Can Adverbs Modify Adjectives? A Definitive Answer

Can adverbs modify adjectives? The short answer is yes, but read this guide to learn how this works.

Modifiers like adjectives and adverbs make writing more interesting and engaging. Unfortunately, many writers and readers can get these words mixed up, especially when adverbs can modify different parts of the sentence. Can adverbs modify adjectives? This guide will outline how they can and how to use adverbs in this way.

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Can Adverbs Modify Adjectives? 

While modifying verbs may be the one most commonly thought of, adverbs can also modify other parts of speech. Specifically, adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

Adverbs and Adjectives – A Common Pair

Adverbs and adjectives are the two types of modifiers in the English language. When it comes to a modifier describing other modifiers, the word is always an adverb.

Adjectives only modify bounds and pronouns. Thus, for a word to modify an adjective, it is an adverb. However, this distinction can be tricky to spot in a sentence.

Adverbs answer the question “to what extent” when they modify adjectives. These words emphasize the adjective to show precisely how much of that characteristic the noun has. For example:

  • The unusually tall girl had to stoop to enter the doorway.

In this sentence, “unusually” describes the adjective “tall.” It emphasizes the sentence, showing that the girl’s height was out of the ordinary.

Using Adverbs to Modify Adjectives

Can adverbs modify adjectives?
Adverbs modifying adjectives can sometimes be called intensifiers because they intensify the effect of the adjective

A few rules apply if you are writing and want to add additional emphasis to the adjectives in your sentence. First, the adverbs that modify adjectives almost always precede the adjectives they modify. For example:

  • The girl’s very dirty shirt went in the wash. (very is an adverb describing the adjective dirty)
  • The overly excited toddler had a hard time taking a nap. (overly is an adjective describing toddler)
  • The exceptionally fluffy bunny was the perfect new pet. (exceptionally is an adverb describing the adjective fluffy)

Another key to using and identifying the common adverbs that describe adjectives is looking at their spelling. Most of the time, these adverbs end in the suffix -ly. While there are exceptions to this rule, such as the word “very” in the first sentence above, the suffix -ly in a word directly before an adjective is a good clue that the adverb describes the adjective.

Adverbs modifying adjectives can sometimes be called intensifiers because they intensify the effect of the adjective. Therefore, it is probably an adverb if you see a word in a sentence that adds intensity.

Adverbs Modifying Predicate Adjectives

In addition to modifying adjectives that come before the noun acting as a subject or object, adverbs can modify the predicate adjective with a linking verb in a sentence. So, for example, you could say:

  • The soup was hot.

In this sentence, “hot” is an adjective describing “soup.” It comes after a linking verb, making it a predicate adjective. If you want to intensify or change the meaning of this sentence, you could add an adverb, such as:

  • The soup was extremely hot.

Here, the soup’s heat becomes more intense with the addition of the adverb.

Another way to add an adverb to this sentence is to add a negative adverb, as in:

  • The soup was not hot.

This change changes the entire meaning of the sentence, and the soup is now considered warm or even cool.

Adverbial Phrases Modifying Adjectives

Sometimes, an entire phrase in a sentence functions as an adverb. The phrase could be two or more words functioning as an adverb or an actual prepositional phrase that has the role of an adverb.

Though this structure is not as common, you can write a sentence with an adverb phrase that describes an adjective. Here are some examples:

  • The children were much too aggressively loud.

In this sentence, “much too aggressively” is an adverbial phrase modifying “loud,” which is a predicate adjective.

  • The baby’s cry was surprisingly strong for its small lungs.

In this sentence, “for its small lungs” is a prepositional phrase describing the predicate adjective “strong.” Also, the word “surprisingly” is an adverb describing the predicate adjective.”

How to Identify Adverbs Describing Adjectives

Sometimes in a sentence, identifying the adverbs that describe adjectives is challenging. For example, you could say:

  • The silver plane landed on the runway.

This sentence only has one adverbial phrase, “on the runway.” This phrase does not describe an adjective because the preposition “on” answers the question “where.” Thus, the adverb modifies the verb.

However, if you add more to this sentence, you can have additional adverbs. For example, you could say:

  • The very silver plane landed on the runway.

In this sentence, the adverb “very” intensifies the adjective “silver.” However, just because a modifier comes before the adjective does not mean it is an adverb. For example, you could say:

  • The big silver plane landed on the runway.

In this case, “big” is a second adjective modifying plane.

To tell the difference between adjectives and adverbs, consider each independently when you have a long list of modifiers. In this example, you could say “the big plane” and have the sentence make sense. However, you cannot say “the very plane” and have it make sense. This fact clues you into the part of speech each word fills. “Very” is an adverb because it modifies “silver,” not “plane,” while “big” is an adjective because it modifies “plane.”

If you need to identify adjectives and adverbs and find yourself confused, remove any extra words and determine if the modifier makes sense with the noun in the sentence. If it does, it is likely an adjective. If it does not, it is likely an adverb.

More Examples of Adverbs Modifying Adjectives

To better understand how adverbs can modify adjectives, take a look at the following sentences:

  • The dinner was so delicious. (so describing the predicate adjective delicious)
  • There are too many commas in that sentence! (too describing the adjective many)
  • The really posh hotel was too expensive for our budget. (really describing posh and too describing expensive)
  • Her covertly quiet demeanor hid her true strength. (covertly describing quiet)

Common Mistakes with Adverbs to Avoid

Common mistakes with adverbs to avoid
You must know when to use conjunctions, how to avoid split infinitives and where to place them in the sentence

Adverbs can be tricky when you are writing. You must know when to use conjunctions, how to avoid split infinitives and where to place them in the sentence. Here are some common mistakes regarding adverbs modifying adjectives that you will want to avoid in your writing.

Using Too Many Adverbs

Adverbs should be thought of as the salt and pepper of your sentence. You can use too many and make the sentence wordy and hard to read. One common time this shows up is with the phrase “very much.” In most instances, you only need the word “very” to intensify an adjective. Here are some examples:

  • She was very much sorry for her actions. (incorrect)
  • She was very sorry for her actions. (correct)
  • I am very much worried about our disagreement (incorrect)
  • I am very worried about our disagreement (correct)

You only need these two adverbs to make the sentence clear when the adjectives they modify are comparative. For example:

  • She was very older than her sister. (incorrect)
  • She was very much older than her sister (correct)

Words that Look Like Adverbs But Are Not

Some words in English grammar look like adverbs because they end in -ly, but they are not adverbs. Some of these words include:

  • Cowardly
  • Curly
  • Sly
  • Melancholy
  • Stately

Do not use these as adverbs.

If you still need help, our guide to grammar and syntax explains more.
For more, check out our guide on verb tense checkers.

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