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Adjective or Adverb?
Brought to you by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab.
Graphics for this handout were designed by Michelle Hansard.
1. Adjectives modify nouns; adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.
You can recognize adverbs easily because many of them are formed by adding -ly to an adjective.
Here are some sentences that demonstrate some of the differences between an adjective and an adverb by showing what is being modified in each sentence. In each sentence, light blue arrows point to adjectives and green arrows point to adverbs.
Here careless is an adjective that modifies the proper noun Richard.
Here carelessly is an adverb that modifies the verb talks.
Here happy is an adjective that modifies the proper noun Priya and extremely is an adverb that modifies the adjective happy.
Here quickly is an adverb that modifies the verb finished and unusually is an adverb that modifies the adverb quickly.
Adverbs can't modify nouns, as you can see from the following incorrect sentences.
He is a quietly man. The correct sentence should say He is a quiet man.
I have a happily dog. The correct sentence should say I have a happy dog.
On the other hand, it's sometimes easy to make the mistake of using an adjective to modify a verb, as the incorrect sentences below show.
He talks careless about your wife. The correct sentence should say He talks carelessly about your wife.
He is breathing normal again. The correct sentence should say He is breathing normally again.
2. An adjective always follows a form of the verb to be when it modifies the noun before the verb.
Here are some examples that show this rule. Light blue arrows point from the adjective to the noun that it modifies.
3. Likewise, an adjective always follows a sense verb or a verb of appearance -- feel, taste, smell, sound, look, appear, and seem -- when it modifies the noun before the verb.
Here are some examples that show this rule. Light blue arrows point from the adjective to the noun it modifies.
Here bad is an adjective that modifies the noun cough. Using the adverb badly here would not make sense, because it would mean her cough isn't very good at sounding.
Here awful is an adjective that modifies the noun oil. Using the adverb awfully here would not make sense, because it would mean that castor oil isn't very good at tasting.
Here fresh is an adjective that modifies the noun air. Using the adverb freshly here would not make sense, because it would mean that the air has a sense of smell that it uses in a fresh manner.
Here unhappy is an adjective that modifies the pronoun she. Using the adverb unhappily here would not make sense, because it would mean that she isn't very good at seeming.
Here dark is an adjective that modifies the noun images. Using the adverb darkly here would not make sense, because it would mean that the images were suddenly popping into view in a dark manner.
Be careful to notice whether the word modifies the subject or the verb in the sentence. If the word modifies the subject, you should use an adjective. If the word modifies the verb, you should use an adverb. The difference is shown in the following pair of sentences.
Here sweet is an adjective that modifies the noun apple. Using the adverb sweetly here would not make sense, because it would mean that the apple can smell things in a sweet manner.
Here carefully is an adverb that modifies the verb smells. Using the adjective careful here would not make sense, because it would mean that the dog gives off an odor of carefulness.
Avoiding Common Errors
Bad or Badly?
When you want to describe how you feel, you should use an adjective (Why? Feel is a sense verb;see rule #3 above). So you'd say, "I feel bad." Saying you feel badly would be like saying you play football badly. It would mean that you are unable to feel, as though your hands were partially numb.
Good or Well?
Good is an adjective, so you do not do good or live good, but you do well and live well. Remember, though, that an adjective follows sense-verbs and be-verbs, so you also feel good, look good, smell good, are good, have been good, etc. (Refer to rule #3 above for more information about sense verbs and verbs of appearance.)
Confusion can occur because well can function either as an adverb or an adjective. When well is used as an adjective, it means "not sick" or "in good health." For this specific sense of well, it's OK to say you feel well or are well -- for example, after recovering from an illness. When not used in this health-related sense, however, well functions as an adverb; for example, "I did well on my exam."
Scarcely and hardly are already negative adverbs. To add another negative term is redundant, because in English only one negative is ever used at a time
They found scarcely any animals on the island. (not scarcely no...)
Hardly anyone came to the party. (not hardly no one...)
Sure or Surely?
