Modifying the Verb Part One: Single-word adverbs

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(Sorry for the lateness of the post!)

Adverbials: Modifiers of the Verb.

Last week I promised a post on Adverbials: words and phrases used to describe verbs. So today that’s what I’m going to talk about.

There are lots of ways to modify verbs. All of them fall into the category of adverbials, but each of them is a bit different. I’ll be looking at 5 structures over the course of the next few weeks

  1. Single-word adverbs
  2. Prepositional phrases
  3. Nouns and noun phrases
  4. Verb phrases
  5. Clauses

Adverbs are among the most moveable of our grammatical structures. We can’t move the subject and the verb without some difficulty; without deliberately sounding different. For example: “He ran to the store.” Subject, verb. We can say “to the store he ran,” but we know it is unusual grammar.

On the other hand, we can move our adverbs all over the place: Suddenly he ran away; “He ran suddenly away”; “He ran away suddenly.” Depending on how we want a sentence to sound, we can move our adverbs all over the place and the sentence will still make sense. (There are exceptions to this, when moving an adverb does change the meaning of the sentence, but the sentence will make grammatical, if not contextual sense.)

Today I’m looking at single-word adverbs. The first category of these are known as “adverbs of manner.” They tell the audience how something is happening. When people tell you “kill your adverbs,” these are usually what they have in mind. These are, very often, our “-ly words”: helpfully; carefully; quietly.

(Note: there are, of course, exceptions. Not all –ly words are adverbs. Homely and ugly come to mind as two that are adjectives.)

The reason that most of these are killable is that they do the work that the verbs themselves should do. So if someone is “walking quietly,” why aren’t they creeping? Or sneaking? Or tip-toeing?

Another kind of single-word adverbs gives different information. They don’t tell us how something happened, but when, where, or how often: sometimes, now-and-then, later, earlier, soon, here, there, everywhere, and so on. Sentences like “Someday my prince will come,” and “Put the box here, not there,” are examples of this kind of adverb. These are, as a rule, less killable than objects of manner because they often give us necessary information. Careful with adverbs like this, though, as sometimes they aren’t necessary at all. For example: “He walked to the table of guns. Then he chose one he liked.” Then is totally unnecessary. Without it, the sentence is more immediate. Of course it happened in sequence. How else would it happen? This is a case of trusting your audience to follow the narrative.

So, any question about single word adverbs?

Next time, I’ll talk about prepositional phrases—one of the most versatile grammatical structures we have!

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1 comment to Modifying the Verb Part One: Single-word adverbs

  • Razziecat

    I didn’t realize that words like “then” were adverbs. Duh! These posts are like a refresher…it’s been a looong time since I was in school!