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Adjectives and Adverbs Study Guide

Use this online Ajectives and Adverbs study guide for elementary, middle school, high school and college students and teachers to learn and understand about what adjectives and adverbs are, and how to use them correctly in English Grammar.


Adjectives and Adverbs


Recognition of Adjectives and Adverbs | The Articles | Functions of Adjectives and Adverbs | Comparison of Adjectives and Adverbs | Confusion of Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives and adverbs identify the distinctive feature of something: the fastness of the horse in the fast horse, the fastness of the driving in He drove fast, the dishonor of the conduct in dishonorable conduct, the dishonor of the behavior in He behaved dishonorably.

Recognition of Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjective and adverbs can be distinguished from each other by their form and their position in the sentence. Her are some ways of distinguishing these words.

If a word fits one or both of the following blank positions, it is an adjective, not an adverb:

          He was very . . . It was very . . .

          He was very cowardly. It was very swampy.

Some adjective, of course, do not fit these blanks because they should not be used with the intensifier very. (he was very unique~*~~ is incorrect. Since unique means one of a kind, there are no real degrees of being unique.) More important, however, is that other noun modifiers do not go in these blanks; therefore, this is a useful way to distinguish adjective from other noun modifiers.

          Because she was a city dweller, she was very city~*~~ [City can be a noun modifier, but is not an adjective.]

          Because he was a jolly green giant, he was green and jolly. [Green and jolly are adjectives.]

Adjective and adverbs can sometimes be distinguished by form. Some of the several forms are listed below, including the most important one, which is the most adverbs and adjectives plus -ly. (In a few cases, both the adjective and the adverb end in -ly: cowardly, hourly.)

                        ADJECTIVE        ADVERB
theory (noun)    theoretical         theoretically
differ (verb)       different            differently
honor (noun)     honorable          honorably

The Articles

The most used adjectivals are the articles a, an, and the. A and an are called indefinite articles because they single out any one unspecified member of a class. The is called a definite article because it specifies a particular member or a particular group of members of a class.

A is used when it immediately precedes a word being with a consonant sound: a book, a tree. An is used when it immediately precedes a word being with a vowel sounds, an apple, an ancient city.

Functions of Adjectives and Adverbs

Although adjectives and adverbs can perform the same functions as verb complements and modifiers, their functions are usually quite distinct.

Note: The sound, not the actual letter, determines the form of the indefinite article: a university, an R.C.A. television set, and an 8-sided object.

Adjectives modify a noun or function as the complements of copulative verbs such as: be, seem, feel.

          The old man, tired and surly, waited for the return of his children. [Old, tired, and surly modify the noun man.]

Adverbs modify verbs and other modifiers.

          he spoke to her quietly. [modifies the verb spoke]

Comparison of Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives and adverbs have positive, comparative, and superlative forms. The positive form is the basic word: small, beautiful, lush, loudly.

For adjectives of one syllable, the comparative is usually formed by adding -er to the positive form: small, smaller, smallest; lush, lusher, lushest.

For most adjectives of more than one syllable and for most adverbs, the comparative and superlative are formed by combining more and most with the positive form: beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful, loudly, more loudly, most loudly.

Some adjectives and adverbs do not follow these rules.

bad                worse                    worst
ill                   worse                    worst
good              better                    best
well                better                    best

The comparative form indicates a comparison of two things or two groupings of things. Usually the two things or groupings of things are mentioned explicitly in the sentence, but this is not always so.

          She ran faster than her mother.

          After that restful night, he was more relaxed when we came to see him.

The superlative form is used when more than two things are compared.

          She was the fastest reader in her family.

          She shouted the most loudly of them all. [Some writers prefer to express the adverbial by means of an adjective form: She shouted the loudest of    them all.]

Confusion of Adjectives and Adverbs

Some words like fast, slow, very, late function as either adjectives or adverbs.

          ADJECTIVE  It was a fast train. [modifies noun train]
          ADJECTIVE  The clock was fast. [complements verb was]
          ADVERB The horse ran fast. [modifies verb ran]

When an adjective follows a copulative verb (like is, feel, look, seem, become, smell), it complements the verb and is known as a predicate adjective.

          The water is (seems, feels, looks, is getting, is becoming) hot.

          I feel (look, am) fine, ill, sick, good, bad.

          You look beautiful [not beautifully]


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