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Adverb vs Adjective: What’s the Difference?

What words would you use to describe your surroundings right now? Would you use an adverb or adjective?

Perhaps you’re in a large bedroom, or a beautifully designed library. When you think about describing your surroundings, a specific adverb or adjective will probably come to mind. This is because using an adverb or adjective in your speaking or writing enables you to describe things clearly.

But when do you use an adverb vs adjective, and how are the two different? And what are adjectives and adverbs, anyway? Let’s look at how an adjective and adverb are similar and how to tell them apart. Before you begin, learn about APA format and more styles of making citations for your next writing assignment!

What are Adjectives and Adverbs?

What is the difference between an adjective and an adverb? To answer this question, it’s important to first answer, “What are adjectives and adverbs?” The former describes a noun, while the latter describes a verb. But what exactly does that mean? Well, noun-describing words give your audience more information about a person, place, or thing.

For example, take an average sentence like:

  • That is an energy drink.

Would you use an adverb or adjective to spice up that sentence? If you use adjectives, it becomes:

  • That is a tasty and refreshing energy drink.

As you can tell, your choice of language can give more meaning to the noun you’re describing.

  • The building next door.

Vs.

  • The stunning and extravagant building next door.

Notice that the second sentence uses an adjective vs adverb. Basically, you’re able to add more detail and description with noun modifying words.

There are also verb-describing words to choose from when pondering, “Should I use an adverb or adjective?” These words explain how an action is done, or describe a state of being. Without them, you’ll have a standard and rather plain sentence. One example is:

  • Stephanie won her doubles tennis match.

With verb modifying words however, you’re able to provide additional information. Compare the example above with the sentences:

  • Stephanie single-handedly won her doubles tennis match.
  • Stephanie narrowly won her doubles tennis match.

The addition of one word in both sentences dramatically changes the actions being described in both sentences. That’s why, for clarity’s sake, it’s great to use an adjective and adverb whenever it’s appropriate.

Now that you understand a bit more about these descriptive words, get more info about the differences by following the link.

So, How Are They Different Exactly?

Now that you have your answer to the question, “What is the difference between an adjective and an adverb?” you may want to know how the two are different.

Even though you know a bit more about descriptive words, it doesn’t mean it’s any easier to tell if a word is an adverb or adjective. So, what is the difference between an adjective vs adverb? Well, you can learn certain rules around the differences between adjectives and adverbs, as long as you know what are adjectives and adverbs. These rules will help you properly use both types of descriptive words without getting mixed up.

Rule #1 for Using an Adjective or Adverb Properly: Look at the Ending of a Descriptive Word

What is the difference between an adjective and an adverb? An adverb and adjective are both descriptive words. However, words that describe verbs often end with -ly. A few examples include awkwardly, carefully, gracefully, and quietly. Therefore, if you see that a describing word ends in -ly, then it’s probably modifying a verb.

However, there are always exceptions to the rules. Some words blur the lines by causing an adverb and adjective to look alike. Here are a few words that look like verb modifying verbs, but actually modify nouns:

Brotherly Costly Cowardly Deadly Gentlewomanly
Friendly Elderly Ghostly Heavenly Lively
Lonely Motherly Timely Ugly Saintly

 

Likewise, there are also noun modifying words that don’t end in -ly and can easily be confused with verb modifiers. Here are a few:

Clear Deep Fast Fine
Hard Quick Straight

Adjectives and Adverbs Rule #2: Determine the Context

What are you trying to describe? Knowing this will help you choose an adjective and adverb. If you’re describing a person, place, or thing, then you use noun-modifying words. However, if you’re explaining an action, you use a different set of words. Additionally, if something tells you how, when, or where something took place, you need verb-modifying words. The context will help you choose an adverb and adjective. For instance:

  • She rides crazily on her bike.

In this sentence, crazily explains the action someone takes while riding. Yet, when you’re talking about what you have or how many things you have, then you use noun-modifying words. For example:

  • He rides an old, dusty bike.

You should be able to identify which word works correctly by identifying what’s happening in a sentence. As you can see, both an adverb and adjective work, so it’s up to your creative choice.

Adjective and Adverbs Rule #3: There Are a Few Words That Are Easy to Mix Up

Good and Well

These two words work as an adverb and adjective. When it comes to the words good and well, you might face uncertainty when deciding which one is right in a sentence. Good modifies nouns. Thus, you can feel good, but you cannot do something good.

Instead, to describe actions, you use the word well. For example:

  • I did well on the test.
  • You chose well.

When it comes to the word well, you should connect it to a verb, like you would in the sentence, “He sings well.”

