Errors in the Use of Adjectives and Adverbs

The first step in identifying modifiers is to read the sentence and look for descriptive words. You should then look at each descriptive word and try to determine whether it is an adjective or an adverb.

An adjective describes a noun or pronoun and answers the questions: how many, which one, what kind?

She is a good tennis player. (What kind of tennis player is she?)
This is an easy exercise. (What kind of exercise is it?)

An adverb describes a verb, an adjective or another adverb and answers the questions: when, where, how, why, and to what extent?

She plays tennis well. (How does she play?)
This exercise is relatively easy. (To what extent is it easy?)
An easy way to identify adverbs and to distinguish them from adjectives is to look at the ending. Most adverbs are formed by adding -ly to the adjective: He worked quickly.

Exceptions
The following irregular adverbs do not end in —ly. Their corresponding adjectives appear to the left.

Adjective

early
fast; faster; fastest
good
better; best
hard hard
late
worse; worst
little
more; most
less; least
much
very
far; farther; farthest
further; furthest
near; nearer; nearest
high; higher; highest
low; lower; lowest
wide; wider; widest
long; longer; longest
short; shorter; shortest
deep; deeper; deepest
ago ago

Adverb

early (ends in -ly, but so does the adjective)
fast; faster; fastest
well, ill (meaning “badly,” as in “to think ill of”)
better; best
hard (“hardly” means “almost not”)
late (“lately” means “recently”)
worse; worst
little (meaning “not much,” or “not at all”)
more; most
less; least
much
very
far; farther; farthest
further; furthest
near; nearer; nearest (“nearly” means “almost”)
high; higher; highest (“highly” means “very,” or “very well,” as in “to think highly of”)
low; lower; lowest (“lowly” means “humble,” adj., or “in a low position,” adv.)
wide; wider; widest (“widely” means “generally”)
long; longer; longest
short; shorter; shortest (several meanings; “shortly” means “soon”)
deep; deeper; deepest (“deeply” means “very”)
ago

More Exceptions

The following irregular adverbs do not end in —ly. m

either (meaning “also”)
pretty (meaning “moderately”)
quite
rather
almost
tall (meaning “to a given standard,” as in “to stand tall”)

After you’ve identified the word as an adjective or adverb, the next step is to determine whether it is used correctly.

She is a (real / really) good swimmer.

This sentence contains a descriptive word good modifying a noun swimmer and another descriptive word real modifying the adjective good. Are these modifying words used correctly? Break the sentence into parts:

As you can see, the word good modifies swimmer. Good is an adjective, and swimmer is a noun. Adjectives modify nouns, so no error there. But notice the word real, used to modify the adjective good. Real is an adjective — and only adverbs modify adjectives.

In this version, the adjective real, which modifies the adjective good, is replaced with the adverb really. Note the difference: really is real with an —ly tacked on.

Incorrect: She is a real good swimmer.

Correct: She is a really good swimmer.

Incorrect: The new student speaks poor.

Correct: The new student speaks poorly.

This sentence contains one descriptive word modifying a noun and one descriptive word modifying a verb. In both versions, the adjective new is used to modify the noun student, which is correct.

In the first version, however, the word poor is used to modify the verb speaks. But poor is an adjective – and adjectives cannot modify verbs. Therefore, the second version correctly replaces the adjective poor with the adverb poorly. Once again, the difference between the two is a mere, but necessary, -ly.

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