OWL logo
General WritingResearch and CitationTeaching and TutoringSubject-Specific WritingJob Search WritingESL
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.

The Difference between Adjectives and Adverbs


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.

Contributors:Paul Lynch, Allen Brizee, Maryam A. Ghafoor
Last Edited: 2016-02-15 06:00:45

The Basic Rules: Adjectives

Adjectives modify nouns. To modify means to change in some way. By modifying, adjectives give more detail about 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:

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. These adjectives will most often follow a verb from this list:

Some examples:

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.

In general, adverbs answer the following questions:

Examples of 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; it's that 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 him 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.


“Joseph seems strange and upset.” Strange and upset modify the proper noun, Joseph, in this sentence, so strange and upset are both adjectives.

“Joseph seems strangely upset.” Strangely modifies the adjective, upset, in this sentence, so strangely is an adverb.

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.

Copyright ©1995-2017 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.