Adjectives and Adverbs: What is the Difference

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English learners often confuse adverbs with adjectives. This is because some adverbs look exactly like adjectives.

In English Grammar, there are many different rules that explain how adverbs differ from adjectives.

These rules tell us when we should use an adjective and when an adverb.

What roles do Adjectives and Adverbs play?

You must understand that adverbs and adjectives have different roles to play in a sentence.

We usually use an adjective to clarify the meaning of a noun or pronoun.

An adjective can appear before the word it complements or after such a word.

To understand that there is an adjective and not an adverb, we ask the adjective the following questions:

  • What kind of?
  • Which?
  • How many?
Rule and questions for adjectives to distinguish an adjective from an adverb.
How to distinguish an adverb from an adjective?

Adverbs complement or clarify the meaning of verbs, adjectives, or even other adverbs.

Most often, we can see an adverb in a sentence by its famous ending -ly. However, not all adverbs have this ending.

Adverbs most often answer the questions:

  • How?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
List of questions we ask to make sure this is an adverb and not an adjective.
List of questions

Therefore, if we want to characterize a noun or a pronoun, we use an adjective.

If we need to characterize a verb, then we use an adverb.

Adjectives affect the meaning of nouns.

Adverbs affect verbs, adjectives, or other verbs.

An adverb complements the action with circumstances and additional meanings. The adverb defines, complements, describes the verb, telling us where, when and under what circumstances the action described by the verb occurs.

It’s really gone wild lately.

An adverb does not have to describe a verb. An adverb can describe, characterize an adjective, or even another adverb.

That would be a very bad idea.
So far I am feeling quite good.
I’m starting to feel quite silly.

The adjective is one of the main parts of speech. An adjective answers the question:

  • what?
  • Whose?

The suffix -ly


We can recognize an adverb by the suffix -ly, but not all adverbs have this suffix. There are adjectives that also end in -ly.

Bad / Badly: The difference


Often, English learners do not know which of these two words to use.

Bad is an adjective.
Badly is an adverb.

Remember a few simple rules and you will not confuse Bad and Badly anymore.

If we want to describe, characterize a feeling or sensation, (the way HOW we or someone feels), then we use bad.

John is ill. John feels bad.

If we want to describe, characterize WHAT we feel about something or someone (how we feel about a person or a situation that happened), then we use badly.

Jessica, I’m sorry, I feel badly about what I told you yesterday …

Most often, we use badly next to a verb to describe the quality of the action that this verb expresses.

I see she writes badly.

In other words, badly next to a verb most often denotes an action rather than a state.

Take a look at another example to better understand the difference between bad and badly:

If John is sick, then he can say:

I feel bad today.

If John has something wrong with smell or touch, he can say:

I feel badly I can’t feel the smell of the flowers!

Examples of using the words bad and badly in a sentence.
bad and badly

Good / Well: The difference


Good and Well are two more words that English learners often confuse with each other.

Well is an adverb
Good is an adjective.

We use good with verbs that express a feeling (look, smell, feel) or different states of existence (be, become).

We use well with verbs like work, live, do

The plan didn’t work well.

Take a look at the example:

The gentleman looks good.

It means that the gentleman looks good, he is well dressed. It’s nice to look at him. He is handsome. Good describes what he looks like. His appearance. The gentleman looks good does not mean that the Gentleman has excellent eyesight.

In spoken English, sometimes we use well with some verbs with which good is usually used. For example:

I feel well.

But remember, we have to use well with action verbs:

I can swim well.
You fight well, stranger.

Sure and Surely: The difference

We use Sure as an adjective. Sure is part of a predicate or we use Sure to describe a noun.

Hope is just a sure way of getting your heart broken.

Surely is an adverb. Therefore, we use Surely according to all the rules for using adverbs.

In both cases, the criticism surely misses the point.

She surely suspects I’m responsible.

We use Surely as an adverb to express our confidence in something.

In that case, Surely means: probably, most likely

Surely, he does everything in his power
Surely, he wrote this letter for you.

Nearby or Nearly: The difference


Nearly is an adverb, so we use Nearly with:

  • adjectives
  • verbs
  • other adverbs

We use Nearly in the meaning of almost, approximately.

Influenza killed nearly 20 million people between 1918 and 1919.

We use the adjective nearby with nouns.

Near


We can use near as an adjective, a verb, or even a preposition.

Three reports should be submitted in the near future.

Near in this example is an adjective that describes the noun future.

The main thing is to remember that:

  1. An adverb can look exactly like an adjective.
  2. If you understand what role the word plays in the sentence, you will be able to understand if this is an adverb or adjective. It is important to understand what characterizes the word: A human? An action? A thing?
  3. An adverb is associated with a verb because an adverb characterizes a verb by giving additional information about the verb.
  4. An adjective is related to a noun. An adjective characterizes a noun by giving additional information about the noun.

Examples of Adverbs and Adjectives

For a better understanding of this material, look at how adverbs and adjectives behave in the following examples.

Adjective: It’s a very long journey.
Adverb: How long will you look at me?

Adjective: It was the warmest day of the year.
Adverb: She smiled warmly.

Adjective: It was a fast runner.
Adverb: The runner runs fast.

Two examples show the use of an adverb and an adjective in a sentence.
Adverb and Adjective.

List of adjectives and adverbs that look the same

Take a look at the list of adverbs and adjectives that look exactly the same.

  • best
  • better
  • big
  • cold
  • daily
  • dead
  • deep
  • direct
  • dirty
  • early
  • easy
  • extra
  • far
  • fast
  • free
  • further
  • hard
  • high
  • hourly
  • inside
  • kindly
  • last
  • late
  • long
  • low
  • monthly
  • past
  • right
  • straight
  • sure
  • thick
  • tight
  • weekly
  • well
  • wide
  • wrong
  • yearly

This list contains specific adjectives and adverbs. We can use words from this list as adverbs with the – ly suffix and without the – ly suffix.

When we use words from this list as adverbs with the suffix – ly, it makes the meaning of these words more formal.

If we use words from this list as adverbs without the ending -ly, then these words sound simpler. This is more suitable for spoken English.

  • clean
  • clear
  • close
  • cheap
  • dear
  • fine
  • quick
  • quiet
  • slow
  • thin
  • loud
Rule and list of adverbs and adjectives that look the same.
Adverbs and adjectives that look the same.

List of adverbs that have two forms with different meanings

Look at Adverbs, which have two forms with different meanings.

short: They had run short of fuel.
shortly: I will come to you shortly

sure: I sure hope you are right about that.
surely: Surely you don’t think I was me?

wide: The window was wide open.
widely: He was widely accepted by society.

wrong: I guessed wrong
wrongly: If pressed wrongly, it can kill someone.

direct: The fly direct to the USA
directly: That way led directly to the castle

full: She looked him full in the face.
fully: We are fully aware of the dangers.

deep: The boy dived deep into the water.
deeply: I am deeply grateful to you!

hard: He performs the task rather hard.
hardly: She hardly ever calls me

high: She never rose very high in the company.
highly: I highly recommend this book.

last: He runs last.
lastly: He understood everything, lastly!

late: He woke up early.
lately: I lately bought myself a new car.

near: A stone fell close to me.
nearly: I nearly caught up with him!

pretty: You speak fairly.
prettily: She did everything prettily

easy: Go easy! Don’t run!
easily: He accomplished the task easily.

free: You can travel free
freely: He does it freely

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