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What Is a Negative Adverb?

A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

A negative adverb is a specific type of adverb that creates a negative meaning without the use of various other external parts of speech. These kinds of words help speakers of a given language to describe negative outcomes quickly and efficiently. They often replace longer or more complicated phrases that describe the same kinds of ideas as the single adverb.

In general, an adverb is a part of speech that modifies a verb. In English, many adverbs end with the suffix –ly. Common examples include slowly and quickly, happily and sadly, and other similar sets of opposites. Some other adverbs have different constructions in English, but the common characteristic is that they describe a verb.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

While English-language beginners or others studying the adverb as a part of speech will notice that most adverbs directly describe an activity verb, a negative adverb actually describes a verb that, according to the speaker or writer, doesn’t actually happen. Examples of common negative adverbs include seldom, hardly, and rarely. For example, someone could say “we seldom go to the store.” Here, the word “seldom” modifies the verb “go,” but instead of describing how the speaker goes to the store, it actually describes if and when that individual goes to the store.

Another example of a negative adverb is “rarely.” This adverb is a good example of a classic negative adverb because it shares the suffix construction of many other types of adverbs. An example of this in English is as follows: if a speaker says “we rarely find gold in the mountains,” they are again referring, not to how the gold is found, but to whether the gold is found, and actually stating that in most cases, gold is never found all.

Other types of adverbs can create a negative meaning in conjunction with other words. Some experts contend that these are not true negative adverbs like those discussed above. There can be some debate over what constitutes a negative adverb, whether the adverb needs to create a negative meaning on its own, or whether a more general class of adverbs used with other modifiers could also be called negative adverbs.

Negative adverbs have different forms and meanings in each individual language. Looking at how general adverbs and negative adverbs are used can help a language beginner to understand how people modify verbs in that language. It also helps to look at the contrasting part of speech called an adjective, which modifies a noun.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books