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The Functions of Adverbs and Adverb Phrases in English

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

Adverbs and adverb phrases perform six main grammatical functions in English: adverb phrase head, adjective phrase modifier, adverb phrase modifier, verb phrase modifier, adverbial, and adjunct. The following article lists the six functions and provides examples and a downloadable study sheet.

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    Adverbs

    Adverbs in English are traditionally defined as words that "describe verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and sentences." Adverb phrases are formed by an adverb and any modifiers. Adverbs and adverb phrases perform six grammatical functions in the English language. The six functions are:

    1. Adverb phrase head
    2. Adjective phrase modifier
    3. Adverb phrase modifier
    4. Verb phrase modifier
    5. Adverbial
    6. Adjunct

    The following sections discuss the six functions and include examples to illustrate use.

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    Adverb Phrase Head

    Adverbs first function as the heads of adverb phrases. The following italicized adverbs are examples of heads of adverb phrases:

    • very
    • increasingly
    • however
    • quite well
    • incredibly quickly

    Adverbs always function as the heads of adverb phrases.

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    Adjective Phrase Modifier

    Adverbs and adverb phrases secondly function as adjective phrase modifiers. An adjective phrase modifier is a word or phrase that describes an adjective or adjective phrase. The following italicized adverbs are examples of adjective phrase modifiers:

    • The overly full bookshelf collapsed.
    • This restaurant serves sickeningly sweet desserts.
    • Your piercingly loud scream has broken the silence.
    • Employees who are regularly absent will be disciplined.
    • That toddler was incredibly tired.

    Prepositional phrases can also function as adjective phrase modifiers.

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    Adverb Phrase Modifier

    Adverbs and adverb phrases thirdly function as adverb phrase modifiers. An adverb phrase modifier is a word or phrase that describes an adverb or adverb phrase. The following italicized adverbs are examples of adverb phrase modifiers:

    • The baby in the next room has been screaming extremely loudly.
    • You behaved very well today.
    • My children played unusually quietly this morning.
    • The bride walked quite quickly down the aisle.
    • The old woman moved surprisingly fast when the sirens went off.

    Only adverbs can modify other adverbs.

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    Verb Phrase Modifier

    Adverbs and adverb phrases fourthly function as verb phrase modifiers. A verb phrase modifier is a word or phrase that describes a verb or verb phrase. The following italicized adverbs are examples of verb phrase modifiers:

    • The doctor illegibly scribbled my prescription.
    • She sings well.
    • One should never run with scissors.
    • Your husband almost always forgets to take out the garbage.
    • Do not eat while handling library materials.

    Prepositional phrases can also function as verb phrase modifiers.

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    Adverbial

    Adverbs and adverb phrases fifthly function as adverbials. An adverbial is a word, phrase, or clause that modifies an entire clause by providing information such as time, place, manner, condition, reason, or purpose. The following italicized adverbs are examples of adverbials:

    • My mom answers the phone immediately when her children call.
    • The children are waiting in line for lunch impatiently.
    • Husbands should speak of their wives adoringly.
    • Stubbornly, my father refuses to eat peas.
    • We have not been sleeping well lately.

    Nouns and prepositional phrases can also function as adverbials.

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    Adjunct

    Adverbs and adverb phrases function as adjuncts. An adjunct is a word, phrase, or clause that frames an entire clause. The following italicized adverbs are examples of adjuncts:

    • Nouns, too, can function as adverbials.
    • However, prepositional phrases more often function as adjuncts.
    • Nevertheless, you must learn the functions of adverbs.
    • The baby likes milk as well.
    • His wife also writes for extra income.
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    Printable Download

    For a printable study sheet of the six grammatical functions of adverbs and adverb phrases in English grammar, please download The Grammatical Functions of Adverbs and Adverb Phrases Reference Sheet.