Sure is an adjective, and surely is an adverb. Sure is also used in the idiomatic expression sure to be. Surely can be used as a sentence-adverb. Here are some examples that show different uses of sure and surely. Light blue arrows indicate adjectives and green arrows indicate adverbs.
Here sure is an adjective that modifies the pronoun I.
Here surely is an adverb that modifies the adjective ready.
Here sure to be is an idiomatic phrase that functions as an adjective that modifies the pronoun she.
Here surely is an adverb that modifies the verb has been.
Real or Really?
Real is an adjective, and really is an adverb. Here are some examples that demonstrate the difference between real and really. Light blue arrows indicate adjectives and green arrows indicate adverbs.
Here really is an adverb that modifies the adverb well.
Here really is an adverb that modifies the verb phrase going out.
Here real is an adjective that modifies the noun problems.
Near or Nearly?
Near can function as a verb, adverb, adjective, or preposition. Nearly is used as an adverb to mean "in a close manner" or "almost but not quite." Here are some examples that demonstrate the differences between various uses of near and nearly. Light blue arrows indicate adjectives and green arrows indicate adverbs. Subjects and verbs are marked in purple.
Here neared is a verb in the past tense.
Here nearly is an adverb that modifies the verb finished.
Here near is an adjective that modifies the noun future.
Here near is an adverb of place that modifies the verb crept.
Here nearly is an adverb that modifies the verb related.
Here near is a preposition. The prepositional phase near the end of the movie modifies the noun scene.
After reviewing this handout, try the following exercises and check your answers using the answer keys.
Adjective/Adverb Exercise #1 at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/print/esl/esladjadvEX1.html
Adjective/Adverb Exercise #2 at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/print/esl/esladjadvEX2.html
This handout revised December 2001 by Michelle Hansard
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1. He correctcorrectly defined the terms. The answer sounded correctcorrectly .
2. She quickquicklyadjusted the fees. She adapted quickquickly to any situation.
3. He measured the floor exactexactly. They proved to be perfectly exactperfectly exactly measurements.
4. The stillness of the tomb was awfulawfully. The tomb was awfulawfully still.
5. It was a dangerousdangerously lake to swim in. The man was dangerousdangerously drunk. The gas smelled dangerousdangerously
6. She performed magnificentmagnificently . It was a magnificentmagnificently beautiful performance.
7. Her voice sounds beautifulbeautifullly She sang the song exactexactly as it was written. We heard it perfectperfectly.
8. He was a very sensiblesensibly person. He acted very sensiblesensibly.
9. Mike wrote too slowslowly on the exam. He always writes slowslowly.
10. Talk softsoftly or don't talk at all. The music played softsoftly.
11. Andrea knows the material very goodwell . She always treats us goodwell .
Adjective or Adverb: Exercise 2
Choose the correct form of the word to complete the sentence.Click on the check your answers button to check your answers. (For a non-interactive version of this quiz, please visit our printer-friendly version .)
1. Terrence plays quarterback as goodwell as Brian.
2. The game hadhadn't hardly begun before it started to rain.
3. This was suresurely a mild winter.
4. Jane behaves more pleasantpleasantly than Joan.
5. When you are a parent, you will think differentdifferently about children.
6. I felt badbadly about not having done goodwell on my final exams.
7. Whether you win is not nearnearly as important as how you play.
8. Asian music often sounds oddoddly to Western listeners.
9. Does your car run goodwell enough to enter the race?
10. I felt safesafely enough to go out at night on my own.
11. You can see the distant mountains clearclearly with these binoculars.
12. Our team was realreally sharp last Saturday afternoon during the game.
13. You must send payments regularregularly. We deal on a strictstrictly cash basis.
14. The mechanic's tools were goodwell . The foreman said that his work was goodwell done.
15. She worked carefulcarefully with the sick child. She was a very carefulcarefully worker.
16. He did not pass the course as easyeasily as he thought he would.
17. I find this novel very interestinginterestingly . It was interestinginterestingly written.