In this grammar guide, I'll do the following:
- Define an adjective.
- Define an adverb.
- Review the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives.
- Explain how adjectives and adverbs are tested in SAT Writing.
- Provide practice questions to test you on what you've learned.
What is an Adjective?
Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns. Here are some example sentences with adjectives:
He is disgusting.
The adjective is "disgusting" because it modifies "he".
I turned in my horrendous report.
The adjective is "horrendous" because it modifies the report.
My cat is docile.
The adjective is "docile" because it modifies the cat. You can think of adjectives as words that describe nouns.
What is an Adverb?
So, in elementary school, you may have learned that adverbs modify verbs, but that’s not all. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. This is an example of an adverb modifying a verb:
He writes slowly.
The adverb is "slowly" because it modifies the verb "writes". The adverb is used to describe how he writes. Check out this example of an adverb modifying an adjective:
Her muscles are extremely large.
The adverb is "extremely" because it modifies the adjective "large". The adverb is used to describe the degree of largeness of her muscles. The word "large" is an adjective because it modifies the noun "muscles". Here is an example of an adverb modifying another adverb:
The politician speaks very well.
The word "very" is an adverb because it modifies the adverb "well". The word "well" is an adverb because it modifies the verb "speaks".
From looking at the example sentences, you may have noticed that adjectives and adverbs tend to have different constructions.
Adverbs are usually formed by adding "ly" to the adjective. For adjectives that end in "y", the adverb is formed by adding "ily". So, for example, "slow" becomes "slowly", "quiet" becomes "quietly", "careful" becomes "carefully", and "noisy" becomes "noisily". There are irregularly formed adverbs, such as "good" that becomes "well" in the adverb form. However, the SAT will not specifically test you on irregular adverbs.
So, how will adjectives and adverbs be tested on the SAT Writing section?
Adjectives Vs. Adverbs on the SAT
On the SAT, adverbs and adjectives are switched with one another. Most often, an adjective will be underlined when the word should be in the adverb form. Less often, but occasionally, an adverb will be underlined when the word should be in the adjective form. This is an example of the type of sentence that may appear on the SAT:
When I saw my doctor, he examined me careful.
If you aren't reading closely, the example sentence might seem perfectly fine to you. However, the word "careful" is functioning as an adverb in the sentence. Why? The word "careful" modifies the verb "examined". Therefore, "careful" should be in the adverb form. This is the corrected version of the sentence:
When I saw my doctor, he examined me carefully.
This is an example of an adjective being incorrectly used as an adverb:
Because her workout was excruciatingly, she could barely lift her fork to eat her dinner.
The word "excruciatingly" is modifying the workout. Because "workout" is a noun, "excruciatingly" is an adjective and should not be in the adverb form. This is how the sentence should read:
Because her workout was excruciating, she could barely lift her fork to eat her dinner.
Here are some simple strategies to help you determine whether a word should be in the adjective or adverb form.
Determine what word an adjective/adverb is modifying. Then, determine the part of speech of the word that is being modified. If a word modifies a noun, use the adjective form. If a word modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb, use the adverb form.
Let's use what we've learned to tackle some real SAT questions.
Real SAT Writing Examples
Try to determine if there is an adjective/adverb error in the following sentence.
Explanation: At first glance, none of the underlined phrases may seem incorrect to you. However, let's take a look at answer choice C. The word "effective" is in the adjective form, but what is its function in the sentence? The word "effective" is describing how the effects have been described. The word "effective" is modifying the verb "have described". Therefore, "effective" should be in the adverb form, "effectively".
Here's one more example from a real SAT.
The good news is that you won't see a harder adverb question than that one an your SAT. Now, let's take a look at another rule involving adjectives.
Comparatives Vs. Superlatives (aka -er vs -est)
The comparative form of an adjective is created by adding "er" to the adjective or "more" plus the adjective. Examples of comparatives include "faster", "stronger", and "more exhilarating". You cannot use "more" and the "er" form of a word. You cannot write "more stronger" or "more faster". Also, the comparative form can only be used when you are comparing two things. Here is an example of the comparative form being used incorrectly:
Between Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Christina is the more better singer.
Again, you can't use "more" with the comparative form of a word. The word "better" is the comparative form of good ("better" is irregularly formed). This is the corrected version of the sentence:
Between Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Christina is the better singer.
The comparative form is used when you're comparing two things. What is the proper form to use when you're comparing three or more things?
