Actually, my coworkers often tell me quite emphatically that adverbs are really confusing for their students…
Whereas most parts of speech have one or two sentence patterns, adverbs have at least seven! Different types of adverbs are introduced at different levels—frequency adverbs usually come first at the lower levels, followed by adverbs of manner and adverbs to describe adjectives and other adverbs, ending with viewpoint adverbs at the higher levels. However, I’ve found it quite beneficial to lay out all seven patterns at once (usually with an intermediate-level class) because students can more easily grasp the different uses and meanings. This is especially useful for prep for tests like the TOEIC, where students must be able to recognize all possible patterns in the grammar section of the test. Keep reading for an analysis of the adverbs used in the introductory sentence (or scroll down to the end of this post).
The 7 Adverb Patterns
- Adv + V
- BE + Adv
- V + Adv
- V + Adv + V
- Adv + Adv
- Adv + Adj
- SVO + Adv / Adv + SVO
Explanations & Examples
Adverbs of Frequency
Patterns #1 and 2 relate to adverbs of frequency (i.e., adverbs that explain how often an action occurs). These adverbs come before the main verb and are usually used with the simple present tense. Remind students of the Be verb exception, where these adverbs come after, not before, the Be verb. Adverbs of frequency include the words always, almost always, frequently, usually, often, sometimes, seldom, not very often, almost never, and never.
- I always eat breakfast. (Adv + V)
- She often goes swimming after school. (Adv + V)
- Our teacher never lets us into the class if we’re late. (Adv + V)
- He is always tired. (BE + Adv)
- They are almost never here. (BE + Adv)
Because they’re so common, some frequency adverbs can moved around in the sentence and assume other adverb positions Sometimes, often, and usually fall into this category. We can say, with the same meaning in each case, Sometimes he is late, He is sometimes late, and He is late sometimes.
The position of ot very often is an exception to the normal rule. We add not to the auxiliary verb do (before the verb), and very often goes at the end of the sentence (e.g., She doesn’t go to parties very often).
Adverbs of Manner
Adverbs of manner modify verbs, and they represent the majority of adverbs. These adverbs use patterns #3 and 4—they come after the verb if there is only one verb, such as with the simple present or simple past, and they come after the first part of the verb if the verb has two or more parts, such as with the present progressive, simple future, present perfect, present perfect progressive, passive, etc. These adverbs are usually formed by adding ‑ly to the adjective form. Adverbs of manner are used to say how an action is performed (i.e., the manner in which it is performed).
- The teacher spoke slowly so that the students could understand. (V + Adv)
- He stood awkwardly at the front of the class. (V + Adv)
- The students read silently. (V + Adv)
- I am quickly learning that honesty is the best policy. (V + Adv + V)
- He has confidently stated that he will run in the election next year. (V + Adv + V)
- If you study for that test, you will needlessly be wasting your time because I heard it’s going to be easy. (V + Adv + V + V)
Not all adverbs of manner have an ‑ly ending. Some exceptions include well, fast, hard, late, and far.
Some adverbs can move around into other adverb positions. For example, we can say, with no change in meaning, I am quickly learning that honesty is the best policy and I am learning quickly that honesty is the best policy. But mention to your students that you can’t change the position for every adverb and that V + Adv + V will almost always be correct.
Adverbs not only modify verbs, they can also modify adjectives and other adverbs, as in patterns #5 and 6. These types of adverbs come before the adjective or adverb they are describing, and are used for emphasis (for a big or small amount). These adverbs include really, very, so, too, pretty, quite, fairly, slightly, etc.
- He is very tall. (Adv + Adj)
- My cat is pretty lazy. (Adv + Adj)
- I finished the test quite quickly. (Adv + Adv)
- My friend runs really fast. (Adv + Adv)
Adverbs of Viewpoint
The adverbs of pattern #7 are usually introduced in higher-level classes. I know them as viewpoint adverbs, but I'm sure there are many other names such as adverbs of opinion, adverbs of stance, commenting adverbs, etc. These adverbs give a point of view or emphasis to an entire thought/sentence, and they almost always come at the beginning (usually followed by a comma) or end of the sentence or clause (usually preceded by a comma). They include actually, basically, clearly, surely, ideally, honestly, theoretically, etc.
- Basically, I think his theory is faulty. (Adv + SVO)
- Clearly, we have more work to do. (Adv + SVO)
- Actually, she believes that the earth is flat. (Adv + SVO)
- She believes that the earth is flat, actually. (SVO + Adv)
- Surely there is a way to improve the system. (Adv + SVO)
- There is a way to improve the system, surely. (SVO + Adv) (Note that surely usually doesn’t use a comma at the beginning, but it should be preceded by one if it’s at the end.)
In more formal writing and speaking, these adverbs can also be inserted, with commas before and after, into the middle of a sentence. (E.g., She believes, actually, that the earth is flat.)
This post didn’t deal with the adverbs used in adverb clauses and phrases. I’ll write about these adverbs some other time, but I’ll discuss them briefly in case your students ask about them while you’re explaining the seven patterns. Conjunctive adverbs (or adverbs of time, among other names) are adverbs that are followed by a clause or phrase. These adverbs include when, after, before, while, as, since, until, etc. For example, the adverb after is used in the sentence After he graduates, he will get a job (or He will get a job after he graduates). Its purpose is to join the two clauses and denote a time relationship (first he will graduate, then he will get a job).
Did you figure out what was happening in the introductory sentence? See if your students can analyze all the adverbs after you’ve taught them the seven patterns!
- Actually is modifying the whole sentence (Adv of Viewpoint + SVO).
- Often is modifying the verb tell (Adv of Frequency + V).
- Quite is modifying the adverb emphatically (Modifying Adv + Adv).
- Emphatically is modifying the verb tell (V + Adv of Manner).
- Really is modifying the adjective confusing (Modifying Adv + Adj).