Use 'Tom Swifty' Jokes to Teach Adverbs

Teaching adverbs is more fun when you do it using Tom Swifty jokes.

Mignon Fogarty

teach adverbs with Tom Swifties

Tom Swifty jokes use adverbs to create puns related to the action of the sentence. For example, if a dog is chasing a ball, you could use the adverb "fetchingly" to create a pun:

"Rover went to get the ball," Tom said fetchingly

The jokes get their name from the "Tom Swift" series of children's science-fiction adventure novels first published in 1910 and created by the same publisher as the "Nancy Drew" and "Hardy Boys" books. 

The jokes are called "Tom Swifties" because the Tom Swift books were noticeably filled with adverbs.

Creating puns of your own is a fun way to reinforce the concept that adverbs (such as "fetchingly") modify verbs (such as "said").

Tom Swifty Adverb Exercises

Start with these fill-in-the-blank sentences.

1. "The fire __________________," Tom said hotly.

2. "The lamp _____________________," Tom said lightly.

3. "My gray mare _____________________," Tom said hoarsely. (Homophone puns are allowed!)

4. "The duchess _____________________," Tom said nobly.

5. "The air balloon _____________________," Tom said loftily

Adverb List

Now use some of these adverbs to make your own Tom Swifty puns from scratch.














(See the next page for Tom Swifty ideas for these adverbs.)

Extend Your Adverb Lesson

Now, to reinforce the idea that adverbs can modify verbs, use each of the adverbs above to modify a verb other than "said."

Example: Tom sorely missed his good hiking boots.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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