Common mistakes in the use with adverbs – how to add flavour to your sentences

Winston Churchill (who was half American) once said that America and Britain were two nations divided by a common language—this is definitely the case with adverbs. Americans tend to drop them with verbs, interchange them with adjectives and considering Hollywood’s global influence, it’s making it harder to get adverbs right.

How, where or when?

In short, adverbs give us information about how, where or when something happens (and therefore modify verbs.) The majority of adverbs are made by adding -ly to the end of an adjective—so quick becomes quickly. More examples:

  1. She sat lazily in her chair. (tells us how she sat.)
  2. He’s traveling abroad. (tells us where he went.)
  3. They visited the office yesterday. (tells us when they visited.)

Adverbs not only modify verbs, they also modify adjectives and even other adverbs:

  1. The bus ticket was slightly expensive. (How expensive?)
  2. He nearly always arrives early. (How often does he arrive early?)

Sounds easy, yet ESL (English as a second language) learners often neglect adverbs all together. With Dutch speakers –ly often goes missing as in Dutch, adjectives resemble adverbs (een intelligente man; versus hij sprak intelligent over de vraag.) He’s an intelligent man vs. He answered the question intelligently.

Where to place the adverb?

Adverb placement is a challenge, too. Frequency adverbs (often, never, always) are placed before the main verb (I don’t often go shopping) but modifying adverbs come after (She spoke carefully at the press conference.)

Then there are adverbs of manner, which come at the end of sentence or clause, like: He checked his email quickly while no one was looking.

Adjectives vs adverbs

Probably the most common adverbial mistake is using good (an adjective) rather than well (an adverb.) Even native speakers (we’re talking Americans here) get this wrong, as in “How are you?” “I’m good!” Grammatically speaking, this doesn’t wash, though people actually speak like this.

Want to sound more fluent in English?

Use adverbs to modify adjectives, as they add nuance to your descriptions. Native English speakers say things like: it was a terribly expensive hotel, she was an enormously influential leader, this was an incredibly difficult task or I just ate a reasonably good steak. Adverbs add flavour to sentences so don’t be afraid to use them.

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