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20.6 Using Adverbs and Adjectives

Learning Objectives

  1. Use general adverbs and adjectives correctly.
  2. Use comparatives and superlatives correctly.
  3. Recognize how incorrect usage of adverbs and adjectives can result in double negatives.
  4. Learn the correct use of good and well and bad and badly.

Many adverbs and adjectives are paired with slight changes in spelling (usually adverbs are formed by adding -ly to the adjective). A few adverbs and adjectives have the same spelling (like best, fast, late, straight, low, and daily), so it is only their use that differentiates them.

Table 20.2 Common Adverb and Adjective Pairs

Adjectives Adverbs
bad badly
beautiful beautifully
quick quickly
quiet quietly
slow slowly
soft softly
sudden suddenly

Using Adverbs to Modify Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs

Adverbs tell when, how, why, where, under what condition, to what degree, how often, and how much. Many adverbs end in -ly, but certainly not all them. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. In the following sentences, the adverbs are in bold font and the words they modify are in italic font.

  1. About a quarter million bats leave Carlsbad Caverns nightly.

    When do they leave? nightly; modifies a verb

  2. The bats flew above our heads.

    Where did they fly? above; modifies a verb

  3. The bats are incredibly dense.

    To what degree are they dense? incredibly; modifies an adjective

  4. Each little bat can change directions amazingly fast!

    How do they change directions? fast; modifies a verb

    AND To what degree do they change directions fast? amazingly; modifies an adverb

Using Adjectives to Modify Nouns and Pronouns

Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns and answer the questions what kind? how many? and which one? In the following sentences, the adjectives are in bold font and the words they modify are in italic font.

  1. It takes crazy people to go to a cave at 4:00 a.m. to wait for the bats to leave!

    What kind of people? crazy ones; modifies a noun

  2. A few bats seemed to circle above as the rest flew off.

    How many bats? a few; modifies a noun

  3. That one almost got in my hair.

    Which one? that one; modifies a pronoun

Using Comparatives and Superlatives

Most adjectives and adverbs have three levels of intensity. The lowest level is the base, or positive, level, such as tall. The second level is the comparativeA word used to compare two things (e.g., taller, better). level (taller), and the top level is the superlativeA word used to compare three or more things (e.g., tallest, best). level (tallest). You use the base, or positive, level when you are talking about only one thing. You use the comparative level when you are comparing two things. The superlative level allows you to compare three or more things.

With short adjectives, the comparative and superlative are typically formed by adding -er and -est, respectively. If an adjective has three or more syllables, use the words more or less (comparative) and most or least (superlative) in front of the adjectives instead of adding suffixes. When you are unsure whether to add the suffix or a word, look up the word.

Table 20.3 Sample Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Formed with -er and -est
big bigger biggest
old older oldest
wise wiser wisest
Formed by Using More or Less and Most or Least
ambitious more ambitious least ambitious
generous less generous least generous
simplistic more simplistic most simplistic

With adverbs, only a few of the shorter words form superlatives by adding the -er or -est suffixes. Rather, most of them use the addition of more or less and most or least.

Table 20.4 Sample Comparative and Superlative Adverbs

Formed with -er and -est
early earlier earliest
fast faster fastest
late later latest
Formed by Using More or Less and Most or Least
happily more happily most happily
neatly more neatly most neatly
quickly more quickly most quickly

Some adjectives and adverbs form superlatives in irregular patterns instead of using the -er or -est suffixes or adding more or less and most or least.

Table 20.5 Sample Adjectives That Form Superlatives Using Irregular Patterns

good better best
bad worse worst
far farther farthest
many more most

Table 20.6 Sample Adverbs That Form Superlatives Using Irregular Patterns

badly worse worst
little less least
much more most
well better best

Avoiding Double Negatives

One negative word changes the meaning of a sentence to mean the opposite of what the sentence would mean without the negative word. Two negative words, on the other hand, cancel each other out, resulting in a double negative that returns the sentence to its original meaning. Because of the potential for confusion, double negatives are discouraged.


