Adjectives and Adverbs

Descriptions add detail to what we read and help the reader "see" what the writer is thinking. In English we use modifiers to do this. When we know how different modifiers are used, we can better understand their meaning and build our vocabulary. This resource shows how adjectives and adverbs are used to modify a word or phrase. An adjective is a word that describes a noun (a person, a place, or a thing). Adjectives give us information about something so we can better understand it. Similar to an adjective, an adverb describes a verb and offers the reader more information about an action. Read this resource to learn how modifiers are used in English.

Introduction to Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns; adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

Learning Objectives

Distinguish between adjectives and adverbs

Key Takeaways

Key Points
  • Adjectives describe, quantify, or identify pronouns and nouns.
  • Adjectives typically answer the questions how many?; How much?; What kind?; or Which one?
  • Adverbs
    modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.
  • Adverbs commonly describe how, when, or where the action of a verb took place.
Key Terms
  • adjectives: A part of speech that describes, quantifies, or identifies a noun or pronoun.
  • adverb: A part of speech that describes, quantifies, or identifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb.

Adjectives and Adverbs

Have you ever seen a photo of the Great Wall of China? It's simply enormous. It's incredibly long, snaking its stony way across the mountains and valleys of Asia, with beautiful towers standing tall every couple of hundred feet. But without modifiers, "the Great Wall"  would simply be "the Wall". We need adverbs and adjectives in order to be descriptive in our writing.

Adjectives, like "great," "enormous," "stony," "long," and "beautiful," modify nouns and pronouns. Adverbs, like "simply" and "incredibly," modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China: Without adjectives, "the Great Wall" would just be "the Wall".

Descriptive words can significantly improve your writing. They enhance the quality of information you provide, making your work more precise. However, you don't want to overwhelm your reader with unnecessary or excessive description. Try to strike a balance.


Adjectives describe, quantify, or identify pronouns and nouns. Remember, a noun is a person, place, or thing. Pronouns, such as I, me, we, he, she, it, you, and they, take the place of nouns. Adjectives also answer the following questions: What kind? How many? How much? Which one?

Descriptions concerning What kind? offer descriptive details about the noun or pronoun. It may describe physical characteristics or emotions. Here are a few examples: the black car, the angry customer, the fashionable teen.

The questions How many? and How much? refer to quantity of the noun or pronoun being described by the adjective. Quantity can be specific (four ducks) or general (some ducks). Here are some more examples: fourteen cents, a few puppies, several kittens, a dozen books.

Which one? specifically describes which object is being referred to. These are workhorse words like "this," "that," "these," and other words like "them": that car, this letter, those volunteers.

Adjectives are helpful when additional description is needed for a noun or pronoun. Like adjectives, adverbs can also help add details to your writing.


Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They commonly describe how, when, or where the action of a verb took place. How refers to the manner in which an action occurred. When addresses the time of the action. Where investigates the place or location the action took place. Here are some examples:

  • The boys ran loudly down the stairs. [How did the boys run? Loudly.]
  • We went down later. [When did we go? Later.]
  • He delivered pizza locally. [Where did he deliver? Locally.]

Adverbs can also be used to modify adjectives and other adverbs.

  • The train leaves at a reasonably early hour. [The adverb reasonably modifies the adjective early.]
  • She spoke quite passionately about politics. [The adverb quite modifies the adverb passionately.]

Which Should You Use: Adjectives or Adverbs?

Writers often have a choice in wording a sentence to use either an adjective or an adverb:

  • Adjective: We had a quick lunch.
  • Adverb: We ate lunch quickly.

So, how do you choose when to use an adjective and when to use an adverb? One way to choose is simply to figure out whether the word you want to modify is a noun or a verb. In the first sentence, you are describing the lunch; in the second sentence, you are describing the manner of eating.

A better approach, though, is not to think about the words you could modify but the information you want to convey. You do not need to describe every noun or verb - just the ones whose details are important to the sentence. If you want to emphasize the meal, you would pick the first sentence; if you want to emphasize the act of eating, you would pick the second.

Remember, adjectives and adverbs can be separated by which types of information they provide. Think about the details that are necessary to include, and then choose your modifiers accordingly.

Source: Boundless,
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