Bad and Badly

How do you decide whether to use the adverb or adjective bad or badly? That’s a great question! Here’s how to guarantee that you don’t mix up the two.

You should match state-of-being words like feel, sound, taste, and appear with noun modifying words. For example:

  • Correct: You look bad.
  • Incorrect: You look badly.

What you’re actually suggesting by telling someone, “You look badly” is that they cannot see very well, when in fact, you probably mean that someone does not look their best. It’s easy to confuse words like bad and badly, or poor and poorly, but it’s not too difficult to get it right once you learn some simple grammar rules.

Next, you’re going to learn answers to common questions about adjectives and adverbs. Before you do, get ready to turn in your next homework assignment by reviewing this plagiarism check. Need help proactively creating citations for your sources? Try Citation Machine’s tools for MLA format!

Which Kind of Clause Modifies Adjectives, Verbs, or an Adverb?

This is one common English question that’s particularly popular in school. To modify an adverb or adjective, use an adverbial clause. An adverbial clause contains a predicate and a subject which all work as a group of verb modifying words. Use this useful link to learn more.

What Are Adjective and Adverb Phrases?

Adjective and adverb phrases belong to their own groups. Both types of phrases are groups of words which act to modify nouns and verbs respectively. Instead of being only a single word, a phrase is made up of two or more words that modify another word. So, what’s an example of an adverbs and adjectives phrase? Try to determine which of the following phrases can modify verbs, and which can modify nouns.

Adjective vs Adverb Phrases: Can you tell which is which?

  • I did my homework as slowly as possible.
  • I’m going to the park in two hours.
  • My neighbors always blast painfully bad music.
  • Meet me at the store, okay?
  • We ate our food in silence.

Helpful Hints

Slowly describes how you did your homework, meaning it’s an adverb. This is a handy way to look at adjective and adverb phrases.

  • Does two modify the noun hours? Or does it describe when you’re going to the park?

Painfully ends in an -ly and describes bad, the adjective describing the noun music. What type of word is painfully?

So, is it an adjective or adverb? Cross-check your adjective vs adverb answers with a friend or teacher to see if you’re right!

Adjective and Adverbs: What About Comparison Words?

Adjectives and adverbs can be used to show comparison. Whether you’re using adverbs or adjectives, they’ll need to be altered. What does that mean? You’ve seen it before. Let’s look at examples of both adjectives and adverbs. Here’s an example for adjectives:

  • Michael is strong.
  • Michael is stronger than his brother.
  • Of the whole family, Michael is the strongest.

Now, let’s look at an example for adverbs:

  • Amanda is singing loudly.
  • Amanda is singing more loudly than Brianna.
  • Amanda is singing the most loudly in the choir.

So, whether it’s an adjective or adverb, they change depending on the degree. Comparison words signify different degrees. In their normal form, these are called positive. When they compare two subjects, they’re called comparative. And when they compare 3 or more subjects, they’re called superlative.

Did you notice a pattern in the examples above? If so, great job! The pattern is that in the comparative, Michael is compared to his brother and Amanda is compared to Brianna. In the superlative, Michael is compared to his whole family and Amanda is compared to the whole choir.

The takeaway is that you should only use the comparative if you are comparing two things and the superlative if you are comparing 3 or more things. This is a common mistake, but by learning how to use degrees, you’re already a cut above the rest.

Simple Examples of Adjectives and Adverbs

By now, you understand the key differences between adverbs and adjectives.

In short, adjectives describe nouns (people, places, or things) and adverbs modify verbs giving context as to how, where, when, and to what extent (meaning how much or how often) something happens. 

Let’s make it simple using some examples of an adverb vs adjective:

  • She danced beautifully. Her dancing was beautiful.
  • The dog licked his bowl hungrily. The dog was hungry.
  • She drove carefully. She is a careful driver.
  •  He studies well. He is a good student.

In the adverb vs adjective examples above, it’s clear which words are modifying verbs (those ending in -ly and well), and which are modifying nouns (adverb vs adjective).

Now let’s look at some simple examples of an adverb modifying an adjective. Each sentence has an adjective and adverb. Is the bold word an adverb or adjective?

  • Your dad seems extremely pleased with himself.
  • The door is fully open.
  • The fish tank is too full of water.
  • We’re going to the mysteriously abandoned barn.

In this case, the italicized word is an adjective vs adverb.

Now that you understand the difference between adverb vs adjective, try to notice them while reading. Put the screen away and try to answer the question, “What are adjectives and adverbs?” Also ask yourself or a friend, “What is the difference between an adjective and an adverb, and which kind of clause modifies adjectives verbs, or adverbs?” You may find it’s easier than it was before reading this!


Published March 6, 2019. Updated June 15, 2020.

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