Can Adverbs Describe Adjectives?

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An adverb modifies a verb (why else call it an ad-VERB?), but can adverbs describe adjectives?

Yes, they can. Adverbs alter words by limiting or restricting the meaning of the words they modify. They express how, when, where, how often, or how much something happens. Although adverbs modify verbs, they can also modify adjectives, adverbs, and—get this—sentences. 

Adverbs Modifying Verbs

The most common use of adverbs is to modify verbs. They might describe how an action is carried out, as in “She sings beautifully.” 

Adverbs can also be used to express how often something happens, as in the sentence “He always arrives early.”  

Adverbs can usually be identified because most end in “-ly.” But not all do.  

  • She ran fastly. 
  • He cooks wellly. 

Not happening.  

Adverbs Describing Adjectives

Adverbs can also describe adjectives. They provide more information about the quality being discussed.

“The incredibly talented musician played a beautiful melody.” 

In that sentence, the adverb “incredibly” describes the adjective “talented,” not the verb “played.”

Adverbs Modifying Other Adverbs

 Adverbs can also modify other adverbs. This is done to indicate the degree or intensity of the action being described. For example, “She ran extremely quickly” uses the adverb “extremely” to modify the adverb “quickly.”

If you come across advice that suggests you use adverbs sparingly to add impact to a sentence, focus first on the verb. The verb suggests the action. Don’t look for a synonym for quickly. Instead, use synonyms for run that imply speed.

She bolted suddenly.

She darted away quickly.

Therefore, don’t avoid adverbs. Instead, use more colorful verbs.

Adverbs Can Modify Sentences

The multi-talented adverbs can also modify sentences. They describe the general idea, impression, or feeling of the sentence that follows. 

For example, “Unfortunately, the concert was cancelled” gives a negative impression of the cancelled concert.

If you didn’t want to go to the concert anyway, you might write, “Luckily, the concert was cancelled.”

Surprisingly, she won the race” adds an element of surprise to the sentence. However, it’s important not to overuse adverbs and rely on them too heavily in writing. 

These words are conjunctive adverbs, and they are also considered transitions. A fun fact about conjunctive adverbs is they don’t need to be at the beginning of a sentence.

It’s important, however, not to overuse adverbs.

It’s important not to overuse adverbs, however.

Conjunctive adverbs can, therefore, change the rhythm of a sentence.

Adverbs have Other Forms

The Century Dictionary reminds us that an adverb can morph into other parts of speech. 

Adverbial.  If it pertains to adverbs, it is adverbial. A person who is fond of adverbs and uses them frequently is adverbial. Some sources say that an adverbial is an adverb phrase, while an adverb is a part of speech.

Adverbialize.  A truly adverbial person loves to take words and turn them into adverbs.

Adverbially. To use words as though they were adverbs. 

“The phrase functions adverbially in that sentence.”

The Cambridge Dictionary

The Truth About the “Don’t Overuse Adverbs Advice”

The advice to avoid overusing adverbs is a common writing tip, but it is important to note that adverbs can add clarity and emphasis when used appropriately. Before eliminating adverbs, identify words with more precise meanings—especially verbs.

A companion article about nouns and adjectives explains the relationship between those parts of speech. Our article What is Grammar? explores our perspective on grammar.

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