Mistaking Adverbs and Adjectives
One common mistake with adjectives and adverbs is using one in the place of the other. For example:
- I wish I could write as neat as he can.
- The word should be neatly, an adverb, since it’s modifying a verb.
- Well, that’s real nice of you.
- Should be really, an adverb, since it’s modifying an adjective
Remember, if you’re modifying a noun or pronoun, you should use an adjective. If you’re modifying anything else, you should use an adverb.
Good v. Well
One of the most commonly confused adjective/adverb pairs is good versus well. There isn’t really a good way to remember this besides memorization. Good is an adjective. Well is an adverb. Let’s look at a couple of sentence where people often confuse these two:
She plays basketball good.
In this sentence good is supposed to be modifying plays, a verb; therefore the use of good—an adjective—is incorrect. Plays should be modified by an adverb. The correct sentence would read “She plays basketball well.”
I’m doing good.
In this sentence, good is supposed to be modifying doing, a verb. Once again, this means that well—an adverb—should be used instead: “I’m doing well.”
Select the correct modifier for each sentence:
- Billy has to work (real / really) hard to be (healthy / healthily).
- Kate is really (good / well) with bows. She shoots really (good / well).
- Eli reads (quick / quickly), and he retains the information (good / well).
- Billy has to work really hard to be healthy.
- Remember that to be is a linking verb. Linking verbs often connect the subject of the sentence (Billy) to an adjective that describes it (healthy).
- Kate is really good with bows. She shoots really well.
- Eli reads quickly, and he retains the information well.
If you’re a native English speaker, you may have noticed that “the big red house” sounds more natural than “the red big house.” The video below explains the order in which adjectives occur in English:
Select the adjectives that are in a natural sounding word order for each sentence.
- A(n) ________ sports car was parked in front of the restaurant.
- beautiful, new, Italian
- Italian, new, beautiful
- Italian, beautiful, new
- A ________ barber pole was next to the front door of the barber shop.
- red and white, striped, big
- big, red and white, striped
- striped, red and white, big
- We put an ________ tree in the corner of their office.
- ugly, tiny, artificial
- artificial, ugly, tiny
- ugly, artificial, tiny
- The elf lived in a ________ house in the forest.
- little, charming, mushroom
- mushroom, little, charming
- charming, little, mushroom
- a: beautiful, new, Italian
- b: big, red and white, striped
- a: ugly, tiny, artificial
- c: charming, little, mushroom
Have you ever noticed the effect the word only can have on a sentence, especially depending on where it’s placed? Let’s look at a simple sentence:
She loves horses.
Let’s see how only can influence the meaning of this sentence:
- Only she loves horses.
- No one loves horses but her.
- She only loves horses.
- The one thing she does is love horses.
- She loves only horses.
- She loves horses and nothing else.
Only modifies the word that directly follows it. Whenever you use the word only make sure you’ve placed it correctly in your sentence.
A linguistic phenomenon is sweeping the nation: people are using literally as an intensifier. How many times have you heard things like “It was literally the worst thing that has ever happened to me,” or “His head literally exploded when I told him I was going to be late again”? Some people love this phrase, while it makes other people want to pull their hair out.
So what’s the problem with this? According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the actual definition of literal is as follows:
- involving the ordinary or usual meaning of a word
- giving the meaning of each individual word
- completely true and accurate : not exaggerated
According to this definition, literally should be used only when something actually happened. Our cultural usage may be slowly shifting to allow literally as an intensifier, but it’s best to avoid using literally in any way other than its dictionary definition, especially in formal writing.
Which of the following sentences use the adverb literally correctly?
- David often takes things too literally.
- Tommy literally died when he heard the news.
- Teddy is literally the best person on the planet.
- This sentence is correct.
- This sentence is incorrect (hopefully). Try replacing literally with practically or nearly.
- This sentence may or may not be true; it’s something that would be very hard to verify. When you’re being purposefully hyperbolic, this may be okay in a non-formal setting, but you may want to consider replacing literally with an intensifier like actually or omitting the adverb altogether, since literally has such a stigma around it.