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Getting it right with adjectives and adverbs

By Alexander Chagema | July 16th 2018

The World Cup quarter-final game between Belgium and Japan could have fooled many. Japan exhibited some footballing brilliance and threatened to upstage favourites Belgium. But it was not to be because of the tenacity and patience of their opponent. Belgium’s comeback was so spectacular a colleague used that game as the yardstick to aver Belgium would make mincemeat of France. It did not happen as France scraped through by the skin of their teeth.

And in the other semi-final game between England and Croatia, without dancing around the subject, the better team won. There was jubilation and disappointment in equal measure on both occasions.

Of course, many fans felt bad about it, their teams having played so badly. Though ‘badly’ derives from ‘bad’ (adjective), the addition of letters ‘ly’ to form the word ‘badly’ effectively makes it an adverb. Note, however, that not all adverbs end with ‘ly’.The use of ‘bad’ and ‘badly’ in sentences would therefore convey different meanings. To express a feeling, we use the adjective‘bad’, hence say “I feel bad about my favourite team losing in the semi-finals of the World Cup”.

Driving skills

To use the adverb ‘badly’ would be inappropriate. Let us consider the following sentences to help us make the distinction. ‘The car in which we were moved badly” and “the car in which we were was bad”.

In the first case, it means that the ride in the car, which could have been mechanically sound, was disconcerting, perhaps because of the poor skills of the driver. The second case simply means the car was mechanically unsound, unroadworthy, held together by string and glue.   

Ideally, adjectives are used in modifying nouns and pronouns, while adverbs not only modify adjectives, they also modify other adverbs. For example: “After the fire alarm and mad rush down 10 floors, he felt tired”. The adjective ‘tired’ tells us more about the pronoun ‘he’.

If in the place of ‘he’ a name, say, John had been used; the adjective ‘tired’ would be modifying the noun ‘John’. Adjectives are grouped into three, namely, descriptive, demonstrative and qualitative adjectives. The descriptive adjectives include words such as ‘small’, ‘big’, ‘yellow’, and ‘friendly’.

They tell you more about a noun. For example; ‘She lives in the big yellow house on the hill’. Quantitative adjectives (also called numerical adjectives) include words such as ‘little’, ‘few’, ‘first’, ‘ten’ and ‘many’.

They describe the number or amount of a noun. For example, ‘The journalism class at the main campus has 30 students’. Demonstrative adjectives include the words ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘these’ and ‘those’. Because the words ‘every’, ‘my’ and ‘the’ are used to modify nouns as in my car’, ‘my house’, ‘every day’ ‘every teacher’, they also are used as adjectives.

 In usage

Having said adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs, note too that they answer questions on ‘how’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘what’. For example; ‘He walks slowly’ answers the ‘how’ while ‘Obama arrived in the country yesterday’ answers the ‘when’.

Conjunctive adverbs, namely ‘still’, ‘indeed’, ‘consequently’, ‘moreover’, ‘afterwards’, ‘otherwise’, ‘also’, ‘similarly’ and ‘therefore’, are used in joining two independent clauses.

In usage, the semicolon comes before a conjunctive adverb while a comma comes after. An example is - “I wanted to watch a football game on television; however, the kids wanted to watch cartoons.”

These punctuation marks, the semicolon and comma, are apt in joining clauses that can stand independently. In the aforementioned case, “I wanted to watch a football game on television” and “The kids wanted to watch cartoons” can stand independently.

Do not use a semicolon if the sentence merely expresses a thought as follows - “In my opinion, however, he does not deserve a second chance”. Note that the word ‘however’ can be removed from the sentence to eliminate the need for the enclosing commas.  

In our day-to-day usage of the English language, it has become common for us to use some adjectives wrongly. Take ‘good’ and ‘well’ as examples.

Often, when friends meet after some time and one asks the question: “How are you?”  The standard response in most cases is ‘I am doing good” or simply “I am good”.

Such use is wrong because the adjective‘good’ follows sense verbs; ‘look’, ‘feel ‘and ‘smell’. Thus, one either ‘feels good’, ‘looks good’ or ‘smells good’. With action verbs such as ‘doing’, the accompanying adjectiveshould be ‘well’.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]


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