Adverbs are words that modify verbs: 'the dog quickly runs'; adjectives: 'the dog is very big'; or other adverbs: 'the dog barked very loudly'. In Old English, adverbs come in two main types: those that are formed from other words and standalone adverbs. For example, the sentence: 'Se hund gæþ hrædlice forþ to þæm huse - The dog goes quickly forth to the house' has two adverbs modifying the verb: 'hrædlice - quickly' and 'forþ - forwards'. The adverb 'hrædlice' comes from the adjective 'hræd' while 'forþ' is a standalone adverb.
The first type of adverb is formed by adding '-e', '-lice', or -unga to the end of an existing noun or adjective. For example, 'wid - wide' becomes 'wide - widely', 'georn - eager' becomes 'geornlice - eagerly', 'eall - all' becomes 'eallunga - entirely/completely', and 'derne - secret' becomes 'dernunga - secretly'.
There is no hard rule for which adverbs take which ending, or which adverbs do not take an ending. Simply be aware if you see '-lice' or '-unga' at the end of the word, it is an adverb. Adverbs are generally placed directly before or after the word they are modifying which makes them slightly easier to identify.
The second type of adverb is not formed from any other word, and so needs to be learned separately. The primary standalone adverbs are the following:
|hwilum||sometime/for a time|
If you see 'þa' twice in a sentence, and it is clear that one is not a demonstrative pronoun, then the first þa' would usually be translated as 'when' and the other 'then'. For example, 'Þa he þider ferde, þa mette he þone abbod - When he went thither then he met the abbod'. If þa is being used as the adverb 'then', the verb will come directly afterwards; if it is being used as the conjunction 'when', the subject will come first and the verb will often go to the end of the clause.
The words 'hither' and 'thither' have fallen out of common usage in modern English, but hither means 'towards here' (towards the speaker) and 'thither' means 'towards there' (away from the speaker).
'Hwilum' evolved to become 'whilom' in early modern English. However, this is another word that has fallen out of use in more recent times. Depending on context, when used as an adverb it can mean 'once upon a time', 'formerly', 'sometime', or 'for a time'.
Just like adjectives, adverbs can have comparative and superlative forms, and these are formed by dropping the 'e' and adding '-or' and '-ost'. In modern English, we form the comparative by adding 'more' before an adverb, and the superlative by adding 'most' before an adverb. For example, 'soþe - truly', 'soþor - more truly', 'soþost - most truly'. Examine the below sentence, 'Se mæg gedon ðæt ic softor wunian - He can make [it so] that I dwell more at ease'.
Just like adjectives, there are some irregular and i-mutated forms of adverbs. These usually take no comparative ending, but indicate the comparative with a vowel change, and '-est' instead of '-ost' for superlative. For example, 'lange - long', 'leng - longer', and 'lengest - longest'. You'll notice that the adverb forms are almost identical to the adjective form. Not all adverbs have comparative and superlative forms.
Adverbs have not changed significantly in how they are used between Old English and modern English. Since they do not decline, you just need to familiarise yourself with the various forms so that you do not confuse adjectives and adverbs.Return to Introduction to Adverbs, Conjunctions, and Prepositions Continue to Conjunctions