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Style Manual

Adverbs

Adverbs modify meaning when they’re added to a sentence. Use them occasionally to show people how, when, where, or the extent to which something happens.

Adverbs add more information about other types of words

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. They often, but not always, end in ‘-ly’.

Example

The staff worked happily. [Modifies the verb ‘worked’]

The staff arrived early this morning. [Modifies the verb ‘arrived’]

She is a very dedicated worker. [Modifies the adjective ‘dedicated’]

You finished quite quickly. [Modifies the adverb ‘quickly’]

Adverbs can affect clarity

Use adverbs sparingly. Remove any adverb that doesn’t play a critical function in a sentence.

Because adverbs are modifiers, they can affect clarity. A lack of clarity can cause users to lose trust in government content.

Comparison with adverbs is by degree

Like adjectives, adverbs can have degree to show or imply a comparison. In general, you simply add the word ‘more’ or ‘most’ in front of the adverb.

Depending on the context, some words can be adjectives or adverbs. Make sure you use the correct form. For example, ‘quickest’ is the adjective and ‘most quickly’ is the adverb.

Example

Comparative

Bob spoke more quickly than Tom. [Uses ‘more’ to compare Tom’s and Bob’s speaking speed]

Superlative

Tom speaks more quickly than Bob, but Harry speaks the most quickly of them all. [Uses ‘most’ to compare Harry’s speaking speed to that of the others]

Not all adverbs follow this regular pattern of using ‘more’ or ‘most’ to show comparison. The following examples show irregular adverbs.

Example

He spoke well, but she spoke better.

You finished work early, but they finished even earlier.

Adverbs don’t always show or imply comparison. These are called positive adverbs.

Example

Tom spoke quickly. [Tom’s speaking speed is not compared with anything else.]

The staff worked happily. [We don’t know if they worked more happily than others.]

Release notes

The digital edition provides an overview of adverbs. It gives examples of correct and incorrect use.

The sixth edition has substantial information about adverbs in different sections.

The Content Guide mentions adverbs in the advice on hyphens. It does not provide any other information about adverbs.

About this page

References

Dixon JC and Bolitho B (2005–2019a) Course notes and exercises: English grammar for writers, editors and policymakers, Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University, Canberra.

Dixon JC and Bolitho B (2005–2019b) Report writing, Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University, Canberra.

Murphy EM with Cadman H (2014) Effective writing: plain English at work, 2nd edn, Lacuna, Westgate.

Seely J (2001) Oxford everyday grammar, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Stilman A (2004) Grammatically correct, Writer’s Digest Books, Ohio.

Truss L (2003) Eats, shoots and leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation, Profile Books, London.

This page was updated Sunday 20 September 2020.

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