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Adjectives and adverbs are descriptive words that allow our sentences to be much more specific and interesting than they would be without them. This lesson covers the rules for using adjectives and adverbs correctly, including those used in comparisons.

What are Adjectives and Adverbs?

You may think that studying grammar and composition is no fun. You may wish you were doing something else.

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You may want to skip right over the studying part and get to the point where you know what you need to know about writing.You may have a fiery, hot, maddening hatred for thinking about mind-numbingly boring parts of speech, and you may fly into a murderous, over-the-top fit of deeply insane rage at the mere thought of having to study grammar.Regardless of your feelings about grammar, you can probably admit that that last sentence is a bit more interesting and descriptive than many other ways you might discuss the subject. That sentence includes a lot of adjectives and adverbs that provide some colorful description of the way some people might express their feelings about grammar.An adjective describes, or modifies, a noun or pronoun. An adverb describes, or modifies, a verb, adjective, or other adverb. In this lesson, we’ll take a look at the rules governing how to use adjectives and adverbs as well as some examples of each.

Adjectives

You may recall learning in school that adjectives answer the questions Which one?, What kind?, and How many? Let’s think about the first of these questions: Which one?, and about what types of adjectives answer this question.There’s a category of adjectives called demonstrative adjectives, which identify particular nouns and pronouns. Think about when you’re talking with someone and you have to demonstrate what exactly you’re talking about. Let’s say you want to tell a friend which car is yours in the parking lot. You might point to your car to demonstrate that it’s yours, and you might say, That car is mine.In that sentence, the word ‘that’ is a demonstrative adjective that modifies the noun ‘car.’The word ‘that’ works to identify something in the sentence, and to answer the question Which one? The demonstrative adjectives this and that can identify singular nouns and pronouns, and the demonstrative adjectives these and those can identify plural nouns.

Most adjectives answer the question What kind? by offering descriptions of nouns and pronouns. Think for a minute about how you might describe a book by explaining what kind of book it is. You might describe a book with the adjectives red, huge, scary, hilarious, or important.

If you use several adjectives to describe a noun, be sure to separate those adjectives with commas. For example, you might say, I just started a new, exciting, challenging job. Note that the adjectives ‘new,’ ‘exciting,’ and ‘challenging’ are separated by commas.Finally, adjectives can also answer the question How many?, and they can do so in a specific or general way.

So, if I tell you that I have two cats, the word ‘two’ is an adjective that describes the noun ‘cats.’ I can speak more generally, though, and tell you that I have some spare quarters. or that I have lived in many different states.

Each of the words that tell how many in those sentences – ‘two,’ ‘some,’ and ‘many’ – is an adjective.

Adverbs

As I mentioned earlier, an adverb describes, or modifies, a verb, adjective, or other adverb. Adverbs answer questions like When?, Where?, Why?, How?, and To what extent?Here are some examples of adverbs in sentences.I carefully carried the stack of books across the room. Here, the adverb ‘carefully’ modifies the verb ‘carried’ to answer the question How? She completely destroyed her new car.

Here, the adverb ‘completely’ modifies the verb ‘destroyed’ to answer the question To what extent? The new father lowered the baby into her crib very slowly. Here, we have two adverbs. The adverb ‘slowly’ modifies the verb ‘lowered,’ and the adverb ‘very’ modifies the adverb ‘slowly.

‘ These modifiers answer the question How?The teacher became very angry with her students. Here, the adverb ‘very’ modifies the adjective ‘angry’ to answer the question To what extent? Many adverbs, though not all, end in -ly, and there are some adjectives and other non-adverb words that end in ‘-ly.’ You can often spot an adverb because it looks like a similar adjective, but with an ‘-ly’ at the end. For example, the word quiet is an adjective, and the word quietly is an adverb. The word slow is an adjective, and the word slowly is an adverb. The word rude is an adjective, and the word rudely is an adverb.

As you get the hang of which modifiers are adjectives and which ones are adverbs, remember the rules about which types of words they modify. For example, you would say, He slept in the quiet room, or He quietly walked down the hall. In the first sentence, the adjective ‘quiet’ describes the noun ‘room.’ In the second sentence, the adverb ‘quietly’ describes the verb ‘walked.’

