College PrepSATSAT Writing

Tips for Adjectives vs. Adverbs in SAT® Writing

Adjectives

Adjectives are words used to describe or alter nouns and pronouns. To find the adjective in the sentence, determine the word that changes the noun. 

For example: She is beautiful.
“Beautiful” alters the pronoun “she.”
The dog is hairy.
“Hairy” alters the noun “dog.”
My scores in the Writing section were excellent.
“Excellent” alters the noun “scores.”

Types of Adjectives

Comparative adjectives are used to compare two things.
For example:
Comparing fantasy novels and legal documents, fantasy novels are often livelier.
Superlative adjectives are used to compare three or more things.
For example:
We went to Germany, Scotland, and France: Scotland was the prettiest.
You may need to correct for errors with comparative and superlative adjectives in the Writing test. Pay attention to how many things are being compared. If a superlative is being used to compare two things, then you need to make a correction. If a comparative is used to compare three or more things, you will also need to make a correction.

Another thing to pay attention to is the wrong choice of using “more” with a comparative adjective or “most” with a superlative adjective.
Here are some examples of this type of error:
Comparing fantasy novels and legal documents, fantasy novels are often more livelier.
We went to Germany, Scotland, and France: Scotland was the most prettiest.

Adverbs

Adverbs alter adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. Often they are produced by adding “-ly” to an adjective.
For example:
He runs quickly.
The adverb “quickly” alters the verb “runs.”
Her paintings are vibrantly colored.
The adverb “vibrantly” alters the adjective “colored.”
The ancient sculptures were moved extremely carefully.
The adverb “extremely” alters the adverb “carefully.”

Comparing Adjectives and Adverbs on the SAT® Exam

You may come across a sentence in the Writing section where an adverb is used where an adjective should be or vice versa. Pay attention to what is being altered by adverbs and adjectives. If the word being altered is a noun or pronoun, then an adjective should be used. If the word being altered is a verb, adjective or another adverb, then an adverb should be used.

Here is an example of a misused adverb:
The studying was effectively, and she raised her score.
Because “effectively” is altering a noun (“studying”), then an adjective should be used.
Correction:
The studying was effective, and she raised her score.

Here is an example of a misused adjective:
We iced the cake perfect.
Because “perfect” is altering a verb (“iced”), then an adverb should be used.
Correction:
We iced the cake perfectly.

To Review

Are adjectives and adverbs used correctly?

If so, be sure that the word is being used properly. You will need to read carefully: this type of error can easily slip through the cracks if you don’t know the rules we have detailed above.  

Are superlative adjectives and comparative adjectives appropriately used?

Superlative adjectives must describe a comparison between three or more things. Comparative adjectives must describe a comparison between two things. 

What type of word is the adverb or adjective altering?

If the underlined adjective is altering an adverb, verb, or adjective, then an error has been made. If an underlined adverb is altering a noun, there is also an error.

You can practice resolving issues with adverb and adjective use through UWorld’s SAT Prep Course. Our practice exams are realistic, and by gaining experience with these questions, you will be more prepared and confident for test day. We also offer detailed explanations for questions, including questions that contain errors with adjectives and adverbs. These explanations are a great way to learn from your mistakes on our practice exams. Try them out today to boost your Writing Section scores on the SAT exam!