Lesson #140 (Part 1): How To Correctly Identify And Position Adverbs

🌺 ‘Now, you mustn’t cry any more, but come down with me and show me your flower garden. Miss Cuthbert tells me you have a little plot all your own. I want to see it, for I’m very much interested in flowers.”

– Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908) [emphasis mine]

Even if you are reading this passage from Anne of Green Gables for the very first time, it is easy to see that Mrs Allan (the character whose words are quoted above) wants to persuade Anne to show her her flowers. 

One of the ways she does this is by using the adverb ‘very much’ to describe the degree of her interest – and it would seem that this phrase makes a difference, for Anne does indeed share her flowers with her.

With the help of Anne of Green Gables, I want to address here the following points that students of English often struggle with:

– what the different kinds of adverbs are

– how to identify them

– how to position them correctly in sentences

ADVERBS: AN OVERVIEW

✒️ We use adverbs in spoken and written English every day to describe, highlight or emphasise the nature of our activities, thoughts or attitudes. If you have been studying English for a while, you will know that adverbs are words or word combinations that help to modify verbs, adjectives and other phrases. Adverbs can also modify whole sentences. 

Some common adverbs include: already, always, away, besides, briefly, carefully, definitely, down, easily, fast, hardly ever, nearby, never, now, out, partly, sometimes, soon, usually, wholly, etc. Some of these adverbs highlight a particular time, place, manner, amount, or frequency. 

Others help to link phrases, such as: as a result, besides, however, moreover, in addition, in contrast with, unlike.

IDENTIFYING ADVERBS

One tip that is often given for recognising adverbs is to ‘look out for the -ly or -y ending’. This is true of many adverbs: slightly, terribly, quickly, shyly, sadly, unfortunately, happily, etc. 

👉 But many adverbs do not end with an -ly / -y, and to identify them we must 

1) observe which word(s) they are modifying (is it a verb, an adjective, a phrase, a sentence? but not a noun), and

2) notice their positioning in the sentence.

Take these following examples, selected from different sections of Anne of Green Gables (again, the emphases are my own). It is the perfect text to consider adverbs with, since Anne, the main character, has an imaginative flair for everything she says and does. 

📗 1. “My last hope is gone,” she told Marilla. “I went up and saw Mrs. Barry myself and she treated me very insultingly.’

📗 2. ‘Probably some wise, inscrutable motive was to be served thereby. But surely it would do no harm to let the child have one pretty dress—something like Diana Barry always wore.’

📗 3. ‘Often as she had recited in public, she had never before faced such an audience as this, and the sight of it paralyzed her energies completely.’

📗 4. ‘Self-possession was fully restored to her, and in the reaction from that horrible moment of powerlessness she recited as she had never done before.’

– Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908)

TEXT ANALYSIS

📝 1. In the first sentence, we read that Mrs Barry ‘treated me very insultingly’. What does ‘very insultingly’ modify? The verb ‘treated’. (Alternatively, we could describe it as a noun + adjective construction by saying that ‘Mrs Barry’s treatment of me was insulting’). 

📝 2. In the second example, ‘probably’ modifies the whole sentence that follows it. Everything described in that sentence is subjected to ‘probably’. 

The same could be said about ‘surely’ in the next sentence. 

And ‘always’ modifies the verb tense, ‘wore’.

📝 3. In the third example, ‘often’ describes the phrase ‘as she had recited in public’. In other words, she had recited many times before in public, but the emphasis here with ‘often’ at the front of the sentence is on how many times she had done this before. 

‘Never before’ is a pair of adverbs that modifies the verb tense, ‘she had faced’. 

‘Completely’ describes the verb tense, ‘paralyzed’.

📝 4. Lastly, ‘fully’ in the fourth quotation here modifies another verb tense; it is one of the easier adverbs to identify as it comprises the adjective ‘full’ with the ‘-ly/y’ ending.

✍️ We have reviewed what adverbs are, their different functions, and some examples to help identify them in a sentence by observing what other word(s) they modify.

As mentioned above, it is also possible to recognise them based on their position within the word order. In tomorrow’s part 2 of this lesson, we will take it a step further and cover how to correctly and effectively position adverbs in sentences

by J. E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2023)