*She speaks very well English.
*I go often to the theatre
*We’re tomorrow leaving for Belgium
*I think we should go early to bed.
Each of the sentences contains an adverb. An adverb is a word that usually answers questions like ‘how?’, ‘when?’, ‘where?’ or ‘why?’.
In each of the sentences above, although the sentences are quite understandable, the word order is incorrect. The position of adverbs can be quite a confusing area of English grammar, for a variety of reasons. Many English teachers are influenced by a false idea about adverbs that they probably learnt at school, namely that adverbs are ‘words that modify verbs’. This is only a small part of what the versatile adverb can do. It can also modify adjectives, numbers, clauses, whole sentences and other adverbs. The only thing that an adverb can’t modify, in fact, is a noun. This makes the adverb a kind of ‘catch-all’ category of words that don’t fit in any other category.
Another false idea that you might have learnt: ‘adverbs are words that end in -ly’. It is true that many adverbs do end in -ly, but friendly, lovely, lonely, likely, ugly, deadly, cowardly and silly are all adjectives, and cannot be used as adverbs.
There are also some adjectives in -ly that can be used as adverbs, such as daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, early. For example:
I have to wake up early to catch the early train.
The other confusing thing is that there are three possible positions for an adverb in a sentence:
1. initial position – before subject and verb (Frankly, I think she’s lying.)
2. mid position – between subject and verb (John definitely saw a lion behind that tree.)
3. end position – after subject and verb (As a child I used to be punished daily)
Some kinds of adverbs can only go in one position:
I have to say Fortunately Peter sold his house before the prices went down. It would be unusual to say *Peter fortunately sold… and impossible to say *Peter sold fortunately…
Other kinds of adverbs can go in two of the positions:
Yesterday we took the children to the zoo and We took the children to the zoo yesterday are both possible, but not *We yesterday took…
And still other adverbs can go in all three positions:
Occasionally we go to the cinema, We occasionally go… and We go occasionally… are all possible.
Another thing to realise is that sometimes errors of adverb position are serious enough to cause misunderstanding:
Naturally, she gave birth and She gave birth naturally do not mean the same thing.
But in other situations errors are not serious, just a bit odd.
The problem with lumping all of these very diverse words into one category is that it can make learning the rules about how to use them seem complicated. This post is the first in a series where we will look at some of the different kinds of adverbs and how they behave.
Did you manage to correct the problems in the sentences at the beginning of the post?
She speaks English very well.
I often go to the theatre.
We’re leaving for Belgium tomorrow.
I think we should go to bed early.
I seem to have had a lot of questions lately about the very versatile verb get. It is one of the 100 commonest words in the English language, and one of the top 20 verbs. It has very diverse meanings, and is used in a variety of ways. Specialists will say that it is not usually good form to use get in writing, but it’s so useful that it is difficult to avoid.
Here is a summary of the main ways we use get.
1. Get + noun/pronoun
When get is followed by a noun or pronoun, it usually means something like receive, fetch, obtain, or catch…
I got a postcard from Darren yesterday.
Did you get some flour when you went to the supermarket?
Wrap up warmly so you don’t get a cold.
2. Get + adjective
When get is followed by an adjective, it usually means become…
I can’t climb those stairs so quickly these days – I must be getting old.
Turn that radiator on so you can get warm .
3. Get + preposition
When get is followed by a preposition, usually some kind of change or movement is implied…
What time do you usually get up in the morning?
Why don’t you get out of the house and get some fresh air?
4. Get + past participle
A. Get is often used for expressions where other European languages use reflexive verbs. We use this to talk about something we do to ourselves:
B. Get can also replace be in passive structures such as…
The thief got caught when he used a stolen credit card (= was caught).
I got invited to Terry’s wedding (= was invited).
C. When there is an object before the past participle it can mean to finish doing something…
It has been so humid lately that it takes days to get the washing dried.
Get your room tidied and we’ll go to the park.
D. We can use the same structure (get + object + past participle) to talk about arranging for something to be done by somebody else.
I must get my hair cut – it’s looking terrible.
Peter has gone to the garage to ask about getting the car fixed.
5. Other uses:
get + -ing usually has the meaning to start doing something:
You should get going otherwise you’ll miss your train. ( = you should leave now)
get + to + infinitive often has the meaning to persuade:
I can’t get my husband to agree on the colour of the carpet.
This little list doesn’t cover every use of get, but it’s enough to get you started. If you get stuck you could always get yourself a dictionary. Don’t get frustrated if you find it difficult to understand all the uses of get. It gets easier as you get used to the language. So, why don’t you get on with it?
Twice this week I have heard the comment from an English learner: “I find the future tense in English so complicated!” As usual a look of bewilderment follows when I explain that there is no future tense in English.
What? But we talk about the future all the time – how is that possible if there is no tense for it? Well, we get around it by using one of several standard ways of speaking about future events, each one with its own particular meaning.
1. WILL. Do you think John will visit us this summer?
2. GOING TO. I’m going to resign from my job.
3. PRESENT CONTINUOUS. Manchester United are playing at Wembley tonight.
4. SIMPLE PRESENT. My flight leaves at 7.00 tonight.
With so much variety, which one should I choose? If you remember these simple principles, you will choose the right one most of the time.
For predicting – talking about what I think will happen in the future, without any reference to the present, we use will or going to, but not the present continuous. I can say:
I think the price of fuel will fall / is going to fall next year,
but I can’t say *I think the price of fuel is falling next year.
When we talk about future plans – things that have already been decided, we use going to or present continuous, but not ‘will’. I can say:
Where are Steve and Barbara going to spend / spending their holidays?
But I can’t say *Where will Steve and Barbara spend their holidays?
When we talk about a future action at the moment when we decide to do it, we use will. I can say
It’s getting late. I think we‘ll go home,
but I can’t say *It’s getting late. I think I’m going / going to go home.
When we have present evidence that something is going to happen (that is, we can see it coming) we use going to:
Slow down! We‘re going to hit that car!
I can’t say *Slow down! We will hit / we’re hitting that car.
When we talk about future events that are already on a programme, such as a timetable, we can use simple present:
What time does the next train leave for Wellington?
This little summary doesn’t say everything there is to say about the future, as there are some other forms that we can also use:
5. WILL BE + ING. Fred will be having dinner with us tomorrow.
6. TO BE TO. The President is to visit Florida later this month.
7. WILL HAVE + past participle (future perfect). The workmen will have replaced all the windows by next Tuesday.
These three will be the subject of another post.
Practice Makes Perfect: English Verbs
Idiomatic English: A Workbook for Mastering Verb Phrases
English Phrasal Verbs in Use: Advanced