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Dr. Karen Palmer

Adverbs vs Adjectives

Many students get confused when it comes to adjectives and adverbs. Since many adverbs and adjectives are almost identical—with slight changes in spelling (usually adverbs are formed by adding –ly to the adjective)—it’s no wonder students get confused! A few adverbs and adjectives even have the same spelling (like best, fast, late, straight, low, and daily)!

Adjectives Adverbs
bad badly
beautiful beautifully
quick quickly
quiet quietly
slow slowly
soft softly
sudden suddenly

You likely already use adjectives and adverbs correctly, but the best way to make sure you are using adjectives and adverbs correctly is to understand how they are used.

Adjectives Modify Nouns and Pronouns

Adjectives can be identified by knowing what job they accomplish in a sentence. Adjectives modify or describe nouns and pronouns. They answer the questions what kind? how many? and which one? If you find all the nouns and pronouns in a sentence and ask these questions of those nouns and pronouns, you’ll find the adjectives! While you might not think of them as such, the articles a, an, and the are also adjectives.

In the following sentences, the adjectives are in bold font and the nouns and pronouns are in italic font.

1. It takes crazy people to go to a cave at 4:00 a.m. to wait for the bats to leave!

Adjective questions: What kind of people? Crazy ones. Which cave? A cave. Which bats? The bats. Remember, a, an, and the are article adjectives!

2. A few bats seemed to circle above as the rest flew off.

Adjective Questions: How many bats? Few. Which few? A few. Which rest? The rest.

3. That one almost got in my hair.

Adjective questions: Which one? That one. Which hair? My hair. Note that “my” is a possessive pronoun, which can also be used as an adjective.

Adverbs Modify Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs

Many adverbs end in -ly, but certainly not all them. This is why it’s important to understand how to identify an adverb in a sentence. Once you’ve identified adverbs, you can make sure you are using them correctly.

Adverbs modify (or describe) verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Hint: You can remember what adverbs are used for is to note the “verb” in the adverb.  To identify an adverb in a sentence, you can ask the adverb questions about the verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in the sentence: when, how, why, where, under what condition, to what degree, how often, and how much.

In the following sentences, the adverbs are in bold font and the verbs and adjectives they modify are in italic font. Note that the adverb questions are asked of verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

1. About a quarter million bats leave Carlsbad Caverns nightly.

Adverb question: When do they leave? Nightly. Nightly is an adverb.

2. The bats flew above our heads.

Adverb question: Where did they fly? Above–above is an adverb.

3. The bats are incredibly dense.

Adverb question: To what degree are they dense? Incredibly–this is an adverb.

4. Each little bat can change directions amazingly fast!

How do they change directions? Fast–fast is an adverb.

AND To what degree do they change directions fast? Amazingly–amazingly is the adverb.

Using Comparatives and Superlatives

Most adjectives and adverbs have three levels of intensity. The lowest level is the base, or positive, level, such as tall. The second level is the comparative level (taller), and the top level is the superlative level (tallest). You use the base, or positive, level when you are talking about only one thing. You use the comparative level when you are comparing two things. The superlative level allows you to compare three or more things.

With short adjectives, the comparative and superlative are typically formed by adding –er and –est, respectively. If an adjective has three or more syllables, use the words more or less (comparative) and most or least (superlative) in front of the adjectives instead of adding suffixes. When you are unsure whether to add the suffix or a word, look up the word.

Sample Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Formed with –er and –est
big bigger biggest
old older oldest
wise wiser wisest
Formed by Using More or Less and Most or Least
ambitious more ambitious least ambitious
generous less generous least generous
simplistic more simplistic most simplistic

In this table, the first column contains the adjective, the second is the comparative, and the third is the superlative.

With adverbs, only a few of the shorter words form superlatives by adding the –er or –est suffixes. Rather, most of them use the addition of more or less and most or least.

Sample Comparative and Superlative Adverbs

Formed with –er and –est
early earlier earliest
fast faster fastest
late later latest
Formed by Using More or Less and Most or Least
happily more happily most happily
neatly more neatly most neatly
quickly more quickly most quickly

Some adjectives and adverbs form superlatives in irregular patterns instead of using the –er or –est suffixes or adding more or less and most or least.

