Whether you paid attention in elementary school grammar class and feel that you know everything about this topic or spent your time thinking about the Disney channel and don’t remember a single thing about these parts of speech, don’t worry. In this article, we will talk about everything you need to know about adjectives and adverbs for ACT English. Specifically, we will define an adjective and an adverb, review superlative and comparative forms of adjectives, and explain how adjectives and adverbs are tested on the ACT.
An adjective is a word that describes or clarifies a noun.
Example: The flower is beautiful.
The word “beautiful” is an adjective because it modifies the word “flower.”
Example: The hard-working student got a perfect score on the ACT.
Here, the word “hard-working” describes, or modifies, the noun “student.”
Rule: adjectives describe or provide more information about a noun.
Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
Example: The dancer moved effortlessly.
The adverb “effortlessly” modifies the verb “moved.”
Example: When I don’t have anything to do, I move extremely slowly.
In this example, the adverb “extremely” modifies another adverb “slowly,” while the adverb “slowly” modifies the verb “move.”
Construction of adverbs occurs by adding -ly to an adjective. For adjectives that end in -y, the adverb is formed by replacing -y with -ily. For example, “quick” becomes “quickly,” soft becomes “softly,” and “cranky” becomes “crankily.” So, if you hear someone say “walk slow” or “drives careful,” they are making a grammatical mistake. The correct way would be to say “walk slowly” or “drives carefully.”
The ACT will switch adverbs and adjectives to make things more complicated. In some questions, you will be given a pair of underlined words where one should be an adverb and the other should be an adjective. Let’s look at an ACT-like example.
The men fighting in the war are incredibly bravely soldiers.
- NO CHANGE
- incredibly brave
- incredible bravely
- incredible brave
Explanation: In this sentence, “incredibly” modifies “bravely.” The word “bravely” modifies the soldiers. Because “soldiers” is a noun and only adjectives can modify nouns, “bravely” should be in adjective form. Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs (never nouns), the word “incredibly” should stay in the adverb form. The correct answer is B.
Some sentences will use an adjective in the place of an adverb or vice versa.
Example: The relentless winter cold kept us indoors most of the time.
Example: The relentlessly cold winter kept us indoors most of the time.
Since both of these sentences are correct, you’re probably wondering how you would know which one to choose on the ACT. Well, the correct answer would depend on the available answer choices.
When faced with an adjectives and adverbs on ACT English question, the first step is to determine what word an adjective or an adverb is modifying. Then, determine the part of speech of the word being modified to see if the adjective or the adverb is being used correctly and in the proper form. Remember that adjectives can only modify nouns and adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
Explanation: The first thing we notice is that both underlined words are in the adjective form. What is the function of each word in the sentence? Is each word being properly used as an adjective? Let’s start with “different.” “Different” is modifying how the feathers are shaped. “Shaped” is a verb and because only an adverb can modify a verb, the word “different” should be in an adverb form “differently.” What is “slight” modifying? “Slight” is modifying the word “differently.” We have just determined that “differently” is an adverb and only adverbs can modify other adverbs; therefore, “slight” should also be in an adverb form “slightly.” The correct answer is C, “slightly differently.”
The comparative form of an adjective is used only when you are comparing two things and is formed by adding “er” to the word or “MORE” + adjective. Examples of comparatives include: “stronger,” “faster,” “lighter,” and “more interesting.” NEVER use “more” with “er” form, i.e. the construction such as “more stronger” or “more faster” is wrong.
Generally, you would use the “er” form for words with one syllable and “more” + adjective for words with two or more syllables. One exception is that two syllable words that end in “y” usually use the “er” form. For example, “funny” becomes “funnier” and “busy” becomes “busier.”
Example: Comedies are funnier than dramas.
The comparative “funnier” is being used to compare two things: comedies and dramas.
What form should you use if you are comparing more than two things?
The superlative form of an adjective is used when you are comparing more than two things and is formed by adding “est” to the word or “MOST” + adjective. Examples of superlatives include: “strongest,” “fastest,” “lightest,” and “most interesting.” NEVER use “most” with “est” form, i.e. the construction such as “most weakest” or “most fastest” is wrong.
Generally, you would use the “est” form for words with one syllable and “most” + adjective for words with two or more syllables.
Example: Of all movie genres, comedies are funniest to watch.
When you are using “all” without specifying a number, it is implied that you are talking about more than two so you should use the superlative form. Here’s an example of an incorrectly used superlative form.
Example: Between comedies and dramas, comedies are the funniest.
Here you are comparing only two things: comedies and dramas, so you should be using the comparative, not superlative form. To correct the error “funniest” should be changed to “funnier.”
The ACT tests proper construction of comparatives and superlatives. You must know that comparatives are only used for comparing two things and superlatives are used for comparing three or more things.
Adjectives and adverbs on ACT English. Because the comparative / superlative rules are pretty basic, you should answer those just fine if you remember just a couple of rules.
If you see a sentence with a comparative underlined, make sure only two things are being compared. Use “er” form for one syllable words. Use “more” + adjective form for words with two or more syllables. Never combine “more” + “er” form.
If you see a sentence with a superlative underlined, make sure more than two things are being compared. Use “est” form for one syllable words. Use “most” + adjective form for words with two or more syllables. Never combine “most” + “est” form.
Explanation. The first thing we notice is that the underlined word is in the superlative form, so we need to see if the superlative form is being used correctly. What is being compared in the sentence? The white-water kayak and the sea kayak. Because only two things are being compared, we need to use the comparative form. The sentence even hints at the answer by the phrase “two principal types of kayaks.” Of the available answer choices, only C and D could be correct. The adjective “large” is a one-syllable word, so we need to use the “er” form. The correct answer is D.
#1. If you see an underlined adjective or adverb (or both), make sure the words are being used correctly.
The ACT will frequently place underlined adjectives and adverbs next to each other in a sentence. Make sure that each word is in a proper form depending on what other word each is modifying.
Adjectives can only modify nouns and should be in the adjective form. Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs and should be in the adverb form.
Comparatives only compare two things. Their correct structure is the “er” form for one-syllable words or “more” + adjective form for multi-syllable words. You should NEVER combine the two forms.
Superlatives compare three or more things. Their correct structure is the “est” form for one-syllable words or “most” + adjective form for multi-syllable words. You should NEVER combine the two forms.
Congratulations on taking time to improve your ACT English score. Your efforts are sure to pay off.
If you need a refresher on other types of pronouns and common errors associated with them, read our articles about pronoun agreement and pronoun case.
Make sure you are familiar with what the ACT actually covers and 5 critical concepts you must know to ace the ACT English. Also, review our articles on most frequently tested concepts such as commas and subject-verb agreement.
Do you have a reliable study plan? If not, check out our complete plan to studying for the ACT and take a practice test.