Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjective Definition

An adjective is a word that describes, qualifies, or quantifies a noun. In other words, it modifies the noun in some way.

In a sunny day, sunny modifies day.

In four men, four quantifies men.

Adjectives are wonderful tools to help convey added meaning to our writing. Measured use of adjectives can bring clarity and richness, particularly for informal writing, advertising, PR material and communication with family and friends.

Examples of using adjectives

Let us look at an example of writing with and without adjectives:

I am writing a travel brochure, advertising the features of a town.

Come to Whitford Bay, where you can swim, walk on the sand, fish and barbecue your catch. People come here in the summer for their holidays. You will see hills around the bay. The shops in the town include a supermarket, a boutique, a gift shop and a café.

As you read through this information, you wonder whether or not it is an attractive place to visit. Is it a safe place for families? Is it quiet and tucked away, or is it a noisy place packed with energetic visitors? There is no information about what sort of fish you may catch, and what’s this bit about ‘hills’? OK, I have learned a little about the types of shops, but not very much.

Let us improve this writing with a few adjectives. Remember, while we want our words to beckon people to Whitford Bay, we also need to keep the writing clear and simple.

Come to Whitford Bay, a wonderful holiday spot popular with families. The safe swimming beach is ideal for those with young children. Situated in a sheltered cove on the east coast, there is no surf, yet the soft sands allow easy walking in bare feet. It is a great place to fish. Snapper, groper, and gurnard are the main fish caught in this area. If you are lucky, you may even hook a tasty blue cod. Fire up the barbecue in the evening and cook your catch. Whitford Bay is ringed by hills of lush farmland and there are a couple of easy walking tracks for hikers. Visitors are well-catered for by a small range of shops, including a supermarket, women’s boutique, a gorgeous gift shop crammed with local crafts and a café that bakes its own bread and to-die-for chocolate muffins.

If you were writing this, you may use quite different words to convey the attractions of Whitford Bay. However, it does give communicate a sense of the place. Before leaving this glorious spot, take a look at the next example where I have overdone the use of adjectives.

Come to glorious, sunny Whitford Bay, a really wonderful, and breath-taking holiday spot which is just so popular with young families. There is a very safe, but beautiful swimming beach, absolutely ideal for boisterous, busy young children. Situated in a cute, sheltered cove on the stunning and amazing east coast, there is no pounding, dangerous surf. The soft, silky, golden sands allow easy walking in bare feet…………Let’s stop there!

The last example is overdone and can actually have the unwanted effect of deterring folks from visiting. They may feel wary if you seem to be overselling the place.

Are there times adjectives should not be used?

In more formal writing such as business correspondence, reports, and academic work, it is not accepted practice to pepper the writing with unnecessary adjectives. In informal communication between colleagues, limited use of adjectives is OK.

In a less formal email in business correspondence, it is acceptable to use adjectives:

Hi Joe

I’ve noticed that the cafeteria is not being kept tidy. We have some very lazy people in this team. Please have a firm word with them this week and tell them to sharpen up.

The writer has not overdone the use of adjectives in this sentence, yet they have conveyed their opinion of the staff and how they feel about the matter. Joe will understand that the writer is quite annoyed.

However, the next sentence is part of a more formal report to the Board of Directors on the above workplace:

It has been noted that the cafeteria requires attention, as it is not being kept tidy. Joe Brown has talked to the team about the issue and the relevant employees have agreed to draw up a cleaning roster.

You will note that the adjectives very lazy have been omitted and the cafeteria issue has been reported on formally and without emotion.

In academic writing, the use of adjectives is kept to a minimum and are mainly used to describe, place, or categorize things. Emotive language is not permitted.

The research area comprises a long, narrow strip of farmland, situated on the north-western side of the peninsula.

Although this sentence has three adjectives, it is still formally expressed. It has a neutral tone and conveys the necessary information.

Look at the following sentence which is incorrectly expressed – note the emotive and informal wording:

The participants in the survey were mostly really old people and we had been hoping to include some more clued-up, savvy, young people.

Coordinate and Cumulative Adjectives

Coordinate adjectives are two or more adjectives which qualify a noun.

It was a wild, windy night. It was a wild and windy night.

He was a tall, imposing man. He was a tall and imposing man.

In these examples, you can put ‘and’ between the two adjectives and the sentence still makes sense. Another way to check whether or not it is a coordinate adjective is by reversing the order of the adjectives and see if the sentence still makes sense. Both adjectives modify the noun.

With coordinate adjectives, they tend to be from the same category.

She is an elegant, graceful woman. This is an opinion category.

He carried a large, unwieldy suitcase. This is a size/shape category.

Cumulative adjectives are where the first adjective qualifies the following adjective:

They travelled during the hot, summer weather.

Hot modifies summer. Summer modifies weather.

If we include ‘and’: hot and summer weather, or reverse the order: summer and hot weather, you will see that the meaning has changed and does not sound correct. These are cumulative, not coordinate adjectives.

Order of adjectives

The way we order adjectives follows a particular rule based on category.

  • Opinion: elegant, graceful, pretty

  • Size: small, large, tiny, tremendous

  • Age/condition: old, young, ancient, shabby

  • Length/shape: short, round, long

  • Color: red, blue, green

  • Origin (nationality/religion): Indian, Scottish, Protestant, Jewish

  • Material: cotton, metal, wooden

  • Purpose: swimming (pool); electric (fence)

A small, young Scottish boy.

The lovely, old, wooden toy box.

However, if we change the order of these adjectives, it sounds wrong.

A Scottish, young, small boy.

The toy, wooden, old, lovely box.

If English is not your first language, it is a good idea to keep this rule handy.

Adverb Definition

An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, another adverb, clause or sentence. Adverbs are used to communicate manner, time, degree, level of certainty, and place. They also respond to questions of how, when, where, to what extent and in what way. Happily, quickly, tiredly.

She walked slowly.

It was a particularly hot day.

While most adverbs finish in -ly, there are several which do not:

  • afterward/s

  • already

  • rather

  • almost

  • back

  • better

  • best

  • even

  • far

  • tomorrow, today

If you are interested, there are more of these adverbs online.

An adverbial phrase is one that operates as an adverb and is used to give more information than one word does.

Jim laughed with tears of happiness.

If you use an adverbial phrase at the beginning of the sentence, a comma is required.

In the evenings, I go to yoga.

Avoid overuse of adverbial phrases in one sentence, and carefully punctuate to avoid ambiguity.

She danced across the floor with dainty feet.

Although we may think this makes sense, one could argue it is the floor that has dainty feet.

She danced across the floor, with dainty feet.

A conjunctive adverb combines two sentences or clauses.

Jane got bored reading her book, therefore,she went for a walk.

I like to drive to town each day, however, on rainy days I stay home.

Bob got stuck in the traffic, thus, he arrived late for the meeting.

You had better eat your vegetables, otherwise,you can’t have any ice cream.

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