Adjectives vs. Adverbs

In this English lesson, we’re going to discuss the difference between adjectives and adverbs. In English, adjectives and adverbs have distinct uses. You can’t use an adjective in an adverbial role or an adverb in an adjectival role. Nevertheless, native English speakers often confuse the two, especially in casual speech.

What Adjectives Can Do

Adjectives modify (describe) nouns. They answer the following questions: Which?, How many?, and What kind of?

The English Island in Atlanta offers convenient hours designed to meet the needs of busy professionals.

“Hours” is a noun. “Convenient” is an adjective. The adjective describes what kind of hours the English Island offers.

Sequential adjectives must be separated by comas:

The English Island in Atlanta offers convenient, flexible hours designed to meet the needs of busy professionals.

What Adverbs Can Do

Compared to adjectives, adverbs are more versatile. While adjectives can only modify nouns, adjectives can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Adverbs answer the questions How?, What?, Where?, When?, and Why? Many English modifiers have both adjectival and adverbial forms. An adverb usually (but not always) ends in “–ly” while an adjective does not.

Here is an example of an adverb modifying a verb:

The English Island is conveniently located near the intersection of I-75 North and I-285 West.

How is the English Island “located?” The answer is “conveniently.” Notice that this adverb contains the characteristic “–ly” ending. This ending is missing from the adjective “convenient” used in our earlier examples.

Now let’s look at an example of an adverb modifying an adjective:

English Island ESL teachers are extremely experienced.

“Extremely” tells us something about how “experienced” English Island ESL teachers are. “Experienced,” in turn, tells us something about the teachers themselves.

Finally, here is an example of an adverb modifying another adverb:

The teachers at the English Island helped me to learn the differences between adjectives and adverbs very quickly.

“Very” is describing how “quickly” the teachers helped the speaker learn to distinguish between adjectives and adverbs. An adverb that describes another adverb has a special name: an intensifier.

As a general rule, you should generally avoid using intensifiers in professional speech and writing. An intensifier is usually so close in meaning to the adverb it is modifying as to be redundant.  Indeed, this is exactly what is happening in the above example. In the context of the sentence, “quickly,” already means in a short period of time. Including the intensifier “very” adds another word without adding additional meaning.