An adverb is a word that’s used to give information about a verb, adjective, or other adverb.

When used with a verb, adverbs can give information about:

  • how something happens or is done:

She stretched lazily.

He walked slowly.

The town is easily accessible by road.

  • where something happens:

I live here.

She’s travelling abroad.

The children tiptoed upstairs.

  • when something happens:

They visited us yesterday.

I have to leave soon.

He still lives in London.

Adverbs can make the meaning of a verb, adjective, or other adverb stronger or weaker:

  • with a verb:

I almost fell asleep.

He really means it.

  • with an adjective:

These schemes are very clever.

This is a slightly better result.

  • with another adverb:

They nearly always get home late.

The answer to both questions is really rather simple.

Adverbs are often found between the subject and its verb:

She carefully avoided my eye.

They can also come between an auxiliary verb (such as be or have) and a main verb:

The concert was suddenly cancelled.

Sentence adverbs

Some adverbs refer to a whole statement and not just a part of it. They are called 'sentence adverbs' and they act as a sort of comment, showing the attitude or opinion of the speaker or writer to a particular situation.

Sentence adverbs often stand at the beginning of the sentence. Here are some examples

Clearly, there have been unacceptable delays.

(= It is clear that there have been unacceptable delays)

Sadly, the forests are now under threat.

(= It is sad that the forests are now under threat)

Curiously, he never visited America.

(= It's curious that he never visted America)

The sentence adverbs are used to convey the writer or speaker's opinion that it is clear/sad/curious that something happened or is the case. If you compare the way clearly, sadly, and curiously are used in the next three sentences, you can easily see the difference between the meaning of the sentence adverbs and the 'ordinary' adverbs:

He spoke clearly and with conviction.

(= He spoke in a clear way and with conviction)

She smiled sadly. [adverb]

(= She smiled in a sad way)

He looked at her curiously.

(= He looked at her in a curious/inquisitive way)

Hopefully and thankfully as sentence adverbs

Sentence adverbs are well established in English, but there are two – hopefully and thankfully – which have caused a lot of controversy. Here are two sentences in which hopefully and thankfully are being used as sentence adverbs:

Hopefully, the work will be finished within the next two or three weeks.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long.

Many people are convinced that it’s wrong to use hopefully or thankfully in this way. What’s the problem? It lies in the fact that you can't rewrite this type of sentence using the wording 'it is hopeful that' or 'it is thankful that'. If you wanted to rewrite the two previous sentences, you couldn’t say:

X It is hopeful that the work will be finished within the next two or three weeks.

X It is thankful that we didn’t have to wait long.

You’d need to choose a different wording, for example:

It is to be hoped that the work will be finished within the next two or three weeks.

As luck would have it, we didn’t have to wait long.

This leads people to the conclusion that hopefully and thankfully should not be used as sentence adverbs. In fact, there are no very strong grammatical grounds for criticizing the use of hopefully and thankfully as sentence adverbs: there aren't any rules that ban this sort of development of meaning. And there are other adverbs which behave in the same way but which haven’t attracted the same level of condemnation, e.g. frankly or briefly:

Frankly, I was pleased to leave.

(i.e. to be frank, I was pleased to leave)

Briefly, the plot is as follows.

(i.e. to be brief, the plot is as follows)

Nevertheless, you should be aware that some people strongly object to the use of hopefully and thankfully as sentence adverbs. In view of this, it’s a good idea to be cautious about using them in formal writing such as job applications just in case your reader happens to be one of those people.

You can read more rules and guidelines about adverbs on the Oxford Dictionaries blog. Here you will find more examples of correct and incorrect use of adverbs.


See more word classes.

Get more from Oxford Dictionaries

Subscribe to remove ads and access premium resources

Grammar and usage