So you think that adverbs sound dull? Language--and life--would be dull without adverbs. Compare the following short paragraphs:

  • He ate. He ate in ten minutes. He ate too much food. Gastritis resulted.
  • He ate quickly, almost frantically, shoving food into his mouth blindly. He ate too much food, far too much to comfortably resume his duties after lunch.

Adverbs are used to describe action verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs:

  • Adverb describing an Action Verb:
    • An old man in shorts suddenly ran onto the court and dunked the basketball into the hoop in the midst of the crowd's roar that only he could hear.
  • Adverb describing an Adjective:
    • The squirrel named Simon is a very clever, very hungry critter.
  • Adverb describing another adverb:
    • Monroe dances rather charmingly.

It's important to note that adverbs do not describe all verbs; they describe only action verbs and not "state of being" verbs (such as "feel" or "be"). "State of being" verbs use adjectives to describe them. In other words, the person who ate too much food feels "bad," not "badly," since the descriptive word here refers to a feeling or state of being and not an actual action.

I feel bad about the accident I caused. ("Feel" in this sentence is used as a "state of being" verb describing the person's emotional state, so the adjective form is correct.)
I feel badly when my hands are cold from cleaning the freezer. ("Feel" is used as an action verb here to denote the act of using one's hands, so the adverb form, "badly," is correct.)
After the operation, the former governor felt well. (Again, since "feel" is used as a "state of being" verb, "well" functions as an adjective.)
Toni Morrison writes well. ("Well" is an adverb here, since it describes an action verb.)

The general rule is that adverbs are formed by adding -ly to adjectives.

Questions or feedback about ESC's Online Writing Center? Contact us at