Adverbs

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' and 'forþ'. The adverb 'hrædlice' comes from the adjective 'hræd' while 'forþ' is a standalone adverb.

Se
Plural
Demon.
hund
Strong
Noun
gæþ
Irregular
Verb
hrædlice
Adverb
(Formed)
forþ
Adverb
(Standalone)
to
Prep.
 
þæm
Plural
Demon.
huse
Minor
Neuter

The first type of adverb are 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', and 'eall - all' becomes 'eallunga - entirely/completely'.

Adjective Adverb
wid wide
lang lange
georn geornlice
freond freondlice
eall eallunga
derne dernunga

The second are not formed from any other word, and so need to be learned. 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 primary standalone adverbs are the following:

Old English Translation
þa then
þonne then
þær there
hider hither
þider thither
her here
heonan hence/from here
sona soon
oft often
eft back/again
swa so
hwilum sometime/for a time
nu now
þus thus

If you see 'þa' twice in a sentence, and it is clear that one is not a demonstrative pronoun, then the first þa' would 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'.

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 modern 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 eardian - He can make [it so] that I dwell more at ease'.

Se
Personal
Pronoun
mæg
Modal
Verb
gedon
Irregular
Verb
þæt
Adverb
 
ic
Personal
Pronoun
softor
Comp.
Adverb
eardian
Weak
Verb

Just like adjectives, there are some irregular and i-mutated forms of adverbs. These usually take no comparative ending, 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.

Base Comp Super
lange leng lengest
softe seft seftest
eaþe ieþ ieþest
wel betre best
micel mare mæst
yfel wiers wierst

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


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