Adjectives Versus Adverbs

Introduction

Adjectives and adverbs are describing words; the former describes a noun or pronoun; the latter, a verb, adjective, or other adverb. Here, you learn how to use these words with skill and confidence so you'll never again face the dreaded bad/well dilemma.

They Walk Alike, They Talk Alike: You Could Lose Your Mind

Both adjectives and adverbs are modifiers—words that describe other words. For example:

Ah ha! you say. Adverbs end in -ly; adjectives don't, so that's how I can tell these suckers apart. Not so fast, kemosabe. Some adverbs end in -ly, but not all. Further, some adjectives also end in -ly, such as lovely and friendly. As a result, the -ly test doesn't cut the mustard. Instead, the key to telling the difference between adjectives and adverbs is understanding how they work:

As you learned in Parts of Speech, the only dependable way to tell whether you should use an adjective or an adverb is to see how the word functions in the sentence. If a noun or pronoun is being described, use an adjective. If a verb, adjective, or other adverb is being described, use an adverb. Here's an example to refresh your memory:

Graphic Proof

Use the following table to keep adjectives and adverbs straight. That way, we'll all be reading from the same sheet music as we play together in the rest of this section.

In the Know: Adjective or Adverb?
ModifierFunctionExample
AdjectivesDescribe nounsThe busy bee never rests.
 (The noun is bee.)
AdjectivesDescribe pronounsShe felt disappointed.
 (The pronoun is she.)
AdverbsDescribe verbsThe child cried bitterly.
 (The verb is cried.)
AdverbsDescribe adverbsThe child cried very bitterly.
 (The adverb is bitterly.)
AdverbsDescribe adjectivesThe child was truly annoyed.
 (The adjective is annoyed.)

I'm Ready for My Close-Up Now, Mr. DeMille

Reality check: Are you still with me? Find out by taking this little quiz. Identify the underlined word or words in each of the following sentences. Hint: The answer will be either “adjective” or “adverb.” Those are better odds than you get in Vegas.

  • ____ 1. My school colors were “clear.”
  • ____ 2. Question: How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: Two. One to hold the giraffe firmly and the other to fill the bathtub with brightly colored machine tools.
  • ____ 3. If the cops arrest a mime, do they tell her that she has the right to remain silent?
  • ____ 4. Maybe you're right. Maybe I should have been insulted when the mind reader charged me half price.
  • ____ 5. For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow slowly, but phone calls taper off.
  • ____ 6. Diplomacy is the art of saying “nice doggy” until you can find a big rock.
  • ____ 7. Is it true that cannibals don't eat clowns because they taste funny?
  • ____ 8. Murphy's Oil Soap is the chemical most commonly used to clean elephants.
  • ____ 9. Giraffes have no vocal cords.
  • ____ 10. A man ordered a taco. He asked the server for “minimal lettuce.” The server said he was sorry, but they only had iceberg.
Answers
1. Adjective 6. Adjective
2. Adverb, adjective 7. Adverb
3. Adverb 8. Adverb
4. Adjective 9. Adjective
5. Adverb 10. Adjective
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks

highlights

Top 10 Group Halloween Costumes for Families
These store-bought and Pinterest-inspired Halloween costume ideas for groups are the perfect way to show off your creative side at your Halloween party or while trick-or-treating.

Kindergarten Readiness App Wins Gold
Our Kindergarten Readiness app won the Gold Award of Excellence in the educational category at the 2014 Communicator Awards. This valuable checklist comes with games and activities to help your child practice the essential skills she needs for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

12 Spine-Tingling Halloween Movies for Teens
Are you looking for a movie with just a little bit of spook-factor for your teen? Check out these 12 spine-tingling Halloween movies!

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books!
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our new Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme, and create reading lists for kids!