Example of a sentence with one negative word: I have never been to Crater Lake National Park.

Meaning: Crater Lake is a place I have not visited.

Example of a sentence with two negative words: I have not never been to Crater Lake National Park.

Meaning: I have been to Crater Lake National Park.

Using Good and Well and Bad and Badly Correctly

Two sets of adverbs and adjectives that are often used erroneously are good and well and bad and badly. The problem people usually have with these two words is that the adverb forms (well and badly) are often used in place of the adjective forms (good and bad) or vice versa. In addition, well can be used as an adjective meaning “healthy.” If you have problems with these two sets of words, it could help to keep the following chart taped to your computer until you change your habits with these words.

Situations Correct Examples Explanation
The word well is typically used as an adverb. I wasn’t feeling very well on the day we first drove through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The words very and well are both adverbs. The word very modifies well, and well modifies feeling.
Sometimes forms of the verbs feel, be, and look can be used to describe a person’s health. In such cases, the word well can serve as an adjective that means “healthy” and refers back to the noun. Watching buffalo roam always makes me feel strong and well. The word well is used as an adjective just like strong. Both words modify me. The four sentences with well refer to physical health.
I am well.
I feel well.
I’m feeling well.
The buffaloes looked well.
I am good. The four sentences with good refer to emotional state but not physical health.
I feel good.
I’m feeling good.
The buffalo looked good with the cliffs behind them.
The word good is an adjective. It is never used as an adverb. A trip through Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a good chance to see herds of buffalo in their natural state. The word good is an adjective modifying chance.
People often make statements such as “I run real good.” In reality, “real good” is never a really good combination of words! I run really well. In the first sentence, the word really is an adverb modifying another adverb. Since adjectives modify neither adverbs nor adjectives, you cannot use the combination real well or real good.
My running is a really good example of my ability to dedicate myself to an activity. In the second sentence, really is an adverb modifying good, which is an adjective that is modifying example.
The word bad is an adjective. That’s a bad picture of me with the buffalo since I look like I am afraid for my life. The adjective bad modifies the noun picture.
Sometimes a sentence seems like it should take the adverb badly when it actually needs the adjective bad. The linking verbs be, feel, look, and sound can all be followed by the adjective bad. I am bad when it comes to being on time. Each of these sentences uses bad correctly since their verbs are linking verbs.
I felt bad about missing the first herd of buffalo.
The land looks bad, but the buffalo seem to be able to find food.
Buffalo might sound bad, but they are really calm animals.
The word badly is an adverb. I chose badly when I walked between a mother buffalo and her baby. The adverb badly modifies the verb chose. The adverb badly usually answers the question how?, as it does in this case—How did I choose? (badly)

Key Takeaways

  • The key to using adverbs and adjectives correctly is paying attention to standard adverb and adjective rules, such as the fact that adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs and adjectives modify only nouns and pronouns.
  • The comparatives and superlatives of most one- and two-syllable adjectives are formed by adding -er and -est. For adjectives with three or more syllables, the words more, less, most, and least are used with the adjective. Some smaller adverbs form comparatives and superlatives by adding -er and -est, but most of the comparative and superlatives of adverbs are formed by using the words more, less, most, and least with the adverbs. Some adjectives and some adverbs have irregularly formed comparatives and superlatives that you simply must learn, such as good, better, and best.
  • Double negatives within a sentence reverse the negative state and turn the negative connotation into a positive one.
  • It is wise to pay close attention to the guidelines for using the adverbs and adjectives good, well, bad, and badly since their use is both irregular and somewhat ambiguous.


  1. Use each of the following words in a sentence and identify the usage as adjective or adverb:

    1. beautiful
    2. quietly
    3. low
    4. luckily
    5. sweetly
    6. better
    7. finest
    8. never
    9. good
    10. well
    11. bad
    12. badly