Column: On adverbs and sandwiches


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

What’s a sandwich without a little sauce? And, by sauce, of course, I mean mustard. Without mustard, a sandwich is dry, boring and lifeless. Please, I don’t want any emails from the pro-mayo lobby on this one. For me, it’s mustard or bust.

Adverbs are like sentence mustard. They add flavor and intensity to otherwise plain word sandwiches. An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, adjective, another adverb, or an entire sentence or clause. Most of us think of adverbs being words that always end in “ly.” The fact is, many adverbs do end in “ly.” Sam walked slowly to school. Hampton chortled heartily at Peggy’s pun. I frequently check my email.

On the other hand, there’s a long list of adverbs that do not end in “ly.” Keep these words in mind the next time you play Mad Libs on a road trip–they include afterward, never, next, often, and almost. These adverbs are like the honey mustard of sandwich condiments–you might not even think you’re eating mustard because they’re so sweet and discreet.

Adverbs never modify nouns — that’s a job strictly reserved for adjectives. Adjectives are like sentence cheese to the noun’s meat; they make sure the adverb doesn’t touch the noun. You do put the mustard on top of the cheese and not directly on the meat, right? We’re not barbarians, after all.

The further I go into this metaphor, the hungrier I get. In this case, I suppose verbs are veggie toppings like lettuce, tomato and probably pickles (although I’m personally not a pickle person).

Adverbs give additional information about when, where or how something happens. How did Kenny run? Kenny ran quickly. When did Byron start doubting the moon landing? Byron started doubting the moon landing yesterday. How frequently do you read the newspaper? I read the newspaper often.

Once you start noticing adverbs, you’ll see them everywhere. It’s kind of like buying a car — prior to buying the car, you don’t notice many of the same models on the road, but after you buy it, you see your same car everywhere. Just be careful to not spill any mustard on your new interior.