Dull writing can turn even interesting reading into a chore- and nobody wants that! Adjectives and adverbs can solve this problem by adding detail and color to objects and actions that might otherwise appear boring or vague. However, it can sometimes be tricky to tell them apart. In order to identify adjectives or adverbs in a sentence, you must first have a general understanding of how they work and the parts of speech that each modifies.

How Adjectives Work

According to Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab, an adjective’s purpose is to describe a noun by answering the questions “which one?” “what kind?” or “how many?” In the sentence, “The biggest office is mine,” the word “office” is a noun, and the word “biggest” distinguishes which office is being described. In the sentence, “The old car sputtered by,” the adjective “old” describes what kind of car is passing. The sentence “Several children were injured” uses the adjective “several” to clarify how many children were involved.

How to Locate Adjectives

Because an adjective’s job is to modify a noun, it helps to find the nouns in a sentence. Look for words that name people, places, things or ideas, such as “mayor,” “city,” “pencil” or “love.” Mark these words in the sentence, then look at each one individually to see if any of the words nearby add information to the noun by answering “what kind?” “which one?” or “how many?” Generally, an adjective will come before the noun it modifies as “old” comes before “man” in “The old man walked home.” When a noun is followed by a linking verb – forms of “be,” “feel,” “taste,” “smell,” “sound,” “look,” “appear” or “seem” used to indicate a state of being – an adjective will follow the linking verb to describe the noun. For example, in the sentence “The food smells delicious,” the verb “smells” connects the noun “food” to its description, “delicious.”

How Adverbs Work

The main role of an adverb is to modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb by answering the question “how?” In the sentence, “The cat jumped quickly from the porch,” the adverb “quickly” describes the verb “jumped” by telling how it happened. An adjective is modified in the sentence, “The house is incredibly large.” The house is described by the adjective “large,” while the adverb “incredibly” tells us how large. In the example of “The spy whispered quite softly,” the adverb “softly” explains how the spy whispered, while the adverb “quite” tells how softly the whisper was executed, showing how an adverb may modify another adverb.

How to Locate Adverbs

Adverbs generally end in “-ly,” as in “quickly,” making them easy to spot. However, not every adverb follows this pattern. To identify adverbs in a sentence, first locate the verbs, or words that indicate an action or state of being, such as “run,” “sleep,” or “is.” After marking these words, search for words that tell how an action was done. Also, look for adjectives and mark any words that express the extent of the description, such as "very" or "barely." An adverb may come before the word it modifies, as in “The car quickly sped away,” or after the word it modifies, as in “The car sped quickly away.” In both examples, “quickly” tells how the car sped away. If an adverb begins a sentence or clause, it may be separated from the verb it modifies by the sentence’s subject, as in “Normally we eat at noon,” where “normally” modifies the verb “eat.”

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