OWL at Purdue Logo

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/). When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice at bottom.

Contributors: Paul Lynch, Allen Brizee, Maryam A. Ghafoor.

This worksheet discusses the differences between adjectives and adverbs. It defines adjectives and adverbs, shows what each can do, and offers several examples of each in use. Click here for some examples.

The Difference between Adjectives and Adverbs

The Basic Rules: Adjectives

Adjectives modify nouns. By modifying, adjectives give a more detailed sense of the noun. For example:

Adjectives clarify the noun by answering one of the following different questions: "What kind?" or "Which?" or "How many?" For example:

Adjectives cannot modify verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

So, generally speaking, adjectives answer the following questions:

Some Other Rules for Adjectives

Most of the time, adjectives come before nouns. However, some adjectives actually come after the nouns they modify. An adjective follows a sense verb or verb of appearance when it modifies the noun before the verb. These adjectives will most often follow a verb form of the following:

Some examples:

Likewise, an adjective always follows a form of the verb, “to be.” Here are some examples of “to be” verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been.

The Basic Rules: Adverbs

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. (You can recognize adverbs easily because many of them are formed by adding -ly to an adjective, though that is not always the case.) The most common question that adverbs answer is how.

Let's look at verbs first.

Adverbs also modify adjectives and other adverbs.

Adverbs answer the question how. They can also answer the questions whenwhere, and why.

Adverbs cannot modify nouns, as you can see from the following incorrect sentences.

In general, adverbs answer the following questions:

Examples of Differences between Adjectives and Adverbs

The following examples explain the differences between adjectives and adverbs:

Be sure to note the differences between the following examples:

"The dog smells clean." Here, clean describes the dog itself. It's not that he smells something clean; rather, he's had a bath and does not stink. Clean describes what kind of smell comes from the dog making it an adjective.

"The dog smells carefully." Here, carefully describes how the dog smells, making it an adverb. We imagine the dog sniffing cautiously.


“Kai dressed for the quick recital.” Here, quick describes the noun, recital, making it an adjective. What kind of recital? A quick one.

 “Kai dressed quickly for the recital.” Quickly describes the way Kai dressed, making it an adverb because it modifies the verb, dressed. How did Kai dress? Quickly.


“Look at the nice bed.” Nice modifies the noun, bed, in this sentence, making it an adjective.

“Look at the nicely made bed.” Nicely modifies the adjective, made, in this sentence, making it an adverb.


“Richard is careless.” Here, careless is an adjective that modifies the proper noun, Richard. What kind of person is Richard? A careless one.

“Richard talks carelessly.” Here, carelessly is an adverb that modifies the verb, talks. How does Richard talk? Carelessly.

In general, when a word has the ending “-ly,” it will act as an adverb. Pay close attention to how the noun is modified, as this is the final criteria when deciding between an adjective and adverb.

Contributors: Paul Lynch, Allen Brizee, Maryam A. Ghafoor.

This worksheet discusses the differences between adjectives and adverbs. It defines adjectives and adverbs, shows what each can do, and offers several examples of each in use. Click here for some examples.

Avoiding Common Errors

  1. Bad or Badly?

    When you want to describe how you feel, you should use an adjective. You might say, "I feel bad." Saying "I feel badly" would be like saying you play football badly. "I feel badly" would mean that you are unable to feel, as though your hands were numb. Here are some other examples:

    • "The dog smells badly." Here, badly means that the dog does not do a good job of smelling.
    • "The dog smells bad." Here, "bad" means that dog needs a bath.

    N.B. Sometimes people say, "I feel badly," when they feel that they have done something wrong. Let's say you dropped your friend's favorite dish, and it broke into a million pieces. You might say, "I feel really badly about what happened."

  2. Good or Well?

    Good is an adjective, so you do not do good or live good, but you do well and live well. Remember, though, that an adjective follows sense-verbs and be-verbs, so you also feel good, look good, smell good, are good, have been good, etc. So:

    "My mother looks good." This does not mean that she has good eyesight; it means that she appears healthy.

    "I feel really good today." Again, this does not mean that I touch things successfully. It means rather that I am happy or healthy.

    N.B. Many people confuse this distinction in conversation, and that's okay. You will hear people say, "I feel well" when they mean that they feel good. However, if you're talking about action verbs, you would say "well." "I did well on my exam." "She plays tennis well."

  3. Sure or Surely?

    Sure is an adjective, and surely is an adverb. For example:

    • "He is sure about his answer." Sure describes he.
    • "The Senator spoke out surely." Here, surely describes how the senator spoke.

    N.B. Surely can also be used as a sentence-adverb. For example, "Surely, you're joking." Here, surely describes the entire sentence "you're joking." The sentence more or less means, "You must be joking."

  4. Near or Nearly?

    Near can function as a verb, adverb, adjective, or preposition. Nearly is used as an adverb to mean "in a close manner" or "almost but not quite." Here are some examples that demonstrate the differences between various uses of near and nearly.

    • "I'll be seeing you in the near future." Here, near describes the noun "future."
    • "The cat crept near." Near is an adverb that describes where the cat crept.
    • "Don't worry; we're nearly there." Here, nearly describes how close we are.

    Near can also be used as a verb and a preposition.

    • "My graduation neared." Here, neared is the verb of the sentence.
    • "I want the couch near the window." Near is a preposition at the head of the phrase "near the window."