Adverbs, adverbs everywhere.
No matter what level students you teach in your ESL classes, you likely touch on the topic of adverbs. Beginning students are just learning how to use the descriptive words. Intermediate and advanced students learn about adverb clauses and reducing them to adverbial phrases. If not earlier in their studies, post-advanced students are learning how and why to avoid adverbs and choose more vivid verbs instead. So whether you are teaching students just starting out on their English learning journeys or you are teaching students who have already mastered fluency in their ESL classes, this article is for you. It gives a basic summary of the important information in regards to adverb instruction at every level of ESL studies and a few simple exercises to help you along the way.
Teach And Review Adverbs Using These Simple Hints
Beginning/Low Intermediate: Basic Adverbs
The first thing language students need to know about adverbs is what they are. Adverbs are one of the primary parts of speech, and they are used to modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Often adverbs end in –ly, which may make them easy to locate in a sentence, but that is not always the case. Some of the most commonly used adverbs, such as very, do not end in –ly and so can be more of a challenge to locate. Therefore, the best way to identify adverbs in a sentence is to ask if a word in question answers one of the following questions: How? When? Where? To what extent? How often? If a word answers one of these, it is an adverb of time, manner, place, frequency, or degree.
Practice: To practice identifying adverbs, give students a choice of four words, only one of which is an adverb. Have them ask themselves the adverb identification questions about each word (Does it tell how? When? Where? To what extent? Or how often?) before deciding which of the four choices is the adverb.
Adverbs can appear just about anywhere in a sentence. See the following examples.
- Quickly, she ran for the teacher.
- She ran quickly for the teacher.
- She ran for the teacher quickly.
In each sentence, the adverb quickly is correctly positioned. However, if an adverb modifies an adjective or another adverb, it will most likely come directly before that word.
- He is extremely intelligent.
- The surgeon moves his hands so carefully.
Practice: Give students several sentences which use adverbs in different positions. Have them decide if the adverb is modifying the verb or if it is modifying an adjective or another adverb. If the adverb is modifying the verb, have students rewrite the sentence putting the adverb in a different but correct position in the sentence.
Like adjectives, adverbs can be used comparatively and superlatively. For most one syllable adverbs, English speakers form the comparative by adding –er at the end of the adverb, -est for the superlative. For most adverbs of two or more syllables, English speakers use more before the adverb for the comparative form, most for the superlative form.
Practice: Give your students several adverbs of varying syllable length in their positive (base) forms. Have them write two sentences for each adverb – one using it in its positive form (paying attention to its location in the sentence) and one in its comparative or superlative form. To make the exercise more personal and engaging, have students write sentences about their classmates without using that person’s name, and then see if the class can guess who each sentence is describing.
Intermediate: Adverb Clauses
Once your students are at the intermediate level, it is a good time to introduce or reintroduce adverb clauses. Adverb clauses are dependent clauses that give additional information about the sentence: the time something happened, a cause and effect relationship in the sentence, a contrasting idea, or the conditions related to the main clause. They answer the question how, when, or why, just as an adverb would. Every adverb clause must contain both a subject and a verb and be connected to an independent clause. The words that introduce adverb clauses, and therefore make grammatical connections to the main clauses, are called subordinating conjunctions, and these words make an adverb clause a dependent clause. Some common subordinating conjunctions include before, after, since, whenever, because, even though, although, if, unless, and in case.
Practice: Give students several sentences that contain an adverb clause. Have them underline the adverb clause in each sentence and circle the subordinating conjunction. Then, ask students which question (how, when, or why) the adverb clause answers.
Adverb clauses modify an entire independent clause, so they can come at the beginning or the end of the sentence. Their location, though, dictates their punctuation. Generally speaking, when an adverb clause comes before the main clause of a sentence, it is followed by a comma.
- Because Tom was afraid to ask her, Brenda went to the dance with another boy.
However, if the adverb clause comes after the main clause, it does not need a comma separating it.
- Brenda went to the dance with another boy because Tom was afraid to ask her.
Practice: To practice punctuation of adverb clauses, play this simple game with your students. Divide the class into two teams. Each person gets two index cards. On one index card he writes an independent clause. On the other index card, he writes a dependent clause beginning with because that relates to the independent clause he has written. For example, one student’s cards might read as follows.
- Our teacher is the best
- Because she lets us chew gum in class
Once everyone has written their cards, put all the cards for each team in its own pile. Shuffle them, and then exchange them with the other team. Each team then works together to match each independent clause with its dependent clause. Students should form sentences with these cards making sure to start some sentences with the adverb clause and others with the independent clause. Students should pay close attention to punctuation of the clauses in each sentence.
This quick review should get your beginning and intermediate students on the right page when it comes to adverbs.
Check out part two of All about Adverbs: an Every Level Review with Exercises Part 2 for a review of adverbs for advanced and post advanced students.