Errors in the use of Adjectives and Adverbs with Sense Verbs

The following verbs require adjective modifiers:

sound look smell taste feel seem
These verbs are all “sense verbs,” or verbs that describe someone’s sensation or feeling or perception. Unlike other verbs, they require adjective, not adverb, modifiers.

Incorrect: The strawberry shortcake tastes deliciously.

Correct: The strawberry shortcake tastes delicious.

Sense verbs convey personal opinions, thoughts, and perceptions in an inherently subjective manner – that is, they describe someone’s personal experience. The sentence “The strawberry shortcake tastes delicious,” has essentially the same meaning as “The strawberry shortcake tastes delicious to me,” or “I think the strawberry shortcake tastes delicious.” Because each sentence describes the attributes of the shortcake as seen through the eyes (and mouth) of an observer, each sentence should use the same version of the modifier: the delicious shortcake.

Another way to approach this sentence is to think about it as a “sandwich.” When a sense verb is sandwiched between a noun and a modifier, the modifier should always agree with the noun.

Some sense verb modifiers are commonly misused in speech. Be especially careful with these; just because they sound right doesn’t mean they are right. Sometimes these errors arise from the misinterpretation of a popular grammar rule. Here’s a common example:

After she returned from the three-week vacation, she looked very well.

How many times have you heard someone say, “He looks well?” It probably sounds fine, but this sentence is actually a comment on the visual abilities of the man in question; it means something like, “He’s skilled at looking.” Pretty funny, right? But why is it wrong?

Looking at the version above: if you place an adverb (well) directly after the verb looked, then the adverb modifies the verb. But we don’t want to describe a verb — we want to describe a noun (or pronoun), in this case a woman who just came back from vacation.

She is a pronoun, and pronouns (which stand in for nouns) are modified with adjectives. Thus, the correct sentence fixes our modification problem by replacing the adverb “well” with the adjective good.

Incorrect: After she returned from the three-week vacation, she looked very well.

Correct: After she returned from the three-week vacation, she looked very good.