Which Adverbs Modify Adjectives?

Sometimes, adverbs are used to modify the meaning of an adjective. It is important to realize that they are not modifying the subject, which is a common misconception. For example, in the sentence, “He is a very smart man”, “very” is used to modify the adjective “smart”, which is used to describe the man. However, if you remove the word “smart,” you can see that “very” is not modifying the subject man. “He is a very man”.

Adverb Modifying Adjective

An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Today, we’re going to focus on adverbs that modify adjectives.

A word modifies another word in grammar when it adds meaning or clarification to that word. Modifiers tend to be descriptive words like adjectives or adverbs. We said earlier that an adverb can modify three different things: a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Well, an adjective can only modify nouns. Let’s look at an example:

The silver plane landed softly.

First, let’s identify the noun in this sentence. A noun is a person, place, or thing, so the word “plane” is the noun in this sentence. Now, we look to see if there are any words in the sentence that tell us more about the plane. The word “silver” tells us the color of the plane, adding meaning and clarification, so we know that it modifies the word “plane.” Since “plane” is a noun, we know that “silver” must be an adjective, since only adjectives modify nouns.

There’s an adverb in this sentence, too. We see that the plane landed, and we know “landed” is a verb or action word. The word “softly” tells us more about how the plane landed, so it is a modifier. Since landed is a verb, we know the modifier has to be an adverb.

Now that we’re comfortable with what an adverb does in a sentence, let’s see what happens when it modifies an adjective instead of a verb.

Take the following sentence:

The blue bird flew.

In this sentence, the noun “bird” is modified by the adjective “blue,” which tells us what kind of bird flew–a blue bird! What if we were to add an adverb to this sentence? Often an adverb used to modify an adjective adds a degree of intensity to the adjective:

The very blue bird flew.

The word “very” in this sentence is an adverb modifying the adjective blue. It’s telling us how blue the blue is. Sometimes, this can get tricky. Imagine the sentence were as follows:

The big blue bird flew.

“Big” is in the very same place “very” was in the last sentence, but it’s not an adverb. It’s not telling us anything more about the color blue, but it is telling us something more about the bird. Because it’s telling us something about the noun, we know that “big” must be an adjective the same way blue is.

A helpful hint to check if a word is modifying the noun in a sentence is to take out the other adjective and see if the sentence makes any sense. If I take out “blue” in this sentence, it still reads, The big bird flew. But if I take out “blue” in the first sentence we looked at, the sentence changes from:

The very blue bird flew.

to

The very bird flew.

That doesn’t make any sense. What is a “very bird?” Very, then, must be a word modifying the color blue, not the bird itself.

In fact, “very” is a common adverb that you’ll see emphasizing adjective descriptors. Other common adverbs are words like “really” and “slightly.” Adverbs often end in -ly, but not always.

If I say that a cat is “quite” pretty, I’m using the adverb “quite” to modify the adjective pretty. If I say the book is “more” interesting, I’m using the adverb “more” to modify the word interesting.

Adverbs should be as close as possible to the thing they modify in the sentence. If the adverb is too far away from the word it modifies it makes for an awkward sentence and sometimes even changes the meaning.

Let’s look back at what we learned.

If there are two modifying words in front of the noun, one of them could be an adverb modifying the adjective. When an adverb is modifying an adjective it is saying something about the adjective in the sentence, often adding clarification or intensity. The adverb is normally as close as possible to the adjective in a sentence, and often uses intensifying words like “more,” “least,” or “hardly.”

Thanks for tuning in and I’ll see you next time!

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: August 14, 2019