Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, phrases, and other adverbs.
What is the difference between an adjective and an adverb?
Adjectives and adverbs are descriptive words that we use for different parts of speech:
- Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns.
- Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, phrases, and other adverbs.
How to spot an adjective from an adverb?
It’s easy to confuse adjectives and adverbs because they often have similar or identical words. For instance, many adjectives turn into adverbs by adopting -ly, -ily, -ally, or -y at the end of the word:
- Clear → clearly
- Happy → Happily
- Believable → Believably
- Basic → Basically
However, some adverbs retain the exact spelling as their adjective form, such as hard, fast, or straight.
To understand when these terms function as adjectives or adverbs, look for the underlined word (the modified term):
- “The assignment is hard.” (adjective)
- “The students work hard.” (adverb)
- “I drive a fast car.” (adjective)
- “I was driving fast.” (adverb)
- “This is a long, straight road.” (adjective)
- “The road leads straight home.” (adverb)
What are adjectives?
Adjectives are descriptive words that modify nouns or pronouns to clarify: Which? How many? What kind?
Using adjectives in sentences
Most adjectives appear before the noun or pronoun they modify. For example,
- “That is a big bug.”
- “He wants a cute toy.”
- “I am a short girl.”
However, some adjectives appear after linking verbs that express what we feel, perceive, or enjoy. For example,
- “I feel good.”
- “The sky is blue.”
- “I like yummy food.”
Did you notice the use of “be,” “feel,” and “like”? With sensory verbs, you can almost always expect a modifying adjective to follow. Similar linking verbs include: taste, smell, sound, look, appear, or seem.
Placement and order of adjectives
When adjectives function together, their order depends on their function.
a. Articles: a, the.
b. Demonstratives: this, those.
c. Possessives: his, their, everyone’s, our.
d. Quantities: one, several, many, a few.
e. Order: first, last, next.
- Value or opinion: good, bad, yummy, pretty, awesome.
- Size: big, small, large, tiny, giant.
- Temperature: hot, cold, blistering, tepid, freezing.
- Age: old, young, ancient, new, antique.
- Shape: oval, round, square, pointed, boxy.
- Color: red, green, yellow, purple, transparent.
- Nationality: Ethiopian, American, Mexican, Peruvian.
- Architectural style or religion: Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, Gothic, Greek.
- Material: wooden, stone, steel, gold, ivory, glass.
- Nouns that function as adjectives: dance class, history club.
- “There was one (quantity) large (size), wooden (material) box in the middle of the road.”
- “We have a (quantity) cute (quality), tiny (size) kitten at home.”
Types of adjectives and how to use them
Descriptive adjectives denote the quality of a noun or pronoun by expressing an opinion or describing a noun’s appearance (e.g., good, bad, beautiful, ugly, large, tiresome, obnoxious, lovely).
Proper adjectives derive from a proper noun, such as “Spanish blend” or “English tea.” Like proper nouns, proper adjectives are always capitalized, and they tend to reference names of countries, religions, institutions, or people’s names.
Limiting adjectives or “determiners as adjectives” restrict the meaning of a noun or pronoun instead of defining it.
Types of limiting adjectives:
|Articles||A, an, the|
|Possessive pronouns||My, our, your, his, her, its, their|
|Relative pronouns||Whose, which, whichever, what, whatever|
|Demonstratives||This, these, that, those|
|Indefinite pronouns||Any, each, other, some|
|Cardinal numbers||One, two, three, four, five|
|Ordinal numbers||Last, first, second, third, fourth|
|Possessive proper nouns||Amanda’s, Canada’s, the Pope’s|
- “I purchased the shirt.”
- “I want this cat.”
- “She hit that car.”
While it might seem strange to use determiners as adjectives, keep in mind how these terms function to answer “Which one?,” “How many?,” or “Whose?” without acting as interrogative adjectives.
Interrogative adjectives ask a question using relative pronouns “whose,” “which,” and “what.”
- “Whose cat is this?”
- “Which show is this?”
- “What shirt are you wearing?”
Coordinate adjectives consist of two or more adjectives separated by a comma instead of coordinating conjunctions like “and.”
“It’s a cold and windy day.” → “It’s a cold, blustery day.”
