Using Adverbs and Adjectives

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and sometimes clauses and whole sentences. Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Be careful not to use an adjective where you need an adverb. Consider the following sentences, for instance:

  • [WRONG] Once the interview was over, Sharon walked slow out of the room.
  • [RIGHT] Once the interview was over, Sharon walked slowly out of the room.

The sentence needs an adverb (slowly), not an adjective (slow), to modify the verb walked.

  • [WRONG] We tried real hard to get the muffin mixture perfect.
  • [RIGHT] We tried really hard to get the muffin mixture perfect.

The sentence needs an adverb (really), not an adjective (real), to modify the adjective hard. (Note that really is a substitute for very that should be avoided in formal writing.)

Using good, bad, well and badly

Note the distinctions between the adjectives good and bad and the adverbs well and badly:

  • The actor’s performance was good even though he felt bad that night.
  • Shelley plays the piano well and the drums badly.

Well is an adjective only when it refers to health or condition:

  • Joe protested that he was well enough to start playing sports again.

In the same vein, remember that adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Do not use an adverb to modify these parts of speech.

For example, after a linking verb you may be tempted to use an adverb instead of an adjective. However, the linking verb connects its subject to a subject complement, which can be either a noun (renaming the subject) or a modifier (describing the subject). When a subject complement is a modifier it must be an adjective because it describes the subject (always a noun or pronoun). It does not modify the linking verb itself and should therefore not be an adverb:

  • [WRONG] We felt badly about having caused the accident.
  • [RIGHT] We felt bad about having caused the accident.

Using conjunctive adverbs

The conjunctive adverb often serves as a transition between two independent clauses in a sentence. Some common conjunctive adverbs are therefore, however, moreover, nevertheless, consequently and furthermore. When using a conjunctive adverb at the beginning of the second independent clause, be sure to precede it with a semicolon and not a comma:

  • My colleague usually listens to rock music; however, he also likes John Coltrane and several other jazz musicians.

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