Adverbs of Time
What are adverbs of time?
Adverbs of time tell us at what time (when) or for how long (duration) something happens or is the case. There is also a specific category of time adverbs that describe frequency, or how often something happens or is the case; however, their usage is a bit more complex, so we will examine those in a separate section.
Adverbs of time are most often placed at the end of a sentence. For example:
- “I’m going to the movies tomorrow.” (When are you going? Tomorrow.)
- “She left yesterday.” (When did she leave? Yesterday.)
- “We are eating now.” (When are we eating? Now.)
However, we can sometimes place adverbs of time at the beginning of the sentence to put an extra emphasis on the time or duration being described. They are usually offset by a comma if appearing at the beginning of the sentence, although this is not always necessary. For example:
- “Next year, I’m going to run for president.” (Emphasizes a point in time.)
- “Now, I have to start the whole project again from scratch.” (Emphasizes now in a sequence of events.)
- “For 17 years we’ve been dating, and not once has he proposed!” (Emphasizes the duration of time.)
The majority of time-related adverbs appear at the end of a sentence (or the beginning, for emphasis), but there are a few exceptions to this rule.
The adverb later, in addition to its normal placement at the end or beginning of a sentence, can also be placed immediately after the main verb. This creates a formal tone to the sentence, as might be found in official reports or in newspaper articles. Compare these three sentences:
- “She spoke to an adviser later.” (A simple sentence with no particular emphasis.)
- “Later, she spoke to an adviser.” (Extra emphasis on when she spoke to the advisor.)
- “She later spoke to an adviser.” (Slightly formal tone, as might be used by someone reporting the sequence of events to someone else.)
As an adverb of time, the word yet is used primarily in negative sentences or in questions. It can appear at the end of the sentence, or it can follow the word not before the main verb in a negative sentence. It does not appear at the beginning of the sentence (except when it functions as a conjunction, rather than an adverb). Here are some examples:
- “He hasn’t gone to the doctor yet.”
- “We have not yet sold our house.”
- “Have you finished your homework yet?”
However, yet can also be used after auxiliary verbs and before the main verb in positive sentences to talk about a future possibility, as in:
- “I have yet to decide whether I’m leaving.”
- “They may yet file for bankruptcy.”
- “Things could yet improve in the region.”
- “We might yet be able to strike a deal with them.”
The adverb of time still is used to describe something that is continuously happening. Still comes before the main verb of the sentence in questions, if used before not in negative sentences, or if used after auxiliary verbs in positive sentences about the future:
- “Are you still working on that project?”
- “He’s still not sure about how to proceed.”
- “I am still thinking about moving to Europe.”
The adverb still can also be used with the modal auxiliary verbs may, might, can, and could to describe something that was a possibility in the past, and which could possibly happen in the future. In this case, it has the same meaning as yet, and the two are all but interchangeable (though yet sounds a little bit more formal). Here are the same sentences we looked at with yet, but this time using still instead:
- “They may still file for bankruptcy.”
- “Things could still improve in the region.”
- “We might still be able to strike a deal with them.”
Adverbs of Duration – For and Since
When we want to talk about for how long something happens or is the case, we generally use the prepositions for and since along with a determiner of time. When we use for, we pair it with a word or words that specify a length of time; with since, on the other hand, we use specific points in time. Both usually occur at the end of the sentence, unless they are being followed by infinitive or prepositional phrases. And, as we’ve seen already, they can also be used at the beginning of the sentence to add emphasis.
Here are a few examples of each:
- “I have been running for three hours.”
- “They have been waiting for two months to be seen by a doctor.”
- “For 10 years, we’ve seen this country’s economy continue to decline.”
- “Our computer systems have been having issues since last week.”
- “We have been looking since September for a place to live.”
- “Since we were kids, we’ve always dreamed of being astronauts.”
(The phrase we were kids in this sentence might seem like it should be “the time when we were kids,” but because it is used with since, the shorter version is acceptable.)