Note: Only use coordinate adjectives if adjectives are reversible AND if adding “and” does not change the sentence’s meaning.
Compound adjectives consist of two or more words to function as one unit. Depending on sentence structure, compound adjectives are open, closed, or hyphenated.
Use a hyphen with compound adjectives that appear before the noun it modifies.
- “Mary is a part-time employee.”
- “I’m studying 18th-century painters.”
- “Send me a one-page summary.”
*Do not hyphenate compound adjectives that are proper, italicized, or in quotes.
- “He fired the Legally Blonde actor.”
- “She’s interested in pro bono work.”
- “I’m going for the ‘Elle Woods’ look.”
What are adverbs?
Adverbs are descriptive words that modify verbs, adjectives, phrases, and other adverbs by expressing time, location, frequency, degree, manner, and more.
There are two main objectives of adverbs:
- To answer why?, when?, where?, and how? by expressing time, location, degree, and more.
- To introduce or connect sentences and clauses.
Types of adverbs
Adverbs of time
Adverbs of time denote the time of action through exact or relative terms.
|Specific time||Relative time|
Adverbs of location
Adverbs of place or location describe where an action took place:
- Adverbs like “here” or “there” denote the location of something relative to the author.
- Adverbs like “anywhere,” “everywhere, “nowhere” describe the position of activity without mentioning the location.
- Adverbs ending with -ward express the movement of an action and its direction, such as: backward, downward, forward, frontward, homeward, sidewards, upward.
Additional adverbs of location:
Adverbs of manner
Adverbs of manner denote how an action is performed, and they often contain an adjective with an altered ending, such as -ly, -ily, or -y.
- Adjectives ending with a consonant turn into -ly adverbs (quick/quicky).
- Adjectives ending with a -y turn into -ily adverbs (easy/easily).
- Adjectives ending with -le turn into adverbs that replace -e- with -y (credible/credibly).
- Most adjectives ending with -ic turn into -ally adverbs (tragic/tragically).
Some adjectives do not change their spelling as adverbs (e.g., fast, hard, straight, etc.).
Adverbs of frequency
Adverbs of frequency explain how often an action occurs through definite or indefinite terms. Adverbs of indefinite frequency express a vague rate of occurrence, while adverbs of definite frequency are more specific.
|Indefinite frequency||Definite frequency|
Adverbs of reason
An adverb of reason expresses the logic behind the action through single adverbs or adverbial phrases.
Common adverbs of reason:
Adverbs of affirmation and negation
Adverbs of affirmation and negation express an agreement or disagreement over the truth of a statement.
|Adverbs of affirmation||Adverbs of negation|
By all means
Not at all
Adverbs of degree
Adverbs of degree or “degree adverbs” express the intensity of a verb, adjective, or adverb to a negative or positive degree. The most common degree adverb is “very,” which should remind us how degree adverbs are non-gradable.
Common degree adverbs:
Evaluative adverbs or “commenting adverbs” express an opinion or comment about information in the clause (often with a degree of certainty, attitude, or judgment).
|Degree of certainty||Degree of attitude||Degree of judgment|
Viewpoint adverbs and adverbials (phrases that function as adverbs) express an author or speaker’s point of view at the beginning or end of a sentence.
|Viewpoint adverbs||Viewpoint adverbials|
As far as…
In one’s opinion…
In one’s view…
To be frank…
To be honest…
To one’s knowledge…
From one’s perspective…
From one’s point of view…
Linking adverbs or “conjunctive adverbs” connect two sentences or clauses to express contrast, cause and effect, sequence of events, and more.
|To express:||Use these linking adverbs:|
|Addition||Additionally, also, besides, but still, furthermore, moreover, still.|
|Cause and effect||Accordingly, consequently, therefore, thus.|
|Clarification||For example, for instance, in fact, namely, i.e., notably.|
|Comparison||Alternatively, likewise, similarly, than.|
|Contrast||Conversely, despite the fact that, if not, instead, however, nevertheless, otherwise, or.|
|Emphasis||Certainly, definitely, hence, indeed, naturally, of course.|
|Sequence of events||Afterward, at last, before long, eventually, finally, firstly, immediately, next, later, meanwhile, secondly, then, to begin.|
Much like adverbs of manner, focusing adverbs emphasize the manner of an action. But instead of expressing the degree of qualities, properties, states, etc., focusing adverbs draw attention to a particular action.