Sample Adjectives That Form Superlatives Using Irregular Patterns

good better best
bad worse worst
far farther farthest
many more most

Sample Adverbs That Form Superlatives Using Irregular Patterns

badly worse worst
little less least
much more most
well better best

Avoiding Double Negatives

One negative word changes the meaning of a sentence to mean the opposite of what the sentence would mean without the negative word. Two negative words, on the other hand, cancel each other out, resulting in a double negative that returns the sentence to its original meaning. Because of the potential for confusion, double negatives are discouraged.

Example of a sentence with one negative word: I have never been to Crater Lake National Park.

Meaning: Crater Lake is a place I have not visited.

Example of a sentence with two negative words: I have not never been to Crater Lake National Park.

Meaning: I have been to Crater Lake National Park.

Using Good and Well and Bad and Badly Correctly

Two sets of adverbs and adjectives that are often used erroneously are good and well and bad and badly. The problem people usually have with these two words is that the adverb forms (well and badly) are often used in place of the adjective forms (good and bad) or vice versa. In addition, well can be used as an adjective meaning “healthy.” The following chart is a helpful way to remember when to use which word.

Situations Correct Examples Explanation
The word well is typically used as an adverb. I wasn’t feeling very well on the day we first drove through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The words very and well are both adverbs. The word very modifies well, and well modifies feeling.
Sometimes forms of the verbs feel, be, and look can be used to describe a person’s health. In such cases, the word well can serve as an adjective that means “healthy” and refers back to the noun. Watching buffalo roam always makes me feel strong and well. The word well is used as an adjective just like strong. Both words modify me. The four sentences with well refer to physical health.
I am well.
I feel well.
I’m feeling well.
The buffaloes looked well.
I am good. The four sentences with good refer to emotional state but not physical health.
I feel good.
I’m feeling good.
The buffalo looked good with the cliffs behind them.
The word good is an adjective. It is never used as an adverb. A trip through Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a good chance to see herds of buffalo in their natural state. The word good is an adjective modifying chance.
People often make statements such as “I run real good.” In reality, “real good” is never a really good combination of words! I run really well. In the first sentence, the word really is an adverb modifying another adverb. Since adjectives modify neither adverbs nor adjectives, you cannot use the combination real well or real good.
My running is a really good example of my ability to dedicate myself to an activity. In the second sentence, really is an adverb modifying good, which is an adjective that is modifying example.
The word bad is an adjective. That’s a bad picture of me with the buffalo since I look like I am afraid for my life. The adjective bad modifies the noun picture.
Sometimes a sentence seems like it should take the adverb badly when it actually needs the adjective bad. The linking verbs be, feel, look, and sound can all be followed by the adjective bad. I am bad when it comes to being on time. Each of these sentences uses bad correctly since their verbs are linking verbs.
I felt bad about missing the first herd of buffalo.
The land looks bad, but the buffalo seem to be able to find food.
Buffalo might sound bad, but they are really calm animals.
The word badly is an adverb. I chose badly when I walked between a mother buffalo and her baby. The adverb badly modifies the verb chose. The adverb badly usually answers the question how?, as it does in this case—How did I choose? (badly)

Exercise 1

1. Use each of the following words in a sentence and identify the usage as adjective or adverb:

  • beautiful
  • quietly
  • low
  • luckily
  • sweetly
  • better
  • finest
  • never
  • good
  • well
  • bad
  • badly

Exercise 2

1. Take this quiz online to see if you can correctly identify adjectives and adverbs.

2. Edit the following paragraph by correcting the errors in comparative and superlative adjectives. Then check your work by submitting to Grammarly.

Our argument started on the most sunny afternoon that I have ever experienced. Max and I were sitting on my front stoop when I started it. I told him that my dog, Jacko, was more smart than his dog, Merlin. I could not help myself. Merlin never came when he was called, and he chased his tail and barked at rocks. I told Max that Merlin was the most dumbest dog on the block. I guess I was angrier about a bad grade that I received, so I decided to pick on poor little Merlin. Even though Max insulted Jacko too, I felt I had been more mean. The next day I apologized to Max and brought Merlin some of Jacko’s treats. When Merlin placed his paw on my knee and licked my hand, I was the most sorry person on the block.

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Checking Adjectives and Adverbs Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Karen Palmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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