Grammar and difiers Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011


Adjectives and adverbs modify subjects or their actions in a sentence.In the sentence, "The orange and striped cat leapt nimbly across the dresser," adjectives and adverbs specify what kind of cat (an "orange and striped cat") and how that cat leapt ("nimbly"). All too often, adjectives and adverbs are confused for one another. However, in this section, you will put each in its proper place and in its proper form.

First, you have to know the definition of a modifier:

  • A modifier describes or limits another word. Lily is a subject. Add the word tiger before lily and the subject is modified: It is now a specific type of lily. Pushed is an action word. Add gentlyand the action is limited: It is now a softer action. Put the subject, its action, and the modifiers all together and the sentence reads: Unlike its fierce namesake, the tiger lily pushed its head gently through the soil.

Types of Modifiers

  • Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns. (Hint: An adjective answers one of three questions: which one, what kind, or how many?)
  • Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, or whole groups of words. (Hint: An adverb answers one of four questions: where, when, how, or to what extent?)
  • Comparatives are adjectives and adverbs used to compare two things. He's the better of the two.
  • Superlatives are adjectives and adverbs used to compare more than two things. He's the best of the three.

Follow these guidelines and you will do well (well describes the verb to do; therefore, it is an adverb!):

  • Always identify whether a modifier describes or limits a sentence's subject or its action.
  • Use good and bad to describe nouns.
  • Use well and badly to describe verbs, except when well means "fit" or "healthy." When well describes a state of being, it is an adjective. With repetition, you will soon write well. Well describes how the subject writes; it is an adverb. After two months of physical therapy, Bob was well. Well describes Bob's state of being; it is an adjective.
  • Use an adjective after a linking verb. The following words are linking verbs when they express a state of being: look, sound, smell, feel, taste, appear, seem, become, grow, turn, prove, remain, and stay. Howard leaned over and surreptitiously smelled Lee; she smelled sweet. Surreptitiously describes how Howard sniffed at the other person; in this case, it is an adverb because it describes the act of smelling. Sweet describes Lee; the word smell links the adjective back to the subject.
  • Use the adjective fewer to describe plural nouns and the adjective less to describe singular nouns.
  • Use the word number to describe plural nouns and the word amount to describe singular nouns.
  • Add -er to a modifier or place the word more or less before the modifier to compare two things. This creates a comparison. (Hint: One to two syllable modifiers usually receive the suffix -er; modifiers with more than two syllables use more or less before them.)
  • Add -est to a modifier or place the word most or least before the modifier to indicate the extreme degree of a thing (Hint: One to two syllable modifiers receive -est; modifiers with more than two syllables use most or least before them.)
  • Avoid double comparatives or double superlatives. Adding the suffix -er or -est to a modifier and preceding the modifier with more or most is redundant. Lindsey amazed the class with her grammatical skills; she was the most smartest person they had ever seen. Lindsey is already the smartest. Most also means smartest—the phrase most smartest is redundant.
  • Avoid double negatives unless you mean to express the positive. Tom hardly did not feel tense whenever he approached grammar. Hardly and did not cancel each other out. The sentence really reads: Tom felt tense whenever approaching grammar.
  • Avoid illogical comparisons. Some words already indicate an extreme degree; like double comparatives and double superlatives, adding the word more or most before such words is redundant. Some women believe Brad Pitt is more perfect than Matt Damon. There are not degrees of perfection; one is either perfect or not perfect. However, one can more nearly approach perfection than someone else.

Grammar Terms

After you review the study guide, test your modifier knowledge with the following practice exercises:

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