More focusing adverbs:
Especially, even, generally, just, largely, mainly, only, simply, particularly.
How to use adverbs in a sentence?
The sentence placement of adverbs depends on the type of word they modify. Here are a few general rules:
#1. Use adverbs before adjectives and other adverbs
Adverbs precede the adjectives or adverbs they modify.
- “We are experiencing particularly hot weather this year.”
- “Our parents renovated their home fairly recently.”
#2. Use adverbs after the verbs they modify
Adverbs come after auxiliary verbs (e.g., be, have, may, must, etc.) and verbs they modify.
- “We are too busy.”
- “I am quickly learning that Hemmingway was a fascinating writer.”
- “I’m writing too quickly.”
- “The baby smiled sweetly.”
- “She’s going to be very upset about this.”
#3. Use focusing adverbs before verbs
Focusing verbs appear before verbs to emphasize the manner of an action.
- “He only wrote one check.”
- “She always loved to dance.”
- “We simply walked to the park.”
- “I certainly wanted to come, but I had to work.”
#4. Use evaluative, viewpoint, and linking adverbs outside the clause
Evaluative, viewpoint, and linking adverbs appear outside of a sentence clause to modify a whole clause or sentence.
To use an evaluative adverb, make sure it appears before the main verb and is separated by commas.
- “The assignment, surprisingly, does not include instructions.”
- “The film will, undoubtedly, win two awards.”
Viewpoint adverbs occur before or after the sentence.
- “Actually, the instructions are on a separate document.”
- “Personally, I’m surprised the film was nominated for any award.”
Linking adverbs like “however” or “likewise” connect two sentences, while adverbs like “but” connect two clauses.
- “Boston held its mayoral election in November 2020. However, the results have remained unpopular.”
- “Boston held its mayoral election in November 2020, but the results have remained unpopular.”
Adjectives vs. adverbs: comparative and superlative forms
Positive adverbs and adjectives can take comparative and superlative forms. The main difference is that adjectives compare nouns, while adverbs compare actions or states.
Comparative and superlative forms of adjectives
- Comparative adjectives are words that compare two nouns they modify in a sentence (e.g., taller, prettier, smarter, faster, etc.).
- Superlative adjectives describe nouns of the utmost quality and compare them against a group of objects (e.g., tallest, prettiest, smartest, fastest, etc.)
Creating comparative and superlative adjectives depends on an adjective’s syllables.
For adjectives with one syllable, add -er for the comparative and -est for the superlative.
Adjectives with two syllables acquire -er/-ier endings or use “more” for the comparative form (adjectives ending with -y use the -ier form). To use in the superlative, add -est/-iest or precede the adjective with “most.”
|Thoughtful||More thoughtful||Most thoughtful|
Three or more syllables
For adjectives with three or syllables, add “more” for the comparative and “most” for the superlative.
|Athletic||More athletic||Most athletic|
|Beautiful||More beautiful||Most beautiful|
|Creative||More creative||Most creative|
|Superficial||More superficial||Most superficial|
Irregular comparative and superlative adjectives
The following adjectives have irregular comparative and superlative forms.
Beware of incomparable adjectives
Not all adjectives can take on a comparative and superlative form. Examples include: absolute, complete, entire, fatal, favorite, ideal, impossible, perfect, pregnant, principal, stationary, unique, utmost, void, whole, worthless.
Comparative and superlative forms of adverbs
- Adverbs of the comparative form compare two actions or states (e.g., harder, more loudly, more quickly, etc.)
- Adverbs of the superlative form compare one action or state with all others in a similar category (e.g., hardest, most loudly, most quickly, etc.).
Forming comparative and superlative adverbs is similar to that of adjectives, except adverb forms don’t depend on syllable count. Instead, their comparative and superlative forms depend on the positive adverb’s ending.
Adverbs ending with -ly adopt “more” for the comparative form and “most” for the superlative.
|Courteously||More courteously||Most courteously|
|Happily||More happily||Most happily|
|Seriously||More serious||Most serious|
|Slowly||More slowly||Most slowly|
Non -ly adverbs
Adverbs without an -ly ending adopt -er for the comparative form and -est for the superlative. As you might expect, these adverbs always share the same comparative and superlative forms with their adjective counterparts.
