When to Use Modifiers

Adjectives and adverbs don't form the core of sentences as nouns and verbs do, but they give sentences texture and precision. Without adjectives and adverbs, you wouldn't know what color the curtains were, how the man crawled, when they came, etc. Use adjectives and adverbs when they contribute directly to what you are saying. For example, in “He smiled sadly,” you know his smile is not like the usual happy smile. Sadly performs a function. On the other hand, in “He screamed loudly,” does the adverb add anything to the verb? No, because there is no such thing as a soft scream. Here, loudly is unnecessary. Avoid using adjectives and adverbs that don't add anything or that state the obvious.

Recognizing adjectives and adverbs

Adverbs often end in ‐1y ( remarkably, quickly, happily, slowly), but not always ( here, there, fast, late, hard). And some adjectives end in ‐1y (a lively child, friendly dog , hilly area). To decide whether a word is an adjective or an adverb, you should look at what part of speech the word modifies, not the word itself: Adjectives will always modify nouns and pronouns, while adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Review these examples.

In the following example, old and red are adjectives modifying the noun barn.

  • The old red barn needs repairs.

In the next sentence, very is an adverb modifying the adjective old, not the noun barn.

  • The very old red barn needs repairs.

Hard is an adverb modifying the verb worked.

  • He worked hard all afternoon.

Here, hard is an adjective modifying the noun work.

  • The hard work took all afternoon.

Using adjectives after linking verbs

It's natural to associate adverbs rather than adjectives with verbs because adverbs modify verbs. But with linking verbs such as be, become, smell, taste, seem, and look, use adjectives, not adverbs.

  • The pudding tastes sweet. ( not sweetly)
  • They were joyful. ( not joyfully)

Notice the use of adjectives or adverbs in the following sentences, depending on whether a verb is functioning as a linking verb or an action verb.

In the following example, grow is an action verb meaning to develop or increase in size, and its modifier should be an adverb ( beautifully).

  • Flowers grow beautifully in that climate.

Here, grow is a linking verb meaning to become, so the complement should be an adjective ( beautiful).

  • Bronze grows beautiful as it ages.

In the next example, smells is a linking verb and takes an adjective, meaning the dog's odor is unpleasant.

  • The dog smells bad.

Here, smells is an action verb and takes an adverb modifier, meaning something is wrong with the dog's sense of smell.

  • The dog smells badly.

Problem adjectives and adverbs

Some adjectives and adverbs seem to be interchangeable but are not. You will need to remember a few rules to distinguish how they are used.

Good, well. Good is always an adjective: good bread; good vibrations; dinner was good. Don't use good as an adverb. Use well, an adverb meaning to perform capably.

  • She sings well.
  • not She sings good.
  • He listens well.
  • not He listens good.
Some confusion arises between good and well because well can also be used as an adjective meaning feeling in good health.
  • Mother was well in time to go to the play.
  • not Mother was good in time to go to the play.

To see the distinction between well used as an adjective and good used as an adjective, look at the following sentences, both with the linking verb looked.

  • Graham looked good at the party tonight. (Graham looked attractive.)
    Graham looked well at the party tonight. (Graham looked to be in good health.)

Bad, badly. Bad is an adjective and badly is an adverb. They are often used incorrectly for each other.

  • I feel bad about his losing the election.
    not I feel badly about his losing the election.

Here, feel is a linking verb and should be followed by an adjective, not an adverb. In the next example, badly is an adverb describing how the team played.

  • The soccer team played badly in the last game.
    not The soccer team played bad in the last game.

In the following sentence, the adjective bad follows a linking verb, so the appearance of the faucet is being discussed.

  • The rusty faucet looked bad.

When the adverb badly follows the action verb, it explains how seriously the faucet leaked.

  • The rusty faucet leaked badly.

Most, almost. Most is an adjective meaning the greatest in number, amount.

  • Most people agree that exercise is good for you.
    Most crimes go unpunished.

But most is an adverb when it is used to form the superlative of an adjective.

  • She is the most intelligent woman in the group.
    He is the most appealing when he first wakes up.

Almost is always an adverb. It means nearly. Almost modifies the adjectives every and all. Most cannot be used to modify every and all.

  • Almost every person agreed.
    not Most every person agreed.
  • Almost all the people came.
    not Most all the people came.