Modifiers: Writing Skills Success Study Guide
A practice exercise for this concept can be found at Modifiers: Writing Skills Success Practice Exercise.
Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.
—Rita Mae Brown, American writer (1944–)
Modifiers brighten and enliven our writing, but can wreak havoc on structure if used improperly. This lesson shows you how to avoid common problems with adjectives and adverbs.
Words and phrases that describe other words are called modifiers. Words that describe nouns and pronouns are called adjectives. Words that describe verbs, adjectives, or adverbs are called adverbs. Entire phrases or groups of words can also function as modifiers. The English language is structured in such a way that modifiers play a vital part in communication. Using them correctly is an important skill.
Adjectives describe a noun or pronoun in a sentence. Here is an easy way to tell if a word is an adjective. Adjectives answer one of three questions about another word in the sentence: Which one? What kind? and How many? The following table illustrates this. The adjectives are highlighted to make them easy to identify.
Pay special attention to adjectives that follow linking verbs. Here, the adjective follows the verb, but it describes the noun or pronoun that comes before the verb. The following sentences illustrate this. The italicized adjectives describe the underlined nouns.
- This cheesecake tastes delicious. [delicious cheesecake]
- Chris's change of heart seemed appropriate. [appropriate change]
- The room smelled strange. [strange room]
Use the adjective fewer to modify plural nouns, things that can be counted. Use less for singular nouns that represent a quantity or a degree. Most nouns to which an -s can be added require the adjective fewer.
- The promotional staff had fewer innovative ideas [plural noun] than the marketing staff.
- The marketing staff had less time [singular noun] to brainstorm than the promotional staff.
The same principle applies to the nouns number and amount. Use the noun number when referring to things that can be made plural or that can be counted. Use the noun amount when referring to singular nouns .
- The number of hours [plural noun] we have for this telethon has been reduced.
- The amount of time [singular noun] we have for this telethon has been reduced.
Use adverbs to describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Here is an easy way to tell if a word is an adverb. Adverbs answer one of these questions about another word in the sentence: where? when? how? and to what extent? The following table illustrates this. The adverbs are highlighted.
This next table shows examples of adverbs modifying verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. The adverbs are highlighted; the words they modify are underlined.
Adjective or Adverb?
Sometimes, writers mistakenly use adjectives in the place of adverbs. This is illustrated in the following sentences. The italicized words are adjectives incorrectly used in place of adverbs. The adverb form follows the sentence
- Megan can think of answers very quick. [quickly]
- Store these antiques very careful. [carefully]
- Ernie whispered the news as quiet as he could. [quietly]
Take special care to choose the correct word when using verbs that deal with the senses: feel, taste, look, smell, sound. If the word following the verb describes a noun or pronoun that comes before the verb, use an adjective. On the other hand, if the word following the verb describes the verb, use an adverb. In the following table, the adjectives and adverbs are highlighted and the nouns or verbs they modify are underlined.
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