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Distinguishing & Comparing Adverbs from Adjectives

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Words That Can Be Either Adjectives or Adverbs

Depending on how they are used, some words can function as both adjectives or adverbs.

I was so exhausted that I went to bed early.
Jeannine is fortunate that she lives close to public transportation.

I had an early appointment this morning.
That sure was a close call!

Distinguishing Adverbs from Adjectives

Many adverbs end in -ly, but this is not a reliable way to distinguish adverbs from adjectives, because there are some adjectives that end in -ly, and some adverbs that have two different forms. The part of speech is determined by the word's position in the sentence, not by its ending. The following chart shows some adjectives and adverbs that end in -ly.

Adjectives That End in –ly

curly tail
surly child
lovely picture

Adverbs That End in –ly

paint quickly
color brightly
ate poorly

Further, some adverbs have two forms, one that ends in -ly and one that does not.

Some Common Adverbs That Have Two Forms
cheap, cheaply
loud, loudly
sharp, sharply
high, highly
near, nearly
slow, slowly
wrong, wrongly
quick, quickly
late, lately

In some instances, the choice of form depends on the idiomatic use of the word. Nearly, for example, is used to mean "almost," while near is used to mean "close in time":

Summer is drawing near (close in time). Summer is nearly (almost) arrived.

Slowly is commonly found in writing, and is used in both speech and writing before a verb

In general, the short forms are used more often in informal writing and speech; the long forms more often in formal discourse.

Sample Usage

I was so exhausted that I went to bed early.

Wendy liked to run briskly for twenty minutes every morning.

Life slowly returns to normal, but the dog moves cautiously.

The pot boiled over

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