Top Tips for IELTS

Not very but really quite pretty – using adverbs more flexibly

This is a quick grammar lesson on an important feature of English grammar. The idea is to show you how we use adverbs in English to qualify (add meaning to) not just verbs but adjectives and other adverbs too. It’s helpful to learn/remember this bit of grammar because it can help you use English more flexibly and more like native speakers. The goal is to help you

use very less

add variety to your grammar and vocabulary

help you add meaning to what you say

The main idea

The general idea is that it helps the way you sound if you can say

I go cycling fairly often 

rather than

I often go cycling

It’s just one word but it can make a real difference.

See the different ways adverbs can work

The first step is to forget about adverbs just qualifying verbs – the name is all wrong. They also work with other adverbs and adjectives too. See here:

I  go to the library quite often. [adverb – adverb]

Libraries are still quite important. [adverb – adjective]

I quite like going to the library. [adverb – verb]

The point to note is that all these different patterns are very common in English and you need to be able to use them all to use more variety in your grammar – especially in speaking.

How these adverbs help

They add meaning

One reason these adverbs matter is that they can add meaning to what you say or write. In this example you are giving a stronger opinion by using extremely:

It is extremely important for the government to take action on air pollution

Think about just how important things are – qualify what you say

They can also help fluency

In this second example you’re not just adding meaning but you also now have a chance to say a bit more – explain why it’s only fairly often or what you do the rest of the time.

I play computer games fairly often. But most of the time I use my computer to work on

If you qualify what you say – then you often have something else to add

They also add variety to grammar and vocabulary

Using them also helps a little variety to your grammar – especially in speaking where they are a very common feature of the language.

It’s easy to get stuck on one word and lots of people use very too much. Learning these words and how to use them can help you avoid that problem.

Try to avoid using very all the time

A problem with strong adjectives

There is one main grammatical problem with using these adverbs – not all adjectives and adverbs work together. We can say

I am extremely angry 

But we can’t say

I am extremely furious

This is because some words like furious are absolute words that can only be used with adverbs such as absolutely or really. This is a reasonably complex bit of grammar that you’ll find a quick explanation of here:

British Council – intensifiers


Some common weakening adverbs

Here are some of the basic words I’d encourage you to learn. They all mean much the same thing – they weaken the adverb/adjective



 pretty – colloquial and only really used in speaking or informal letters

reasonably – more formal and can be used in essay writing

Some common strengthening adverbs

really – informal and good for speaking and informal letters not essays

particularly – good for more formal writing

especially – again better in more formal writing


absolutely – only used with strong adjectives

A quick exercise

You learn these words by using them. Here is a quick exercise to start you off. Think of 3 things you do and then say why and see if you can extend what you say (e.g. I quite often make mistakes in grammar because I don’t check my writing. I suppose if I checked my writing more often …)

quite often 

really often

pretty frequently

Now try and think of things that make you

extremely happy

reasonably confident

fairly angry



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One Response to Not very but really quite pretty – using adverbs more flexibly

  1. Buthaina Abbas October 31, 2016 at 11:05 am #

    Thanks Sir, I found this lesson extremely helpful.It enriches my voc as well as grammar .I reviewed it .l need to do more practices to improve my skills in regards to these areas of speaking and writing too. I,ll take every piece of advice and tip for better understanding the language.

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