An adjective is a word that describes nouns, such as large or beautiful, and an adverb is a word that describes verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, such as silently or really. That’s the basic difference between adjectives and adverbs, but there’s more to it than that: How can you tell them apart, how do you change them into each other, and which do you use with linking verbs?
Below, we answer the question: What’s the difference between an adjective and an adverb? We’ll discuss how and when to use each and share plenty of adjective and adverb examples.
What’s the difference between an adjective and an adverb?
Adjectives and adverbs are often confused in grammar because they’re both words that describe other words. The difference between adjectives and adverbs is which types of words they describe.
Adjectives describe only nouns, including pronouns. So if you have a noun like dog, you can give more details about it by adding adjectives.
- the smelly, wet, brown dog
Sometimes multiple words work together to describe a noun. This is called an adjective phrase, and you can treat these groups of words the same as individual adjectives.
- Quantum physics is too complicated to understand.
Adverbs commonly describe verbs. They add details to show how an action is done, as with the adverbs quickly or slowly, or the frequency of the action, as with the adverbs often or sometimes.
- She worked quietly all afternoon.
- He always showers after the gym.
Additionally, special adverbs like really or very can also describe other adverbs. When adverbs are used like this, they usually describe the degree of intensity or frequency.
- She worked very quietly all afternoon.
- He almost always showers after the gym.
Likewise, adverbs can also describe adjectives, again typically specifying the degree of intensity or frequency.
- The often rude manager eats lunch alone.
- The very large man sat in a really small chair.
In the last example, the adjective large describes the noun man, and the adverb very describes the adjective large. Similarly, the adverb really describes the adjective small, which describes the noun chair.
The best way to tell the difference between an adjective and an adverb is to identify the word it describes. If the word being described is a noun, then it’s an adjective; if the word being described is a verb, adjective, or another adverb, then it’s an adverb.
Sometimes you can use a shortcut to tell the difference between adjectives and adverbs. If you see a word with –ly at the end, it’s usually an adverb.
Be careful, though, because this isn’t always true. For example, words like curly, elderly, friendly, and lovely are all adjectives that end in –ly. However, most words ending in –ly are adverbs, and remembering this can help you distinguish between adjectives and adverbs that have the same root word.
- adjective: calm
The calm morning passed.
- adverb: calmly
The morning calmly passed.
Adjective vs. adverb: linking verbs
When it comes to adjectives vs. adverbs, a lot of confusion comes from linking verbs. If you’re unfamiliar with linking verbs, they’re a type of verb that does not show an action but instead shares more details about the subject.
The most common verb, be, is a linking verb. So when we say, “She is the mayor,” the noun mayor describes the subject, which is the pronoun she. Other common linking verbs are become and seem as well as sensory verbs like look, feel, and smell.
The problem with linking verbs is that sometimes they can use either adjectives or adverbs. A linking verb uses an adjective when it’s describing the subject and an adverb when it’s describing the action. This can easily lead to confusion, so you have to be careful about which one you use when you’re writing because it changes the meaning.
Let’s look at two examples, one with the adjective bad and the other with its adverb counterpart, badly.
- The lizard smells bad.
In this example, we use the adjective bad, so it describes the subject, the noun lizard. Here, the lizard has a bad odor, so don’t stick your nose too close to it!
- The lizard smells badly.
In this example, we use the adverb badly, so it describes the action, the verb smell. Here, the lizard has trouble smelling; maybe it has a cold and its nose is stuffed up.
How to turn adjectives into adverbs
Because adjectives and adverbs are so closely related, some root words can be used for both. That makes it easy to turn some adjectives into adverbs and vice versa.
For many adjectives, all you have to do is add -ly to the end to make an adverb.
If the adjective ends in a –y, drop the –y and add –ily to make an adverb.
If the adjective ends in -tle or -ble, replace the –e with a –y to make an adverb.
If the adjective ends in –ic, add -ally to make an adverb.
However, keep in mind that not all adjectives follow these rules.
For starters, some words can be both adjectives and adverbs without changing anything. We discuss those in the next section.
Adjectives that end in –ly, like silly, ugly, or friendly, don’t have acceptable adverb counterparts. You’d have to use a synonym or phrase the sentence a different way.
Moreover, the common adjective good has an irregular adverb counterpart: well. This can lead to some accidental mistakes, so always be aware of which type of word you’re describing.
- She played well last night.
- She played a good game last night.
Identical adjective and adverb examples
There’s another source of potential adjective vs. adverb confusion: Some words stay the same whether they’re used as an adjective or an adverb. It can be difficult to figure out how the words below are used, so pay special attention to the word they describe to determine whether they’re adjectives or adverbs.
- left, right
- inside, outside
- early, late
- daily, weekly, monthly, yearly
- first, second, third, etc.
Adjective vs. adverb FAQs
What are adjectives and adverbs?
Adjectives, such as big or smart, are words that describe nouns. Adverbs, such as quickly or very, are words that describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
Why are adjectives and adverbs easily confused?
Aside from both words starting with ad-, adjectives and adverbs both represent words that describe other words. Both adjectives and adverbs are used to add more details to a sentence beyond simply who did what.
How are adjectives and adverbs different?
The main difference between adjectives and adverbs is the types of words they describe: Adjectives describe nouns and adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Moreover, most (but not all) adverbs end in –ly, although there are a few adjectives that also end in –ly.