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Grammatical Functions of English Adverbs and Adverb Phrases

Grammatical Functions of English Adverbs and Adverb Phrases

Adverbs are traditionally defined as “words that describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.” Adverb phrases are defined as phrases that consist of an adverb plus any modifiers such as another adverb. Adverb phrases including adverbs perform eight main grammatical functions within sentences in the English language. The eight functions of adverbs and adverb phrases are:

The following sections explain and exemplify the eight grammatical functions of adverbs and adverb phrases in English grammar.

Adverbs as Adverb Phrase Heads

The first grammatical function that adverbs perform is the adverb phrase head. An adverb phrase consists of an adverb plus any modifiers. For example, the following italicized adverbs function as adverb phrase heads:

  • quickly
  • quietly
  • however
  • unfortunately
  • amazingly fast
  • deceptively well
  • very loudly
  • rather insultingly

Adverb Phrases as Adjective Phrase Modifiers

The second grammatical function that adverbs perform is the adjective phrase modifier. An adjective phrase modifier is a word or phrase that that modifies or describes an adjective or adjective phrase. For example, the following italicized adverbs and adverb phrases function as adjective phrase modifiers:

  • The boldly brave toddler climbed onto the table.
  • Your newborn baby daughter is very tiny.
  • Students who are clearly sick may not attend class.
  • Habitually absent employees will be fired.

Adverb Phrases as Adverb Phrase Modifiers

The third grammatical function that adverbs perform is the adverb phrase modifier. An adverb phrase modifier is a word or phrase that modifies or describes an adverb or adverb phrase. For example, the following italicized adverbs and adverb phrases function as adverb phrase modifiers:

  • The music from next door is blaring extremely loudly.
  • Olympic runners can sprint very quickly.
  • Your suspiciously mysteriously strange behavior tipped off the police.
  • My use of adverbs is almost always perfect.

Adverb Phrases as Verb Phrase Modifiers

The fourth grammatical function that adverbs perform is the verb phrase modifier. A verb phrase modifiers is word or phrase that modifies or describes a verb or verb phrase. For example, the following italicized adverbs and adverb phrases function as verb phrase modifiers:

  • My pets wake promptly at sunrise.
  • She would not testify against her attacker.
  • Residents must quickly and quietly exit the building during the fire drill.
  • Her husband almost always forgets to take out the trash.

Adverb Phrases as Prepositional Phrase Modifiers

The fifth grammatical function that adverbs perform is the prepositional phrase modifier. A prepositional phrase modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that modifies or describes a prepositional phrase. For example, the following italicized adverbs and adverb phrases function as prepositional phrase modifiers:

  • You seem rather under the weather.
  • Your drawing looks very much like a dog.
  • His directions are not very much like the original.
  • That painting is not unlike one I saw in New York.

Adverb Phrases as Adjunct Adverbials

The sixth grammatical function that adverbs perform is the adjunct adverbial. An adjunct adverbial is a word, phrase, or clause that modifies or describes an entire clause by providing additional information about time, place, manner, condition, purpose, reason, result, and concession. For example, the following italicized adverbs and adverb phrases function as adjunct adverbials:

  • Stubbornly, the little girl refused to eat her vegetables at dinner.
  • Eagerly, my baby brother told me what he wanted for Christmas.
  • James answered my call immediately.
  • Quietly, the thief snuck into the vacant building.

Adverb Phrases as Disjunct Adverbials

The seventh grammatical function that adverbs perform is the disjunct adverbial. A disjunct adverbial is word or phrase that provides additional information to frame an entire clause. A disjunct adverbial denotes the attitude of the speaker toward or judgment of the proposition such as truthfulness of manner of speaking. For example, the following italicized adverbs and adverb phrases function as disjunct adverbials:

  • Truthfully, adverbs are not one of my favorite grammatical forms.
  • Surprisingly, none of the children failed the test.
  • Honestly, I have no idea.
  • Clearly, the mail did not come today due to it being a national holiday.

Adverb Phrases as Conjunct Adverbials

The eighth grammatical function that adverbs perform is the conjunct adverbial. A conjunct adverbial is a word or phrase that expresses a textual relationship. A conjunct adverbial serves to link two or more clauses. For example, the following italicized adverbs and adverb phrases function as conjunct adverbials:

  • First, wash your hands.
  • Noun phrases and prepositional phrases, however, can also function as adverbials.
  • Do you like to write about grammar too?
  • Nevertheless, students must turn in all assignments before the next class.

The eight functions of adverbs and adverb phrases are adverb phrase head, adjective phrase modifier, adverb phrase modifier, verb phrase modifier, prepositional phrase modifier, adjunct adverbial, disjunct adverbial, and conjunct adverbial.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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