Tricky Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives and adverbs are necessary when learning to speak English, as we use them all the time to describe things and actions. However, there are some tricky adjectives and adverbs that can easily be confused. If you’re just starting out, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered (are here to help).


Here’s a quick explanation of the difference between adjectives and adverbs, as well as the difference between some of the tricky ones.



What are Adjectives and Adverbs?



Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns, and can be used before nouns or after linking verbs.


For example, if you say, “I have a black cat,” black is the adjective in the sentence.


The comparative and superlative forms of adjectives are formed by either adding “-er” or “-est” to the end of the adjective, respectively (“er” goes with the comparative form, and “est” goes with the superlative form).


For example:


  • The comparative: “His cat is blacker than mine.”
  • The superlative: “That is the blackest cat I have ever seen.”



Adverbs, on the other hand, are used to describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They typically (usually) end in “-ly.”


For example, in the sentence, “He quickly left the house,” quickly is the adverb.


The comparative and superlative forms of adverbs use “more” and “most.”


For example:


  • The comparative: “She walks more quickly than he does.”
  • The superlative: “That is the most beautifully played clarinet solo I have heard”.



There are some words that are used as both adjectives and adverbs.


For example:


  • late
  • fast
  • early
  • hard


Like a lot of things in English, you just have to memorize (you must simply learn) these to know when to use them!



Commonly confused / tricky adjectives and adverbs






This is one that confuses even native speakers! “Well” is both an adjective that means healthy or fine, and is also the adverbial form of “good.”


For example, you can say:


  • “He did the work well.” — Adverb, meaning that he did the work in a good way
  • “My sister is well.” — adjective, my sister is healthy or doing fine
  • “Good” is an adjective, such as when you say, “Her English level is very good.”





If you are running late for something, you are using late as an adjective meaning that you are not on time. The adverb lately, however, means recently.


For example:


  • “I’m running late today.” — adjective, meaning that I am not on time
  • “I’ve been running more lately.” — adverb, meaning that I have been running more in recent days





Much like “well,” “hard” can be both an adjective and an adverb. As an adjective, hard means something that isn’t soft or is difficult. As an adverb, it means that it takes a lot of effort.


The adverb “hardly” means almost nothing.


For example:


  • “That rock is hard.” — adjective, meaning the rock is not soft.
  • “The boss works hard.” — adverb, meaning the boss puts a lot of effort into his work.
  • “I hardly work.” — adverb, meaning that I don’t work much.



As with anything in English, learning the difference between these adjectives and adverbs takes some effort (time, energy). But with a little bit of practice you’ll be well on your way!



Not sure if a word you know is an adjective or an adverb? Ask us to clarify a tricky adjective or adverb in the comments below!


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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and can sometimes fall victim to the “I’m good” (not “I’m well”) trap! We all make mistakes! 

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