What are adverbs and adjectives? How do they differ? In traditional grammar, adjectives and adverbs are modifiers, and we use them daily without even realizing it. An adjective modifies nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases, while an adverb modifies verbs, adjectives, and fellow adverbs. I consider them essential to all forms of writing, too.
Let’s talk about the meaning of these parts of speech, the rules for using them, and common errors to avoid. I also provided a worksheet with an answer key to test your understanding of the topic.
What Is the Difference Between an Adverb and an Adjective?
In English grammar, adjectives are a part of speech that modifies nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases in a sentence. For example:
- Her cold lunch was inedible.
The adjectives cold and inedible modify the noun lunch.
Adverbs modify a verb, adjective, or adverb. It answers how questions, such as “How does he study? – He studies hard.” Below is a sentence example.
- The lizard quickly crawled inside the hole.
In this sentence, the adverb quickly does not modify the noun lizard. Instead, I have it describing how it crawled inside the hole.
Here are more adverb and adjective examples in sentences.
- Ely is fluent in French.
- Ely speaks French fluently.
The adjective fluent modifies the proper noun Ely in the first sentence. In the second sentence, fluently modifies the verb speaks.
The Basic Rules: Adjectives
Aside from modifying nouns, adjectives may also restrict the meaning of nouns. Demonstrative adjectives like this, that, these, and those are good examples of adjectives that limit nouns. For example:
- This book is my favorite.
This implies that the book which the speaker is referring to is close to them.
Not all adjectives come before nouns. One of the adjective rules I try to remember is to use one after a linking verb. The most common verb, be, is an example. But some verbs can be linking verbs and normal verbs or action verbs, such as sensory verbs or a verb of appearance.
The adjectives usually follow a verb form of the following:
One way to differentiate them is to replace the verb with its corresponding be verb. Then, check if the sentence makes sense. For example:
- The chair looks old.
- The chair is old.
The adjective old modifies the noun chair, and the sense verb look is a linking verb.
Here’s another sentence example that uses this type of verb.
- This soup tastes good.
- This soup is good.
Sometimes, adjectives are joined together to describe a noun. You can separate the adjective phrase into individual adjectives and treat them the same. For example:
- My baby is too small to try the slide.
In the sentence above, too small to try the slide modifies the noun baby.
The Basic Rules: Adverbs
One of the fundamental adverb rules is that they can’t modify nouns. Here’s an example of an incorrect and correct sentence.
- Incorrect: I am a happily person.
- Correct: I am a happy person.
Some adverbs of manner end in -ly. For example:
- Incorrect: Mia eats her lunch quick.
- Correct: Mia eats her lunch quickly.
The first sentence does not make sense because quick is an adjective. You can say Mia had a quick lunch, but you can’t say Mia eats her lunch quick.
Adverbs not only answer the common question how but also answer questions, such as when, where, and why. That means they can also come in phrases. For example:
- I shopped yesterday at the mall. (When and where did you shop?)
Yesterday at the mall is an example of an adverbial phrase.
Some adverbs have a restrictive meaning, which requires the inversion of the subject and verb. For example:
- Rarely do we encounter such intelligence.
Instead of the usual subject-verb order, this sentence places a verb before the subject. Other adverbs with restrictive meanings include:
- Hardly ever
- In no circumstances
- Hardly when
- Neither, nor
- Not only
Correcting Adjective or Adverb Problems
One of the most common adjective errors I see is using more with adjectives that are already in comparative form. Here are some examples of incorrect sentences and how to make them correct.
- Incorrect: She is more better at basketball than tennis.
- Correct: She is better at basketball than tennis.
- Incorrect: Do you think the purple dress is more prettier than the blue one?
- Correct: Do you think the purple dress is prettier than the blue one?
Another common error is the potential adjective vs. adverb confusion. Remember that some words stay the same when used as adjectives and adverbs. For example:
You might also get confused with good and well. Good is an adjective that means fine, while well is an adverb meaning in a good way. It can also be an adjective meaning healthy and fine. For example:
- The good man offered his seat. (Good as an adjective)
- My mother is well. (Well as an adjective)
- You sing well. (Well as an adverb)
Is Happy an Adjective or Adverb?
Happy is an adjective that means cheery, joyful, or fortunate. Its adverb form is happily, which means in a happy way.
- Jema is very happy today.
- Jema was happily married to her best friend.
Is Very an Adjective or Adverb?
Very is an adverb that is usually followed by an adjective. For example:
- She is very happy to see you.
Bad or Badly
Bad is an adjective that describes nouns and pronouns, while badly is an adverb that shows the degree of a verb’s action.
- Eating too much sugar is bad.
- She wanted to see me badly.
Adjectives and Adverbs Add Color to Your Sentences
By now, you should know the difference between adjectives and adverbs if my guide was helpful at all. Remember that adjectives modify nouns and pronouns, while adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and fellow adverbs.
Some words may function as both adjectives and adverbs. Make sure to look for clues in their placement in the sentence and analyze which word they modify.