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Adverbs and Adjectives

Adverbs and Adjectives

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson teaches adverbs and adjectives and common problems to avoid in academic and argumentative writing.

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-Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? Today will be all about two things-- adverbs and adjectives. We'll look at each individually, and then discuss how best to use them in the academic context.

Adverbs, the first of our two subjects today, are words that modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. They're fairly easy to recognize because most of them end with -ly. A few of the more common exceptions to this rule are quite, just, still, almost and very.

Adverbs are generally used in sentences to provide information about place, time or manner. For example, in the sentence The boy ran quickly, the adverb, quickly, is providing information about the manner of the word that it modifies, ran. How did the boy run? Quickly.

Or if I said He ran quite slowly, there two adverbs. One, slowly, which like quickly in the previous sentence is modifying the verb ran, while the other is quite, which is itself modifying the other adverb. How did he run? Slowly. How slowly? Quite slowly.

Adverbs cab also modify adjectives like in this sentence, He wore very nice shoes. Here the adverb, very, is modifying the adjective, nice. How nice were the shoes? Very nice.

Adjectives meanwhile are words that modify a noun or noun phrase. They're what we generally refer to as describing words, because they provide sentences with further details about nouns or noun phrases.

For example, in the sentence The boy wore nice shoes, the adjective, nice, is providing details by describing its targeted noun, shoes. If I wrote instead that The tall boy wore nice shoes, there'd be an additional adjective, this time providing details about the other noun, the boy.

Adjectives can also describe noun phrases. In this sentence, for example, The old ladies living down the road are nosy, the second adjective, nosy, is modifying the noun phrase, the old ladies living down the road.

Adjectives can also be used to compare or contrast more than one noun or noun phrase. The forms of adjectives that perform this function called comparative and superlative adjectives. We use the comparative to describe the difference between two things, and the superlative to indicate which of three or more things is the most or least among them.

For example, in the sentence Tom is faster than Roy, the adjective, faster, is in its comparative form as opposed to just fast, because it's being used to compare two nouns, Tom and Roy. But in this sentence, the adjective is in its superlative form. Tom is the fastest boy in his class. The adjective, fastest, is comparing multiple things, Tom and however many other boys are in his class.

We can also use these adjectives to compare noun phrases. For example, Boiling an egg is easier than making an omelette. Here the comparative adjective, easier, is comparing two noun phrases, boiling an egg and making an omelette.

When using adjectives and adverbs, there are a few things to keep in mind, especially in academic writing. First, we need to be careful not to overuse them. In other kinds of writing, it's generally more acceptable to be poetic and highly descriptive. But in general, writers of academic essays are better off using dynamic nouns and verbs, and using adjectives and adverbs only when necessary.

For example, here's a sentence that would be unlikely to receive much praise from either the editor of an academic journal or a composition professor. Jane Eyre is the most important, relevant, dynamic, forceful, and superfluous novel ever written. Instead of listing these adjectives, I'd have been better off talking about what exactly makes me feel this way about the book. And this probably wouldn't have impressed them anyway, as anyone who knows what the word superfluous means would know.

Similarly, adverbs can be problematic if used too often. Staunchly, fiercely, and totally without regard for her personal career, she fights against oppression. We should also be careful not to use repetition or redundant adjectives and adverbs, writing things like this, for example. The response to her claims came swiftly and quickly. Since both of the adverbs, swiftly and quickly, mean the same thing, we'd be better off just choosing one.

We should also be careful not to use redundant adjectives like this. Her new novel is a story of excellent, superb quality. We need to be careful when using intensifying adjectives and adverbs. Works like very, excessively, clearly and obviously can sometimes have the opposite of the intended effect, suggesting to the reader that whatever we're writing about has actually not yet been proven to be very or clearly anything.

Ideally, we shouldn't have to use these kinds of words anyway, since our points would be clear without them. For example, instead of writing something like this, Obviously, higher wages are the answer, why not just say that higher wages are the answer and then prove it. Taking things for granted is sometimes unavoidable, but we should be careful when doing so. And using an adverb like obviously is a pretty clear indicator that that's what's happening.

The same goes for adjectives. For example, Our next course of action is clear. Instead of saying this and nothing more, we'd probably be better off stating that course of action, and letting the reader decide how clear it is.

Oh, and one more thing about adjectives and adverbs. In speech, it's fairly common and often acceptable to substitute an adjective for an adverb, and to say things like I'm doing good, when we're technically supposed to say I'm doing well.

In writing, and especially in academic writing, we need to be careful not to use an adjective to modify a verb, and to never write things like He read the book quick, instead of he read the book quickly.

Even though there are many ways writers of academic arguments can go astray with adjectives and adverbs, they are still important tools-- tools that, when used correctly, can add detail and nuance to our sentences, improving the writing process and our readers' experience.

What did we learn today? We learned about adjectives and adverbs, including a glimpse into some of the problems writers run into when using them in the academic context. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.