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Adjectives and Adverbs: Here’s What You Need to Know

We’ve all heard about adjectives and adverbs since elementary school. Now that we are older, and years have passed, how much do you really recall what you learned as a young lad or lass?! The rules surrounding the use of adjectives and adverbs can be deceptive. Adjectives and adverbs are not complex, but there is more to them than just remembering the basics.

The Basics of Adjectives and Adverbs

What you likely remember are the simple definitions of these two parts of speech. An adjective modifies a noun. An adverb modifies a verb.

Simple, right? Well, it really is. However, before you think that this is all you need to know, let’s press on for more details about adjectives and adverbs.

Adjectives

OK, so adjectives modify nouns. What does that mean exactly? It means that they explain, expand upon, give details about, enrich, and help you envision the qualities of the noun in question. More simply, adjectives answer these questions about the noun:

  • Which?
  • What kind of?
  • How many?

Examples:

Noun: the girl

    Which? the pretty girl, the tall girl
    What kind of? the autistic girl, the kind girl
    How many? the three girls, the twelve girls

Noun: the test

    Which? the science test, the mid-term test
    What kind of? the hard test, the easy test
    How many? the six tests, the three tests

Where Do I Put the Adjective?

In writing, the adjective almost always comes directly before the noun that it is modifying. You can see this in the examples above. However, there are two basic exceptions, where the adjective will not come before the noun it is modifying.

Exception #1: After a Sense Verb

When describing a noun, sometimes an adjective will be placed after a verb that is directly after the noun! This happens whenever we place a verb that has to do with the senses directly after the noun. We can call these sense verbs, or verbs of appearance, and they include:

  • sounds
  • smells
  • looks
  • tastes
  • feels
  • appears
  • seems

Examples:

    The music sounds awful.

Music is the noun. What kind of sound does the music have? An awful one.

    She looks tired.

She is the pronoun. How does she look? Tired.

    Jackie feels great!

Jackie is the noun. How does Jackie feel? Great!

    He seems crazy.

He is the pronoun. How does he seem? Crazy.

Exception #2: After a Form of “To Be”

Whenever you use a form of the verb “to be,” you will place the adjective after the noun. The forms of “to be” that you should be on the lookout for are am, is, are, was, were, been, be, and being.

Examples:

    I am irritated.

I is the noun. It is modified by the adjective irritated, which comes after the verb am. How am I? Irritated.

    Paul has been angry.

Paul is the noun. Angry modifies the noun Paul, and comes after the verb been. How has Paul been? Angry.

    The technology is mind-blowing.

The technology is the noun. Is is the verb. How is the technology? Mind-blowing!

Adverbs

Now on to adverbs. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

Adverbs commonly answer the question how? But they can also answer the questions: when, where, why, to what extent, how often, and how much?

Examples:

    He walks slowly. (How does he walk?)

    He ran fast. (How did he run?)

    They searched strenuously. (To what extent did they search?)

Modifying Adverbs

Now I’ll show you how adverbs can also modify other adverbs.

    He walks very slowly.

Very is an adverb that describes the adverb slowly – and tells us how slowly he walks.

    He ran extremely fast.

Extremely is an adverb that describes the adverb fast – and tells us how fast he ran.

Adverbial Phrases

To answer questions such as where or why, sometimes we use adverbial phrases.

    We looked in the shed.

The adverbial phrase in the shed answers the question of where we looked.

    Brennan left to avoid his boss.

The adverbial phrase to avoid his boss tells us why Brennan left.

Basic Rule of Construction

Adverbs often end in -ly. That is an easy way to recognize them as an adverb. However, this is not always the case. (It never is in English, is it?)

But a basic rule is that if you can add -ly to an adjective – you are making it an adverb.

Examples:

    Cindy is a bad performer.

The noun performer is described/modified by the word bad, so bad is an adjective. As opposed to:

    Cindy performed badly.

The verb performed is described by the word badly, so badly is an adverb.

You can see how we have an adjective bad, that you can turn into an adverb just by adding -ly. They are a huge number of other examples, many of which I’m sure you can think of yourself, but here’s a very brief list.

AdjectiveAdverb
slowslowly
nicenicely
happyhappily
extremeextremely
quickquickly
lazylazily
eagereagerly
carefulcarefully
awkwardawkwardly

Differences Between Adjectives and Adverbs

Let’s finish up by exploring some differences between adjectives and adverbs when used in sentences.

    Look at that beautiful house!

Beautiful describes house, so it is an adjective.

    Look at that beautifully decorated house!

Beautifully describes the verb decorated, so it is an adverb.

It would not make sense to say, “Look at that beautifully house,” or “Look at that beautiful decorated house.” (The second sentence might sound somewhat right, but it is incorrect. You could add a comma to indicate that beautiful is not modifying decorated – but this would be less proper.)

    Tony dressed for the quick meeting.

Quick describes the noun meeting, so it is an adjective. What kind of meeting? A quick meeting.

    Tony dressed quickly for the meeting.

Quickly describes the verb dressed, so it is an adverb. How did he dress? Quickly.

I hope this quick overview helped to remind you of some of the rules you may not have thought much about since elementary school! If you want to brush up a little more on your grammar, we’ve got a couple of great articles like adjective examples in sentences and when to use a semicolon, and of course, our Pro Writing lessons.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. And happy writing!

P.S. Become a better writer. Find out more here.

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