Words of description
Both adjectives and adverbs are modifiers, meaning they modify the words to which they refer by providing more description. The difference lies in the parts of speech each modifies. If you have ever struggled with choosing between “good” or “well” or choosing between “bad” or “badly,” you can eliminate any confusion by understanding how adjectives and adverbs function.
Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. In other words, an adjective describes something about the noun or pronoun it modifies. An adjective does not have to immediately precede the noun or pronoun it modifies. It can follow the verb and act as the subject complement, too. Consider the following examples:
Example 1: The gracious host thanks each person in attendance (“gracious” is an adjective that modifies the noun “host”).
Example 2: He seemed sad (“sad” is an adjective that modifies the pronoun “he,” and it is the subject complement).
Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. They describe or show something about the part of speech that is modified. Consider the following examples:
Example 1: Shelly dances beautifully (“beautifully” is an adverb that modifies the verb “dances).
Example 2: Her pants fit very tightly (“very” is an adverb that modifies the adverb “tightly”).
Example 3: The young boy was extremely polite (“extremely is an adverb that modifies the adjective “polite”).
Words that end in “ly”
Make sure to not fall for the misconception that all adverbs must end in “ly.” It is the manner in which a modifier is used that determines whether it is an adjective or an adverb. While many adverbs do end in “ly,” there are adjectives that do as well. If you are unsure, determine which word the modifier is modifying. Consider the following examples:
Example 1: She gave her co-worker some friendly advice (“friendly” is an adjective that modifies the noun “advice”).
Example 2: She freely gave her spare time to worthy causes (“freely” is an adverb that modifies the verb “gave”).
Keep in mind that many adjectives are turned into adverbs by adding the “ly” ending. For example:
Example 3: Frank is a skillful backgammon player (“skillful” is an adjective that modifies the noun “backgammon player”).
Example 4: Frank skillfully plays backgammon (“skillfully” is an adverb that modifies the verb “plays”).
Distinguishing between them
Sometimes the same word functions as both an adjective and adverb, as is the case with “well.” The part of speech it is considered depends on part of speech it modifies. When you are unsure whether it is an adjective or an adverb, you can break down the sentence by finding the word it modifies, as shown in the previous examples. You can also use a dictionary to determine the meaning of the word used within a specific context, which usually tells you which part of speech the word is when used with a specific meaning, making it easy to determine which type of modifier is used. Consider the following examples:
Example 1: She danced very well (“well” is an adverb because it is modifying the verb “danced”- “well” in this instance means in a satisfactory or good way).
Example 2: Rodney is not feeling well today (“well” is an adjective that modifies “Rodney” – the definition of “well” in this instance means in good health or free/recovered from illness).