ACT English and SAT Writing Tips: Adjectives and Adverbs

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I was sitting in the car line at my kids' Relaxed smiling beautiful young woman listening to music in headphones over chalkboard background.jpegschool yesterday when an old song from middle school came on the radio. "Waiting for a Star to Fall" by Boy Meets Girl. I know you've never heard it. It's OLD. I get it. But I'm going to tell you about it anyway because it can help you master the ACT English and SAT Writing sections.

The sappy first verse of the song has a line with an error that is like nails on a chalkboard to this grammarian. Can you spot it?

I hear your name whispered on the wind
It's a sound that makes me cry
I hear a song blow again and again
Through my mind and I don't know why
I wish I didn't feel so strong about you
Like happiness and love revolve around you

Ugh. It hurts my soul just to type it.

The error is in line 5; you cannot use the adjective strong to modify the verb feel. The correct word should be the adverb  strongly. Like Boy Meets Girl, the ACT and College Board are going to try to slip these soul-crushing errors by you, but after you read this post, you'll be ready for anything that a song--or the tests--can throw at you.

An adjective is a word that describes or modifies a noun or a pronoun. Skinny is an adjective. You can have a skinny horse, skinny children, and a skinny file. He can be skinny, it can be skinny, and they can be skinny.

An adverb is a word that describes or modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb. Quickly is an adverb used to modify a verb. You can skip quickly, count quickly, and brush quickly.

Extremely is an adverb used to modify adjectives or other adverbs. You can be extremely skinny or lose weight extremely quickly.

Now, let's look at how the ACT and SAT may try to trick you. You may see an easier level question like number 1:

Untitled.pngThe word underlined in the first question, violent, is an adjective used to describe a noun:

the violent storm
a violent outburst
a person who is violent

However, in the sentence, it is being used to modify the verb reacted. Therefore, violent should be replaced by the adverb violently. Choice (B) is correct. Note that (C) is incorrect because it uses the wrong verb tense and (D) uses incorrect idiom (with should be in) and is wordy.

In question 2 (also above), the correct answer is (A). The adverb quickly is modifying the verb reduced. Be careful not to make changes just because you notice an adjective or adverb is underlined!

More difficult questions involving modifier choice require you to identify when an adjective is incorrectly modifying another adjective. Consider a final example:

Untitled2.pngIs the abbey surprising, or is the size of the abbey surprising? The second part of the sentence references the vast size, so surprising, an adjective, is not modifying abbey—it is modifying large, and thus must be made into an adverb. By adding an –ly in (C) we can correct this error. Choice (B) repeats the same error with a new adjective (and slightly changes the meaning) and choice (B) is redundant without correcting the error.

When adjectives and adverbs are underlined on the test, check that each adjective modifies a noun or pronoun, and that each adverb modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb.

This isn't the only song lyric containing the type of errors that turn up on the ACT or SAT. There are many, many more that make it difficult for me to enjoy listening to the radio in the car line, and in future posts about the ACT English and SAT Writing sections, I'll highlight some of them for your listening and studying pleasure.

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