Friday, April 20, 2007

Writing for Grammar: Adjective or Adverb?

Whether you are writing a marketing brochure, a newsletter, presentation slides, or a business letter, your writing will not be persuasive unless you add proper adjectives and adverbs to your writing skills.

This resource was written by
Purdue OWL (see links).
Last full revision by Paul Lynch.
Last edited by Karl Stolley on February 8th 2007 at 12:23PM

1. Bad or Badly?

When you want to describe how you feel, you should use an adjective. So you'd say, "I feel bad."

Saying "I feel badly" would be like saying you play football badly. "I feel badly" would mean that you are unable to feel, as though your hands were numb. Here are some other examples:

  • "The dog smells badly." Here, badly means that the dog does not do a good job of smelling.
  • "The dog smells bad." Here, "bad" means that dog needs a bath.

Sometimes people say "I feel badly" when they feel that they have done something wrong. Let's say you dropped your friend's favorite dish, and it broke into a million pieces. You might say, "I feel really badly about what happened."

2. Good or Well?

Good is an adjective, so you do not do good or live good, but you do well and live well. Remember, though, that an adjective follows sense-verbs and be-verbs, so you also feel good, look good, smell good, are good, have been good, etc.


  • "My mother looks good." This does not mean that she has good eyesight; it means that she appears healthy.
  • "I feel really good today." Again, this does not mean that I touch things successfully. It means rather that I am happy or healthy.

Many people confuse this distinction in conversation, and that's okay. You will hear people say, "I feel well" when they mean that they feel good. However, if you're taking about action verbs, you'd say "well." "I did well on my exam." "She plays tennis well."

3. Sure or Surely?

Sure is an adjective, and surely is an adverb. For example:

  • "He is sure about his answer." Sure describes he.
  • "The Senator spoke out surely." Here, surely describes how the senator spoke.

Surely can also be used as a sentence-adverb. For example, "Surely, you're joking." Here, surely describes the entire sentence "you're joking." The sentence more or less means, "You must be joking."

4. Near or Nearly?

Near can function as a verb, adverb, adjective, or preposition. Nearly is used as an adverb to mean "in a close manner" or "almost but not quite." Here are some examples that demonstrate the differences between various uses of near and nearly.

  • "I'll be seeing you in the near future." Here, near describes the noun "future."
  • "The cat crept near." Near is an adverb that describes where the cat crept.
  • "Don't worry; we're nearly there." Here, nearly describes how close we are.

Near can also be used as a verb and a preposition.

  • "My graduation neared." Here, neared is the verb of the sentence.
  • "I want the couch near the window." Near is a preposition at the head of the phrase "near the window."

And surely that’s nearly enough.

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