In Proper Order
Remember, adverbs of time can be used to describe three different aspects: duration, frequency, and certain points in time (when). If we are using multiple adverbs of time in the same sentence, and if there is no special emphasis given to one aspect over another, then that is the order in which they generally appear. Even if one of the three aspects is omitted, the other two still maintain their position in relation to each other. Here are some examples:
- “I went door to door for two hours every afternoon last year.”
- “He will be traveling for two years after college.”
- “The train runs hourly in the fall.”
If one aspect of time is being given particular emphasis in the sentence, then it generally comes later in the order. Let’s look at the first sentence arranged in a different order:
- “I went door to door every afternoon last year for two hours.”
As we can see, for two hours is given stronger emphasis than either every afternoon or last year.
Notice as well that each adverb of duration is made using for; we can’t use since in the same way with multiple adverbs. For instance, we can see how the following would not make any sense:
- “She’s known him since high school each day this year.” (incorrect)
If we are using since to indicate duration along with other adverbs of time in the same sentence, then it must come after adverbs of frequency (or at the beginning of the sentence), and it can only be used with certain kinds of verbs. For example:
- “We’ve spoken to each other every day since high school.”
- “Since my operation, I’ve been getting stronger every day.”
- “He’s been feeling dizzy frequently since his car accident last spring.”
Sources of confusion
Soon vs. Early
When we say, “I arrived early,” it means before the expected or required time. It can also be used in the future tense, as in “I will arrive early.”
We use soon, on the other hand, for a future time frame; it isn’t used in the past.
For instance, if we say, “I will see you soon,” it means in a short time (the near future). We cannot say “I saw you soon,” because it cannot be used in the past tense.
Any longer vs. Any more vs. No longer
Any longer and any more (or anymore, see below) are synonyms, and they can be used interchangeably.
When we use any longer or any more, we need to use don’t/doesn’t because the adverbs express a negative relationship with time. No matter which adverb you use, it is important that they are positioned at the end of the sentence.
However, when we use no longer, it comes between the subject and the verb. In contrast to any longer or any more, it is used in positive sentences because it makes the sentence negative. It would be wrong to say, for example, “He doesn’t work there no longer”—this creates a double negative and makes the sentence positive, therefore creating the opposite meaning to what was intended.
Let’s take a look at some examples in order to clarify.
- “I don’t work for that company any longer.”
- “I don’t eat meat anymore.”
- “I no longer work for that company.”
- “I no longer eat meat.”
Anymore vs. Any more
In American English, people often use these two terms interchangeably as adverbs of time. Outside of America, though, using anymore is more rare, and some even consider it to be incorrect. Therefore, it is better to avoid using it outside of American English. Also, because anymore is considered by some to be an informal, modern coinage, it is safer to avoid using it in formal writing as well.
However, if we are talking about an amount of something, we must only use any more. This is because more is used an adjective describing the amount of a noun, with any modifying more. For instance:
- “I don’t want any more pasta. I’m full.” (correct)
- “I don’t want anymore pasta. I’m full.” (incorrect)
No longer vs. no more
The phrase no more cannot be used interchangeably with no longer. While it can technically function as an adverb, it is very rarely used this way and would usually sound quite awkward or contrived. It is much more often used as a pronoun phrase meaning “no further amount (of something).” Here are some examples showing correct and incorrect uses:
- “He no longer works here.” (correct)
- “He no more works here.” (incorrect)
- “We will tolerate no more.” (correct)
- “We will tolerate no longer.” (incorrect)
- “I love you no more.” (technically correct, but very awkward)
- “I love you no longer.” (more correct, but still awkward)
- “I no longer love you” or “I don’t love you any more.” (most correct)
That having been said, a common slang expression is to use no more as an adverb in a negative sentence, as in, “He doesn’t work there no more.” This is grammatically incorrect, but slang very often ignores or upends common grammatical rules.