Adjectives or adverbs – what to use?

ESL students often have difficulty using adjectives and adverbs correctly. This short guide provides an overview of the rules.


Adjectives are used to modify nouns. They are placed directly before the noun they modify.

Examples are:

She is a nice girl.

That was a lovely song.

He is an intelligent boy.

Alice is an excellent actor.

I bought an expensive watch.

I want to buy a new car.

Adjectives can also go after the verb ‘be’. In this case, the adjective describes the subject of the sentence.

Alice is beautiful. (Here the adjective beautiful describes the subject she.)

Susie was upset. (Here the adjective upset describes the subject Susie.)

John was very tired. (Here the adjective tired describes the subject John.)

Jane was excited. (Here the adjective excited describes the noun Jane.)

Adjectives can also be used with verbs like feel, taste, smell, sound, appear and seem.

The fish tasted delicious.

Alice seemed upset.


Adverbs are used to modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. Most adverbs end in –ly. Of course, there are a few exceptions.

Most adverbs are formed from adjectives.

Adjective – nice / adverb – nicely

Adjective – quick / adverb – quickly

Most words that indicate time and place are also adverbs. Examples are: now, then, soon, yesterday, today, last week, upstairs, outside etc.

Adverbs can go in different positions in a sentence.

At the beginning of a clause

Tomorrow I have got a meeting.

Yesterday I had a strange experience.

At the end of a clause

I have got a meeting tomorrow.

I met John yesterday.

Adverbs can also go in mid position – after the auxiliary verbs and before other verbs.

I often get headaches.

He is always late for work.