Adjectives and Adverbs – Meaning and Usage

The English language is filled with buzzwords like verb, noun, adjective, syllable. You might be asking yourself ‘What does adjective mean?’ or ‘What is an adverb?’ Why do they matter?

Adjectives and adverbs are words used to describe things. Adjectives describe nouns and / or  pronouns and adverbs describe verbs, adjectives or other adverbs.

Adjectives and adverbs walk alike and they talk alike, but they aren’t really alike – or are they?

Both adverbs and adjectives are considered to be modifiers – meaning that they are words that are used to describe other words. For example,

Adjective: The quick rabbit jumped.
Adverb: The rabbit jumped quickly.

Bingo! Adverbs end in –ly and adjectives don’t. Making them easier to tell apart. Right? Not exactly. Some adverbs end in –ly, but others don’t. Additionally, some adjectives also end in –ly, lovely and friendly, for example. Unfortunately, the existence of an –ly won’t help you to tell the two apart. Instead, in order to differentiate and adjective from and adverb, you need to understand how both work.

  • Adjectives describe nouns or pronouns
  • Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives or other adverbs.

The only way to truly determine whether you should use an adjective or an adverb is to pay attention to how the word functions in the sentence. If there is a noun or a pronoun that is being described, you should use an adjective. If there is a verb, and adjective or another adverb that is being described, you should use an adverb. Here are some examples that may help:

  • She is a skillful painter (the adjective skillful is used to describe the noun)
  • She painted skillfully (the adverb skillfully is used to describe the verb painted)

There are a few rules and guidelines to follow we will take a closer look at them in the following section.

Adjectives and Adverbs – What’s the Difference

An adjective is a describing word (or set of words) that modify or describe a noun or a pronoun. Adjectives typically come before the noun or pronoun that they modify.

Here are some example:

  • That is an adorable kitten.
  • She likes a professional hockey player.

Adjectives might also, in some situations, come after the word they modify.

Here are some examples:

  • That kitten looks adorable.
  • The car is next-generation.

An adverb, on the other hand, is a describing word that modified a verb, adjective or another adverb. Adverbs serve the purpose of answering the how, when, where, why or to what extend (how often or how much) questions.

Here are a few examples:

  • She speaks quickly
  • She speaks very quickly.
  • He arrived yesterday.
  • He will arrive tomorrow night.
  • Let’s go to the mall.
  • We looked in the closet.
  • Sally went home to avoid getting in trouble.
  • Kim works out steadfastly.
  • Kim works out whenever possible.

There are a few guidelines and rules that you should observe when using adverbs and adjectives.

Rule # 1: There are lots of adverbs that end in –ly, but there are also lots that don’t.

Typically, if a word can have –ly added to its adjective form, adding it will form an adverb.


  • He reacts quick / quickly
  • She answers quick / quickly
  • He performed bad / badly

Rule # 2: Adverbs that respond to the question how occasionally cause grammatical issues.

It might be challenging to decide if –ly should be included. Avoid adding ‘ly with linking verbs like taste, smell, look, feel. Adverbs are often out of place in these sentences, use adjectives instead.


Flowers smell sweet / sweetly.
Do flowers actually use noses to smell? Of course not. Since smell is a linking verb, it requires an adjective to modify flowers – therefore, there is no –ly.

The man looked sick / sickly to us.
Did the man look with his own eyes? No, his appearance being described (he appears to be sick) – so no –ly.

She feels horrible / horribly about the accident.
She is not physically feeling the accident with her fingers, so no –ly.

Rule # 3:  Good is an adjective, its adverb equivalent is well.


  • She did a good job (good is used to describe the job)
  • She did the job well (well is used to answer how she did the job)
  • You smell good
  • You smell well given that you have a cold.

Rule # 4: Well can also be an adjective.

Whenever we are referring to health, use well instead of good.


  • I do not feel well.
  • He is well.
  • Are you well?

Rule # 5: Adjectives come in three forms.

An adjective in its typical form is called a positive degree adjective. There are also superlative and comparative adjectives, which are used for comparison.


  • sweet – sweet – sweetest
  • bad – worse – worst

A common mistake when using adverbs and adjectives comes from using the incorrect form of comparison. In order to compare two things, always choose the comparative adjective.


  • She is the smarter of the two. (she is not the smartest of the two)

Smartest is the superlative form of smart, superlatives are only used with comparing three or more nouns or pronouns.

Rule # 6: There are also three forms of adverbs.

In formal language, do not drop the –ly from an adverb when using comparative forms.


  • she read more quickly than he did.
  • Talk more quietly.

Rule # 7: Whenever words like this, that, these and those are followed by a noun, they are adjectives.

Whenever they appear without being following by a noun they are pronouns.


  • This car is for sale (This is an adjective)
  • This is sold (pronoun)

Are you ready to test you skills? Here are a few quizzes.

  1. Parts of speech – Adjective Quiz
  2. Adjective Trivia
  3. Adjective Order Quiz
  4. Adverb Awareness Quiz
  5. Adverb Practice Quiz
  6. Identifying Adverbs
  7. Easy Adverb Quiz
  8. Adverbs Describing Verbs Practice Test
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What is an Adjective?

The simplest way to define an adjective is to think of it as a word (or a group of words) that are used to describe or clarify a noun or a pronoun. Adjectives describe (or modify) nouns and pronouns by providing additional information about the size, shape, age, color, or origin of the object.

What does an adjective look like? English is a tricky language, and much of the time the rules are open for interpretation. Most often, English adjectives will end with the following suffixes:

  • – able
  • – ible
  • – an
  • – al
  • – ent
  • – ar
  • – ful
  • – ic
  • – ical
  • – ine
  • – ile
  • – ive
  • – less
  • – ous
  • – some

there are also adjectives that end in –y, – ary, – ate, -ed and even – ing. Nouns and adverbs can end with – y, many nouns also end in –ary, nouns and verbs can end in –ate and verbs can also end in –ed and – ing. Meaning it is important for you to pay close attention to the word and the context it is written in.

For additional information on adjectives, and where they are placed within a sentence, read this article:

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