Grammar and Style
Appropriately Distinguishing Between Adjectives & Adverbs

Matt Thomas / Mark Merrick


Adverbs describe the motions of the oceans but if the oceans had no motions adjectives we would need.

Matt Thomas

Although it may seem simple to distinguish between adjectives and adverbs they can sometimes present problems when trying to decide between them. It can be helpful to consider apples as an example when trying to distinguish between the two. Adjectives may be used to describe the number of apples present, the type of apples, how they physically appear, and to point out one particular apple from the bunch. Adverbs can also describe the apples but in a different sense. They describe at what time the apples arrive at the market, the places they come from, how they get there, the frequency of deliveries, the direction the apple-display faces and the degree of damage inflicted upon them during delivery.
Adjectives enhance nouns and pronouns while adverbs enhance actions and descriptions.



For #1-2, fill in the blank with an adjective or an adverb
1) The ________ students found it appalling that their new living environment was full of asbestos.
2) The boy ran _______ from the rabid dog.

For #2-5, choose the correct usage of the adjective/adverb
3) Oklahoma has a (real/really) good football team.
4) I played (terrible/terribly) in the soccer game.
5) I did extremely (good/well) on the test.

For #6-10, decide whether the bold-faced word is an adjective or an adverb
6) The rotund rodent quickly scurried across the icy floor.
7) It's a bittersweet symphony.
8) The storm of gargantuan proportions is expected to smack into the coast like a snowboarder violently colliding with an innocent tree
9) The midget jumped ecstatically at the sight of an attractive female of his tiny stature.
10) The shipments are punctually delivered on a daily basis.


Anson, Chris M., Schwegler, Robert A.. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America,1999.


"Adjective" and "Adverb" went up a hill
To modify a word.
Adverb fell down when it could not correctly describe a "crown",
But Adjective expressed there after.

When it came for crown to leave
And "demote", liked to stay,
Adjective was thrown from the hill
Where Adverb had moved that day.

Crown - noun - described by adjectives
Demoted - verb - modified by adverbs

Mark Merrick

Adjectives and adverbs are fine-tuned principles of grammar. They inject color into writing by modifying, describing, and relating detailed characters to otherwise dull or vague sentence structures. Their differences: "adjectives" modify nouns while "adverbs" acknowledge verbs, adjectives, or even adverbs. Together they fertilize plain works, ensuring the growth of visual aspects in writing. Questions like how many, what kind, and which one are answered enthusiastically with adjectives, and how, where, when, and to what degree with adverbs. Without modifiers, expression and illustration would cease, like a black and white, snowy, muted television.


1. What do adjectives modify?

2. What do adverbs modify?

3. Underline the adjective & noun relationship in the following sentence.
The snowy road was not passable.

4. List the comparative and superlative forms of 'dusty.'

5. Choose. Creating questions can be (real/really) mind twisting.

6. Read, and edit if needed. The engine ran really good today, there were no problems.

7. Write the superlative form of this sentence: Well, I ran faster up the stairs.

8. List an irregular comparative and superlative.

9. (T/F) An adverb always has to end in '-ly.'

10. How are adjectives and adverbs similar?

Answer Key

1. Adjectives modify nouns
2. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs
3. Snowy road
4. Dustier, dustiest
5. Really
6. The engine ran really well today, there were no problems.
7. Well, I ran fastest up the stairs.
8. Good, Better, Best - (will vary according to adjective)
9. False
10. They establish detail in otherwise vague sentences. They describe appropriate modifiers.


Anson, Chris M., and Schwegler, Robert A. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers. New York: 2000.

Darling, Charles. "Guide to Grammar and Writing." Capital Community College: Adjectives/Adverbs. Online. 2001.