described in a phase or clause. The kinds of information expressed by an adverb include; time (for example, never or today), place (for example, locally), manner (for example, deviously, erratically) and degree (for example, completely, really). Time adverbs can express frequency (for example, weekly), relative time (for example, soon), or duration (for example, permanently). Adverbs can also express the speaker's opinion about some aspect of the situation, for example, Lulu will probably be late.


1. Function and distribution

2. Derivation

3. Inflection

4. Discourse marker functions

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Parts of speech

Function and distribution

As we noted above, adverbs are modifiers that provide additional information within the phrase or clause they modify. This could be a verb (for example, sang well), an adjective (for example, very angry), another adverb (for example, rather fetchingly), or a clause (for example, Clearly we must disagree with the decision).

Adverbs are a diverse class of words, in structure as well as function. Some can occur in a variety of positions in the clause while others have a much more limited distribution.

For example, the adverb unfortunately can occur in clause initial position or directly before the verb but it cannot occur immediately after the verb (NB: * indicates an ungrammatical string):

Unfortunately I sprained my ankle
*I sprained unfortunately my ankle

whereas badly has the opposite distribution:

*Badly I sprained my ankle
I badly sprained my ankle

Interestingly, either of these adverbs may occur in clause final position:

I sprained my ankle unfortunately
I sprained my ankle badly


Many adverbs are derived from adjectives by adding the suffix -ly. Some are formed by the addition of other suffixes, for example, home-wards, length-wise, or prefixes, for example, a-shore. Others have no identifying morphology, for example, often, just.


Most adverbs do not have inflectional affixes but a few can have comparative and superlative suffixes, for example, Fiona ran fast, Jason ran faster, Neville ran fastest. Gradable adverbs are commonly preceded by an adverb of degree (for example, less enthusiatically, extremely slowly).

Discourse marker functions

Because of their flexibility in meaning and grammar, many adverbs also function to control the structure and flow of discourse (for example, taking the floor, changing the topic) and help to convey the speaker's opinion. Discourse markers are often separated from the clause by a pause (shown as a comma in writing).

At the beginning of a clause or utterance well can indicate a conclusion to a discourse topic, for example, Well, that's about it.

At the end of a clause or utterance really can function to add emphasis to the speaker's opinion, as expressed in the utterance, for example, I think he's had enough, really.

Either at the beginning or the end of a clause, actually can signal that the speaker's opinion differs from what might be expected (or the addressee's), or to mitigate the strength of the opinion, for example, Actually, you might like this movie or He didn't have a clue, actually.

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