Adjectives and Adverbs: A Guide to Usage

Adjectives and adverbs are parts of speech and are used to provide additional information about other words. Adjectives and adverbs are also known as content words because they provide important information in sentences. Sometimes students are not sure when to use an adverb or an adjective. This short guide provides an overview and rules for using both adjectives and adverbs.

Adjectives modify nouns and can be used a few different ways in a sentence. In their simplest form, they are placed directly before a noun:

Tom is an excellent singer.
I bought a comfortable chair.
She’s thinking about buying a new house.

Adjectives are also used in simple sentences with the verb “to be”. In this case, the adjective describes the subject of the sentence:

Jack is happy.
Peter was very tired.
Mary’ll be excited when you tell her.

Adjectives are used with sense verbs or verbs of appearance (feel, taste, smell, sound, appear and seem) to modify the noun which comes before the verb:

The fish tasted awful.
Did you see Peter? He seemed very upset.
I’m afraid the meat smelled rotten.

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They are easily recognized because they end in “ly.” They are often used at the end of a sentence to modify the verb:

Jack drove carelessly.
Tom played the match effortlessly.
Jason complained about his classes constantly.

Adverbs are used to modify adjectives:

They seemed extremely satisfied.
She paid increasingly high prices.

Adverbs are also used to modify other adverbs:

The people in the line moved incredibly quickly.
She wrote the report unusually neatly.

Confusing Adjectives and Adverbs
As you may have noticed, adverbs often end in “ly”. In fact, you can often change an adjective into an adverb by simply adding “ly.” (For example: slow/slowly, careful/carefully, patient/patiently.) However, there are a number of adjectives that also end in “ly,” which can be confusing. For example:

It was a chilly afternoon in the country.
Alice has curly red hair.
There are many friendly people in Portland.
What a lovely surprise to see you again!

Adjectives and Adverbs With the Same Form
There are a number of adjectives and adverbs that have the same form, which can confuse non-native English speakers. The two most common are “hard” and “fast.” Other words that can function as both adverbs and adjectives include “easy,” “fair,” and “just.”

Adjective: She had a hard time at school.
Adverb: She works very hard at her job.
Adjective: He said it was an easy test.
Adverb: Please take it easy and relax.
Adjective: He is a just man.
Adverb: I just missed the bus.