When comparing three or more things, use the superlative form. A superlative is formed by adding "est" to the adjective or by putting "most" in front of the adjective. Examples of superlatives include "fastest", "strongest", and "most exhilarating". You cannot use "most" and the "est" form of a word together. You cannot write "most fastest" or "most strongest". Here is an example of an error with a superlative:
Of all the breakfast cereals, Apple Jacks is the most tastiest.
Be on the lookout for sentences with "most" and the "est" superlative form. You can only use "most" plus the adjective or the superlative "est" form of the adjective. You can never use both together.
Apple Jacks are tastier than Cheerios.
Comparatives and Superlatives on SAT Writing
Most likely, you will only see a maximum of one or two questions on the SAT testing your knowledge of comparatives and superlatives. All you have to remember is proper construction of the comparative and superlative forms, and you need to know to use the comparative form when comparing two things and the superlative form when comparing three or more things.
This is an example of the hardest type of comparative/superlative sentence I've seen on an SAT:
Between Joe and his brother, Joe is the stronger and more intelligent.
Often, students will be tempted to use the superlatives "strongest" or "most intelligent" in this sentence. However, because we are only comparing two things, we have to use the comparative form. The example sentence is correct.
If you see a comparative, make sure only two things are being compared. Also, make sure that "more" and the comparative "er" form are not being used together. If you notice a superlative, make sure three or more things are being compared. Also, make sure that "most" and the superlative "est" form are not being used together.
Now, let's check out an example from a real SAT.
Real SAT Writing Example
Determine whether there is an error in this sentence taken from an actual SAT.
Explanation: Do you see the error? Hopefully. Find the incorrectly formed comparative. You cannot write "more stronger". The word "more" does not belong with the comparative "er" form of the adjective "strong". The answer is B.
At this point, we've covered all the specific types of questions involving adjectives and adverbs on the SAT Writing section. Here are some tips to help you identify and correctly answer all adjective and adverb questions on the SAT.
General Strategies for Adjectives and Adverbs on the SAT
#1: If an Adjective or Adverb is Underlined, Make Sure the Word is Being Used Correctly
In any of the subsections (sentence improvement, identify the error, paragraph improvement), if an adjective/adverb is underlined, make sure the word is being used correctly. Most adjective/adverb questions are found in the identify the error subsection. Generally, mistakes on adjective/adverb questions are due to carelessness. By checking to see that underlined adjectives/adverbs are being used correctly, you will be less likely to make a mistake.
#2: Determine the Part of Speech of the Word that the Adjective/Adverb is Modifying
If you know the functions of adjectives and adverbs and you can correctly determine the part of speech that an adjective/adverb is modifying, you should never miss an adjective/adverb question.
#3: If a Comparative or Superlative is Underlined, Make Sure the Word is Being Used Correctly
Keep in mind that comparatives compare two things and superlatives compare three or more. Comparatives are formed by placing "more" in front of the adjective or by adding "er" at the end of the word, but you can never use "more" with the "er" form. Similarly, superlatives are formed by placing "most" in front of the adjective or by adding "est" at the end of the word, but you can never use "most" with the "est" form of the word.
I assume we feel comfortable with adjectives and adverbs now. Let's do some realistic SAT practice questions that I created for you.
Additional Realistic SAT Writing Practice Questions
Use the general strategies I provided and your knowledge of adjectives and adverbs to answer these practice questions.
1. For (A) most of my life, I have resided in the incredibly (B) diverse city of Los Angeles, a dense (C) populated urban (D) area in California. No Error (E)
2. After seeing (A) my uncle for the first time in ten years, I was shocked (B) by how dramatic (C) he had aged (D). No Error (E)
3. Between (A) the SAT and (B) the ACT, the SAT has more sections (C) and the ACT has the longest (D) sections. No Error (E)
4. When I visited (A) Marc in New York, I entered his filthy (B) room for the first time and was shocked by (C) how overwhelmingly disgusting (D) it appeared. No Error (E)
5. Even though she (A) struggles with grammar, Jamie was able to correctly (B) identify the error in the sentence by looking (C) at the sentence close. (D) No Error (E)
Answers: 1. C, 2. C, 3. D, 4. E, 5. D
Continue your journey to total SAT Writing mastery. Make sure you know what's actually tested on SAT Writing. For detailed strategies on how to get that awe-inspiring perfect SAT Writing score, read about how to achieve perfection on SAT Writing from a perfect scorer.
Are you hoping to get a perfect combined SAT score? Learn how to do that from somebody who got a perfect SAT score.
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Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.