Comparatives and Superlatives

We can make comparisons between and among things and people by using adjectives and adverbs. We use the comparative form of an adjective or adverb to compare two people or things.

To form a comparative, you’ll need to use an -er ending or the word more.We use the superlative form of an adjective or adverb to compare more than two people or things. To form a superlative, you’ll need to use an -est ending or the word most. Here are some examples of how to do this. You might use adjectives to form the following sentence: Studying grammar is a great, exciting way to spend my time.This next sentence makes use of the comparative forms of these adjectives: I could watch a movie, but studying grammar is the greater, more exciting way to spend my time.

Note that here, you’re comparing two things: watching a movie and studying grammar.This last sentence makes use of the superlative forms of these same adjectives: Studying grammar is the greatest, most exciting way that I have ever spent my time. In this sentence, we’re using the superlative form to compare more than two things: studying grammar and everything else that the speaker has ever done.You may have noticed that the adjective ‘great’ takes an ‘-er’ and ‘-est,’ respectively, to form the comparative and superlative, while the adjective ‘exciting’ needs a ‘more’ and a ‘most’ to be formed correctly. Be sure never to double up with your formations of comparatives and superlatives. In other words, you wouldn’t ever use ‘-er’ and ‘more’, or ‘-est’ and ‘most.

‘ So, you’d never say that Studying grammar is the most greatest, most excitingest way I have ever spent my time.There are a few quick rules that can come in handy as you try to figure out which way you should form comparatives and superlatives.Most one-syllable adjectives take an ‘-er’ and an ‘-est,’ respectively, to form their comparative and superlative versions. Examples include the words soft, cold, and young. In their comparative and superlative forms, these adjectives would become softer, colder, and younger, and softest, coldest, and youngest.Typically, adjectives with two or more syllables require more and most to convert to their comparative and superlative forms, respectively. For example, with the adjective horrible, the comparative form is more horrible and the superlative form is most horrible.

For an adverb ending in ‘-ly’, you’ll use ‘more’ and ‘most’ to form the comparative and superlative, respectively. So, you might talk about a student who works diligently, a second student who works more diligently, and a third who works most diligently in comparison with the others.

Exceptions

There are a couple of exceptions when it comes to forming the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs, and you’re probably already familiar with them. You may know that the adverb form of the adjective good is well, and that the adverb form of the adjective bad is badly. So, you might say, This is a good class, and I’m doing well in it. Or I have a bad dog that behaves badly.The comparatives and superlatives of these adjectives and adverbs don’t follow the typical rules that we’ve gone over so far.

Instead, the comparative form of both good and well is better, and the superlative form is best. The comparative form of both bad and badly is worse, and the superlative form is worst.

Lesson Summary

An adjective describes, or modifies, a noun or pronoun. Adjectives answer the questions Which one?, What kind?, and How many?There’s a category of adjectives called demonstrative adjectives, which identify particular nouns and pronouns. The demonstrative adjectives this and that can identify singular nouns and pronouns, and the demonstrative adjectives these and those can identify plural nouns.An adverb describes, or modifies, a verb, adjective, or other adverb. Adverbs answer questions like When?, Where?, Why?, How? and To what extent? You can often spot an adverb because it looks like a similar adjective, but with an ‘-ly’ at the end.

We use the comparative form of an adjective or adverb to compare two people or things. To form a comparative, you’ll need to use an -er ending or the word more. We use the superlative form of an adjective or adverb to compare more than two people or things. To form a superlative, you’ll need to use an -est ending or the word most.Most one-syllable adjectives take an ‘-er’ and an ‘-est,’ respectively, to form their comparative and superlative versions. Typically, adjectives with two or more syllables require more and most to convert to their comparative and superlative forms, respectively.

Learning Outcomes

Once you have finished this lesson, you should be prepared to:

  • Define adjective and adverb as well as differentiate between them
  • Identify and use adjectives and adverbs in sentences
  • Explain when to use the comparative and superlative forms

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