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Adverbs can be a problem for some learners of English, particularly learners whose own language does not have a separate adverb form. In German, for example, the adjective and adverb are the same; e.g. Er ist schnell / Er faehrt schnell = He is quick / He drives quickly. So it is not very surprising that German learners often say sentences such as He drives very careful. She sang very bad. (Of course, adverbs are usually formed by adding -ly to the adjective, so the correct sentences would be He drives very carefully. She sang very badly.)

However, even those learners whose own language does have a separate adverb form can have problems with this aspect of English. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, not all adjectives can be converted to adverbs simply by adding -ly. For example, although you can convert pretty to an adverb, e.g. She smiled prettily, you cannot do the same with ugly. (He always dresses very uglily is wrong; you have to say something like: He always dresses in a very ugly way.) Secondly, some adverbs which look like they are formed from the corresponding adjective, in fact have a different meaning. For example, highly is not the correct word to use to describe a high jumper. She can jump very highly is wrong. The adverb highly is used as a synonym for extremely or very or strongly; e.g. She is highly respected; I can highly recommend this book.

See how much you know about English adverbs by trying the following quiz questions.


1. Complete the second sentences below with a suitable adverb.

Example: She is a quick runner. She runs quickly.

2. The following adverbs have a different meaning from the adjectives from which they seem to be derived. Can you state their meaning?

Example: hardly = only a little, scarcely (I hardly know him!)


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