Page 3 - Parts of Speech Study Guide for the English Basics


Adjectives modify or describe nouns or pronouns. Adjectives are important because they help provide details about things so that the reader can better envision what the writer is talking about. Adjectives give descriptions about which, how many, or what kind. Adjectives help describe how things look, sound, feel, taste, smell, or act and can describe size, condition, appearance, attitude, personality, quantity—the list is extensive.

Here is a before and after example of the power and importance of adjectives:

“The cowgirl rode a horse.”

Okay. There are some nouns there. A reader might get a simple picture in his or her head about this sentence. But watch what happens when you add some adjectives:

“The experienced blonde cowgirl rode a beautiful, nimble, chestnut-colored horse.”

Now we have more details and descriptions to help us envision what the writer wants us to see in this sentence. Except for getting lost in too many words, there is really no limit to the number of adjectives that can be used in a sentence.

In the next sentence, all of the italicized words are used to describe the underlined nouns and those adjectives help to paint a vivid picture for the reader. That’s a lot of description!

“As the bright hot midday sun beat down on the sweaty carefree children running around the inviting playground, the tired overworked underappreciated teacher reluctantly rang the loud reverberating five-minute warning bell.”

Adjectives usually come before the noun they are describing, though that is not always the case. Adjectives will follow forms of the verb to be (am, is, are, was, were, etc.) as in:

“The rabbit is white.” (white describes the rabbit)
“I was sick all weekend.” (sick describes which way I was feeling)
“They are exhausted.” (exhausted describes which way they are feeling)
“The staircase was narrow.” (narrow is describing what kind of staircase)

Adjectives will come after a sense verb or appearance verb if the noun it’s modifying comes before the verb. For example:

“Bayley seems upset.” (upset is describing Bayley, not the verb seems)
“The painting looks unfinished.” (unfinished is describing the painting, which comes before the verb looks)
“When full, the water pitcher was heavy.” (heavy describes the pitcher even though it comes after the noun itself)

Changing the word order of your adjectives can help create variety in your sentences. Adjectives cannot modify or describe verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. That is the job of adverbs. To determine whether an adjective or an adverb is needed, first figure out what part of speech the word you are trying to modify is. If it is a noun, using an adjective would be appropriate. If it is a verb, an adverb, or another adjective, it is going to need an adverb. For example:

“The runner ran quick.”

This sentence doesn’t work because the modifier is trying to describe how the runner ran, which is a verb, so it needs an adverb. Instead, the sentence should be written as:

“The runner ran quickly.)

The following sentence revision does work because now quick is describing the runner (a noun) instead of describing how he ran (a verb).

“The quick runner ran.”


Adverbs modify or describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They answer the question of how something is done. Many adjectives are easy to spot because often, though not always, they are words that end in -ly. Usually, adverbs come after the verb they are modifying, but that is not always the case.

When adverbs modify or describe verbs, they explain how something is done.

“She looked at her son lovingly.” (lovingly describes how she looked at him)
“The birds sang sweetly.” (sweetly describes how the birds sang)
“Jack and Jill walked quickly up the hill.” (quickly describes how they walked)
“She timidly asked for another cookie.” (timidly describes how she asked, but in this example it comes before the verb itself)

When adverbs describe adjectives or other adverbs, they may also explain when, where, or why something is done.

“She arrived at her appointment 15 minutes late.” (late explains when she arrived)
“The children played upstairs.” (upstairs explains where the children played)

An adverb can also be used to enhance or intensify the word it is modifying. For example:

“I really don’t care what you think.” (really intensifies the fact that this person really doesn’t care and that it’s not that he just doesn’t care a little bit)

“I so want a new car for my birthday.” (so provides emphasis to suggest this is really all that this person wants for her birthday)

“I completely understand why you are upset.” (completely enhances the level of understanding; it’s not just a little, it is full understanding)

Adverbs cannot modify or describe nouns; that is a job reserved for adjectives. To know whether to use an adjective or an adverb, figure out the part of speech of the word you are trying to modify or describe. If it is a noun, you should use an adjective. If it is a verb or an adjective or another adverb, you need to use an adverb. For example:

“The team behaved bad on the bus after their game.”

This sentence is not good because the word wanting to be modified is a verb (behaved), but this sentence tries to use an adjective to describe it. Instead, we should write:

The team behaved badly on the bus after their game.

Now we have an adverb describing the verb (badly to describe how they behaved). If you wanted to use an adjective, it would be

The team’s behavior on the bus was bad.

Now you are describing behavior as a noun instead of as a verb.

Good vs Well

The words good and well are not interchangeable. If you do good, then that means you might be out in your community helping little old ladies cross the street or working in a soup kitchen feeding the homeless. In that sense, you are out doing good acts to make the world a better place. Usually, what people mean when they say they are doing good is that they are doing well. Using well indicates how something is done or how someone feels.

If someone asks, “How are you doing?” our first response might be, “Good.” But that is actually grammatically incorrect. The grammatically correct response would be “Well” because presumably, you are feeling (verb) well. If someone asked, “What are you doing?” then you could, technically, respond with, “Good,” if you are out making a positive difference in the world. But note the change in the wording of the question: the first (how are you doing) requires a response to a feeling, which is a verb; the second (what are you doing) requires a response to a thing, which is a noun. So remember:

Good is an adjective that can only modify a noun:

“That pizza was good.”
“He is a good dog.”
Good job on your report!”

Well is an adverb that can only modify a verb or an adjective:

“I hope you listened well to the directions.”
“Sheri is feeling well today.”
“He is a well-paid employee.”

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