The Big Difference Between Adverbs and Adjectives and 6 Commonly Confused Adverb and Adjective Sets

While similar, it is crucial to know the difference between adverbs and adjectives. For information on the other parts of speech, click here.

Adverbs

Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Adverbs can be words like: quickly, very, necessary, well, badly, towards, a lot, never, and later. Adverbs explain and expand on how much, how far, when, in what way, and how often.

Adjectives

Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. They describe the noun’s size, shape, weight, age, appearance, taste, sound, odor, feel, number, emotion, or can be other descriptors like accurate or alive. Words like ‘a’ and ‘the’ are adjectives as well.

An adjective phrase is a phrase that serves the purpose of an adjective, modifying a noun or pronoun. It does not contain a verb. An appositive – a noun or phrase that is set aside that expands on a noun or pronoun – can be an adjective phrase.

The basics of the difference between adverbs and adjectives include:

  • Differences between adverbs and adjectives
  • Differences between adverb and adjective Clauses
  • Commonly confused adverbs and adjectives

Differences Between Adverbs and Adjectives

While both modify words and can end in -ly, adjectives only modify nouns or phrases or clauses that are functioning as nouns. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs or phrases or clauses that function as such.

Adverbs are movable around a sentence; the sentence will always make sense, but it’s meaning may change. For example, notice how moving the adverb ‘only’ changes what is suggested in the following sentences: ‘I gave Sally only $20’ (just 20 bucks and no more) vs. ‘I only gave Sally $20’ (just Sally since I only like her) vs. ‘Only I gave Sally $20’ (no one else would give her money).

Adjectives and other words that function the same are not moveable from one part of the sentence to another. Doing so makes the sentence confusing. For example, ‘The blue boy ran home’ vs. ‘The boy ran blue home’. Adjectives can be moved around each other or from one side of the noun or pronoun,  but like adverbs this may change the meaning of the sentence: ‘Blue the boy ran home’ makes sense but suggests the boy’s mood rather than clothing color.

Differences Between Adverbs and Adjectives Clauses

Adjective Clause

An adjective clause is a clause that modifies a noun or pronoun. It is not moveable in the sentence and is found directly before or after the noun it modifies. An essential (or restrictive) adjective clause is not set off by commas; for example, ‘He is the boy who speaks little’. 

A nonessential (or nonrestrictive) adjective clause is set off by commas,  and the sentence can be completed without this clause. For example: ‘The girl, who has yellow ribbons, is running to school’. Adjective clauses is the other main function for appositives.

Adverb Clause

An adverb clause is a clause that starts with a subordinating clause and functions as an adverb, which modifies a verb, adverb, or adjective and is movable in the sentence. When adverb clauses are at the start of a sentence, they are set off with a comma.

Commonly Confused Adverbs and Adjectives

Most of these sets mean basically the same things, but at least one is only an adjective or an adverb so they are not interchangeable for each other in a sentence. Please use them properly as the two different parts of speech they are.

1. Good vs. Well

‘Good’ is an adjective meaning: ‘of good quality’, ‘respectable ‘, ‘giving joy’, etc. ‘Well’ is an adverb that means ‘in a respectable way’ or ‘in fine health’.

2. Bad vs. Badly

‘Bad’ is an adjective that means ‘of poor quality’, ‘giving dread’, ‘nasty’, etc. ‘Badly’ is an adverb that means ‘in an inept way’ or ‘in a severe way’. 

3. Real vs. Really

‘Real’ is an adjective that means ‘actual’, ‘true’, ‘total’, etc. ‘Really’ is an adverb that means ‘in a true way’ or ‘in a thorough way’.

4. Sure vs. Surely

‘Sure’ is an adjective that means ‘certain’ or ‘decided’ while ‘surely’ is an adverb that means ‘in a confident way’ or ‘in a solid way’.

5. Late vs. Lately

‘Late’ is an adjective that means ‘behind schedule’, ‘tardy’, or ‘dead’; this word can also be an adverb meaning ‘in an untimely way’ or ‘in a former way’. ‘Lately’ is only an adverb that means ‘in a recent time’ or ‘in a fresh way’.

6. Hard vs. Hardly

‘Hard’ is an adjective that means ‘solid’, ‘heavy’, ‘strong’, ‘tiring’, etc.; this word can also be an adverb meaning ‘in a firm way’ or ‘in an intense way’. ‘Hardly’ is only an adverb that means ‘only barely’, ‘rarely’, or ‘in a scarce way’.

Summary

Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. While both modify words, adjectives only modify nouns or pronouns while adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

The basics of the difference between adverbs and adjectives include:

  • Differences between adverbs and adjectives
  • Differences between adverb and adjective Clauses
  • Commonly confused adverbs and adjectives

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