Adjectives, Articles and Adverbs

Some people (myself included) enjoy grammatical terms, but for most people they're rather dull. After all, if you use a word correctly, does it matter whether that word is a noun or a pronoun? However, I have found that knowing how to classify a word helps me use it correctly.

This article provides a quick review of the parts of speech. More importantly, though, it offers practical advice for avoiding common problems associated with some of them.

I own a silver car.

I own two cars.

I own that car.

Adjectives modify nouns. Consider the following sentence:

The word silver is an adjective modifying car. Adjectives usually indicate "what kind," "how much/many," or "which one." Thus:

The words silver, two, and that are all adjectives, at least as they are used here.

I go to the class that meets at 6 p.m.

I go to a class that meets at 6 p.m.

Articles (a, an, and the) are a special kind of adjective. You will sometimes hear people refer to the as a definite article and to a and an as indefinite articles. To understand the difference, consider these examples:

The first sentence implies that only one class meets at 6 o'clock: the writer goes to that specific class, not to some other one. In contrast, the second sentence implies that several classes meet at 6 o'clock. The writer goes to one of those classes, but it isn't clear which one; the reference is less specific, less definite. 

Often, you will use the indefinite article the first time you mention a noun. This is a way of indicating that you don't expect the reader to be familiar with the person or object you are discussing. But you can use the definite article when you mention the noun again, since the reader now knows what you are talking about:


Adverbs modify verbs. But they also modify adjectives and other adverbs, indicating "when," "in what way," and "to what degree." For example:

He drove frantically.

The air was strangely silent.

He drove very frantically.

In the first and last sentences, the adverb frantically modifies the verb drove. In the second sentence, strangely modifies the adjective silent. Note that in the third sentence, the adverb frantically is modified by the adverb very.

When you are describing something in a positive way, remember that good is an adjective, but well is an adverb. Thus, one of these sentences is incorrect:

I sing good.

I sing well.

I am a good singer.

The first one is wrong: the adjective good cannot modify the verb sing. Here is a contrasting example:

This works fine. Now, the adjective good modifies the noun singer.

Parts of Speech

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