Irregular comparative and superlative adverbs
The following adverbs have irregular comparative and superlative forms.
Adjectives vs. adverbs: Common grammatical errors
Some of the most common grammatical errors with adverbs and adjectives involve linking verbs (words that connect sentence subjects with additional information). Some linking verbs solely function for this purpose, while others are “action-verb hybrids.”
“Sole” linking verbs:
Three common mistakes
The three most common adverb/adjective mistakes we see are:
Bad or badly?
“Bad” is an adjective we often use after linking verbs like be, feel, seem, etc. For example,
- “I feel bad.”
- “We look bad.”
Otherwise, the adjective “bad” must appear before the noun or pronoun it modifies. For example,
- “You did a bad job.”
- “I’m having a bad hair day.”
“Badly” is an adverb, so it modifies adjectives, action verbs, phrases, or other adverbs. For example,
- “The movie performed badly.”
- “The car arrived badly beat up.”
Good or well?
“Good” is an adjective we can use after linking verbs. For example,
- “I feel good.”
- “She smells good.”
Unless “well” is an adjective that means “healthy,” it’s an adverb that means “expertly.”
- “You look well.” (adjective)
- “My friend sings well.” (adverb)
Near or nearly?
The word “near” can function as a verb, adjective, preposition, or adverb to mean “close to” or “nearby.” For example,
- “It’s drawing near the end.” (preposition)
- “I see it in the near distance.” (adjective)
- “We should be nearing our destination.” (verb)
- “I saw the park somewhere near.” (adverb)
We use “nearly” as an adverb to mean “almost” or “closely.” For example,
- “I was nearly there.”
- “Is there anyone more nearly related?”
Looking to learn more?
For more information on commonly confused adverbs and adjectives, we recommend reading the following lessons:
- Affective vs. effective?
- Apart vs. a part?
- Drank vs. drunk?
- Fair vs. faire?
- Nauseous vs. nauseated?
- Literally vs. figuratively?
- Someday vs. some day?
Additional related content:
Otherwise, you can find more English grammar lessons on topics covering punctuation mistakes, misspellings, and other writing issues at The Word Counter.
Test how well you understand the difference between adjectives and adverbs with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false?: All adverbs end with -ly.
- Adjectives modify __________.
d. All of the above
- In terms of order, an adjective of quality, value or opinion appears before ___________.
a. An adjective of number
b. An adjective of quantity
c. An adjective of age
d. Demonstrative adjectives
- Which word or phrase expresses the comparative or superlative degrees?
a. More adorable
d. All of the above
- Which of the following expresses the comparative degree?
a. “Quick runner”
b. “Quicker runner”
c. “Quickest runner”
d. “Quickiest runner”
- Which of the following sentences does not follow the common order of adjectives?
a. “I have a bratty little sister.”
b. “We have the largest, cutest baby kitten.”
c. “I can’t wait to see my hilarious, dorky brother.”
d. All of the above
- Which of the following examples illustrates the correct adjective-to-adverb form?
a. Clear → Clearly
b. Bad → Badly
c. Near → Nearly
d. All of the above
- Which of the following sentences uses an adverb of affirmation?
a. “We absolutely need further information.”
b. “He scarcely needs extra information.”
c. “They rarely provided extra detail.”
d. “I never asked for explanatory information.”
- Which statement contains a relative adverb?
a. “She was a responsible girl yesterday.”
b. “I feel happy today.”
c. “We will hear the beautiful singer later.”
d. “There will be a lot of confusion tomorrow.”
- “Adjectives.” Southeastern Writing Center, Southeastern University, July 2011.
- “Adjectives.” The Writing Center, The University of Arizona Global Campus, n.d.
- “Adjectives and adverbs.” NMU Writing Center, Northern Michigan University, 2021.
- “Adverbs: types.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2021.
- “Comparative and superlative adverbs.” Resources for Learning English, EF Education First, 2021.
- “The comparative and the superlative.” Resources for Learning English, EF Education First, 2021.
- “Using conjunctive adverbs.” The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2021.
- “Viewpoint and commenting adverbs.” Resources for learning English, Education First, 2021.
- “What Are Comparative And Superlative Adverbs?” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.