3.4 Adjectives and Adverbs


This section of Ch. 3 will cover the following topics:

  • the jobs of adjectives and adverbs
  • avoiding common errors

Adjectives and adverbs modify or add information to other words. Adjectives and adverbs make writing more interesting.


To “modify” means to change or improve something by adding to it. Notice “adjective” and “adverb” both begin with “ad“?

For example, “cat” is a good, solid noun and “ran” is a simple verb, but “The silky spotted cat ran swiftly and silently.” is much more interesting than “The cat ran.” “Silky” and “spotted” are adjectives; “swiftly” and “silently” are adverbs.


Adjectives modify only nouns and pronouns. An adjective answers questions such as which one, what kind, what color, or what shape.

To find an adjective, first find the nouns and pronouns. Then, look around to see if any words add information to those nouns and pronouns.

Here is an example of adjectives modifying nouns:

The head librarian helped me find a history book on famous writers. (“librarian,” “book” and “writers” are all nouns. The adjectives are “head,” which tells us which librarian; “history,” which tells us what kind of book; and “famous,” which tells us what kind of writers.)

Here is an example of an adjective modifying a pronoun:

She is tall. (“tall” is an adjective that describes the size of the pronoun “She.”)


The words “a,” “an” and “the” are special types of adjectives called . They modify nouns and pronouns just like regular adjectives and tell us which one or how many. For example:

The dog barked at a woman on the street. (“The” tells us which dog, “a” tells us how many women, and the second “the” tells us which street.)

Some people are confused about when to use “the” and when to use “a” or “an.” The answer depends on whether we are modifying a specific noun (“the dog” as in “that specific dog”) or a general noun (“a woman” as in “any woman”).


In English, adjectives usually come before the noun or pronoun (Asian elephant, small table, long journey). But not always. For example:


To find adjectives in a sentence, look for nouns and pronouns first.  Then see if any words modify those nouns and pronouns.

The organic farm has oranges that are ripe and juicy. (“The” and “organic” are adjectives that modify the noun “farm.” But “ripe” and “juicy” are adjectives too; they modify the noun “oranges,” even though they come after it.)

Changing Jobs

Sometimes nouns or pronouns modify another noun or pronoun, and when they do, they change jobs and turn into adjectives. For example:

dog’s bed, Vicky’s homework, her book, their house, your decision

“dog’s,” “Vicky’s,” “her,” “their,” and “your” answer the question “which one?”  They look like nouns or pronouns, but they are working as adjectives here.

Capitalizing Adjectives

When proper nouns work as adjectives, they are capitalized, just like they’d be capitalized if they were working as nouns. For example:

Oregon → Oregon beer

Jewish → Jewish synagogue

Biden → Biden presidency


Watch this cartoon video to reinforce what you’ve learned about adjectives:

Exercise 1

Re-type the sentences that you used for Ex. 1 in Ch. 3.1.

Identify the nouns again by highlighting them in yellow, the pronouns by highlighting them in orange, and the verbs by highlighting them in red. If you made any errors the first time around, correct them now.

Then, look at the nouns and pronouns you identified to see if any words modify them. Those will be adjectives. Highlight adjectives in light green.


Adverbs and adjectives do the same kind of work: they other words.  The difference is which types of words they modify.  Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Adverbs answer questions such as how, to what extent, why, when, and where. For example:

  • Adverb modifying a verb: Bertrand sings horribly. (“horribly” modifies the verb “sings”; it tells how he sings.)
  • Adverb modifying an adjective: Sarah was very nervous about the date. (“very” modifies the adjective “nervous”; it tells how much.)
  • Adverb modifying another adverb: Students study really hard before finals. (“hard” is an adverb that modifies the verb “study”; it tells to what extent. But “really” is also an adverb; it modifies the adverb “hard”; it also tells to what extent.)

To find adjectives, we started by finding nouns and pronouns. To find adverbs, we must first find the verbs and adjectives in the sentence.


Unlike adjectives, which usually appear in front of the noun or pronoun they modify, adverbs can move around. In the following sentences, the adverb “now” modifies the verb “have” by saying when, but it can appear in many locations:

Now I have enough money for a vacation.

I now have enough money for a vacation.

I have enough money now for a vacation.

Adverbs can also appear in the middle of a , but that doesn’t mean they are part of the verb. They are still adverbs. For example:

I do not have enough money for a vacation. (“not” is an adverb that modifies the verb “do have.”)

Other adverbs that often interrupt verbs are “also” and “never.”


Don’t overuse adverbs. Unlike adjectives, which often add interesting information, too many adverbs can actually weaken writing. For example:

It was a very, very cold night. (The word “very” already means “excessively” so don’t say it twice.)

Also, don’t use an adverb to modify a verb if a stronger, one-word verb is better. For example, use “gulp” rather than “drink quickly” or “ravenous” rather than “very hungry.”


To reinforce what you’ve learned about adverbs, watch this cartoon video:

Exercise 2

Go back to the Ex. 1 above.  You don’t have to re-type the sentences.  Just add this next step.

You’ve already identified the nouns, pronouns, verbs, and adjectives. Now you will look for adverbs:

  • First, see if any words modify the verbs you already found. Highlight those adverbs in dark green.
  • Then see if any words modify the adjectives you found in the previous exercise. Highlight those adverbs in dark green.
  • Finally, see if any words modify the adverbs you just found. Those are also adverbs.  Highlight those adverbs in dark green.

There will still be a few words not labeled, but not many.

If you are unsure about your answers, go back and re-read the earlier sections of this chapter. Don’t move on until you feel comfortable identifying nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

Don’t Confuse Adverbs and Adjectives

You may hear someone say, “Anthony is real smart” or “The pizza is real salty.” That is not correct grammar, but it is a common error.

The correct way to say those sentences is “Anthony is really smart” and “The pizza is really salty.” Why? Because the word “real” is an adjective and adjectives can only modify nouns or pronouns.  For example:

It was a real event, something that actually happened to me.


A dictionary will tell you what part of speech a word is.

If the word can work as several parts of speech, a dictionary will tell you that too.

The word “event” is a noun and “real” is the adjective that modifies it. The word “real” cannot modify “smart” or “salty” because they are also adjectives and a word that modifies an adjective has to be an adverb.

People also have difficulty differentiating between “good” and “well” or “bad” and “badly.” If you understand adjectives and adverbs, you will always choose the correct word.  For example:

Cecilia is a good person. (“good” is an adjective that modifies the noun “person.”)

Cecilia did well on a test. (“well” is an adverb that modifies the verb “did.”)

I performed badly on my accounting test. (“badly” is an adverb that modifies the verb “performed.”)

The coming thunderstorm looked bad. (“bad” is an adjective that modifies the noun “thunderstorm.”)

If you know the difference between an adjective and an adverb, you won’t make this mistake. “Good” and “bad” are adjectives; they have to modify nouns.  “Well” and “badly” are adverbs.


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


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