The types of questions on college entrance examinations that test knowledge of adjectives include items that require the ability to:

  1. identify adjectives that incorrectly modify verbs or other adjectives and replace them with adverbs
  2. differentiate between adjectives and other parts of speech in parallelism errors
  3. identify and correct dangling participles, which are adjective forms of verbs that do not clearly and correctly modify any word in a sentence
  4. identify and correct errors in the use of comparative, superlative, and absolute adjectives

An adjective is a word or group of words used to describe a noun.

The red apple was in a glass bowl.

The adjectives in this sentence are "red" and "glass." "Red" modifies the noun "apple" and "glass" modifies the noun "bowl."

A prepositional phrase can act as an adjective.

The apple was in a bowl on the table.

The prepositional phrase "on the table" acts as an adjective to describe the noun "bowl."

A linking verb links a subject with a predicate. When a subject is linked to an adjective, the modifier is called a predicate adjective.

The apple tastes sweet.

The verb "tastes" links the subject, "apple," with the predicate adjective, "sweet."

Adjectives used for comparison are either comparative or superlative.

  • A comparative adjective is used to compare two people or things. Comparative adjectives generally end in "-er" or are themselves modified by "more" or "less."

An apple is sweeter than a lemon.

I think that apples are more delicious than bananas.

  • A superlative adjective is used to compare more than two people or things. Superlative adjectives generally end in "-est" or are themselves modified by "most" or "least."

Apples, bananas, and peaches are all sweet, but peaches are sweetest.

Apples, bananas, and peaches are all tasty, but I think peaches are the most delicious.

Do not confuse comparative and superlative adjectives. Comparative adjectives can only be used to compare two people or things, and superlative adjectives can only be used to compare more than two people or things.

Apples and peaches are delicious, but I like peaches best.

"Best" is a superlative adjective that means "surpassing all others." Since this sentence contains a comparison of only two things, use the comparative "better."

Apples and peaches are delicious, but I like peaches better.

Do not use a comparative adjective when comparing more than two people or things, as in the following sentence:

After eating an apple, a banana, and a peach, I decided that I liked the peach better.

"Better" is a comparative adjective incorrectly used in this sentence to compare three things. Use the superlative "best" in this context.

After eating an apple, a banana, and a peach, I decided that I liked the peach best.

An absolute adjective describes a quality that has no degree. Absolute adjectives should not be used in comparisons and should only be modified by adverbs such as "nearly" or "almost." These are examples of absolute adjectives:

  • dead (Someone or something that is no longer living is dead; a person cannot be more dead than someone else, and a plant cannot be very dead. However, a plant that has not been watered in a long time can be described as "almost dead.")
  • square (Something is either square or it is not square. A drawing of a box made without a ruler can be described as "nearly square.")
  • perfect ("Perfect" is not relative. A grade can be almost perfect, but your perfect score cannot be more perfect than my perfect score.)

"Unique" is a word that means "unlike any other." Someone or something can either be incomparable (unique) or like someone or something else (not unique). People and things cannot be "very unique" or "more unique" than others. Colloquial speech has developed an alternate meaning of "unique" – "unusual," which is not absolute and can therefore be modified in a comparative manner. However, this usage is not acceptable in standard written English and formal speech. If you encounter "unique" on a standardized test, make sure that it has not been comparatively modified. Do not use a comparatively modified form of "unique" in your writing.

Some questions on college entrance examinations might test your ability to distinguish between an adjective and an adverb. Remember the basics:

  • an adjective modifies a noun
  • an adverb modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb
  • linking verbs can connect a noun with a predicate adjective, making the syntax of the sentence subject-verb-adjective even though the adjective is not modifying the verb

An adjective modifies a noun. An adjective cannot modify another adjective. Only an adverb can modify an adjective.

Bob gave Sam a cake special baked for him.

"Baked" is an adjective. "Special" is an adjective describing "baked." Change "special" to the adverb "specially" to correct the sentence.

Bob gave Sam a cake specially baked for him.

An adverb cannot be used as a predicate adjective. Linking verbs cannot link a noun with an adverb. This type of error is commonly found when the linking verb is a sense verb (look, smell, sound, taste, feel). When an adverb is used as a predicate adjective, it does not describe how the subject looks, smells, sounds, tastes, or feels; rather, the adverb describes the quality of the action of using ones eyes, nose, ears, taste buds, and hands.

My hair is a mess; I look badly. (This means "I am having a hard time looking at things." Change the sentence to "My hair is a mess; I look bad.")

I just ran a marathon; I smell badly. (This means something like "My nose is stuffed." Change the sentence to "I just ran a marathon; I smell bad.")

My nose is stuffed; I sound badly. (This means something like "I am having trouble banging this gong." Change the sentence to "My nose is stuffed; I sound bad.")

I think this milk is sour; it tastes badly. (This means that the milk has the ability to taste and is not performing that task well. Change the sentence to "I think this milk is sour; it tastes bad.")

I think I hurt her feelings; I feel badly. (This means that my ability to touch things is poor. Change the sentence to "I think I hurt her feelings; I feel bad.")

A common mistake is the use of the adjective "good" as an adverb.

I did good on my test.

"Good" is an adjective used to modify the verb "did." An adjective cannot modify an adverb. The phrase "to do good" means "to perform charitable acts" and in this context, "good" is a noun. The correct word to modify "good" is "well."

I did well on my test.

Grammar Basics: Nouns

June 6, 2006

Standardized examinations test knowledge of nouns using several methods:

  1. collective nouns in subject/verb agreement errors
  2. countable and uncountable nouns in subject/verb agreement errors
  3. nouns as antecedents in errors in pronoun/antecedent agreement
  4. consistency of noun forms in errors of parallelism
  5. errors in pronoun choice with gerunds

A noun is a person, place, or thing.

  • musician
  • New York
  • guitar

Nouns may be common (musician, city, guitar) or proper (Elvis, New York, Stratocaster).

Nouns can be subjects or objects.

Bob ate the cookie.

  • "Bob" is the subject: he ate.
  • "Cookie" is the object: it was eaten.

Bob gave the cake to Sam.

  • "Bob" is the subject: he gave.
  • "Cake" is the direct object: it was given.
  • "Sam" is the indirect object: the cake was given to him.

A linking verb links a subject with a predicate that describes the subject. When a subject is linked to a noun, the noun is called a predicate nominative.

Bob is a man.

  • "Bob" is the subject.
  • "Man" corresponds to the subject: it is the predicate nominative.

Some nouns are countable (one guitar, two guitars, three guitars), and others are uncountable (one music? two musics? No.) The difference between countable and uncountable nouns is important in distinguishing between the usage of "number" and "amount."

Collective nouns describe groups and some can take singular or plural verbs and pronouns depending on context. These are a few common collective nouns:

  • team
  • jury
  • class
  • flock
  • police
  • herd

When a collective noun is performing an action as a single unit, use singular verbs and singular pronouns to refer back to the noun.

The class is going on a field trip with its teacher.

The class is going as a unit. The whole class has a teacher.

When the individual members of a collective noun are acting individually within the group, use plural verbs and pronouns to refer back to the noun.

The class are taking their books with them.

The individual members are taking individual books.

Certain forms of verbs can act as nouns. A gerund is a verb ending in "-ing" that acts as a noun.

I like swimming, hiking, and dancing.

An infinitive is the base form of a verb combined with "to." An infinitive can act as a noun.

I like to swim, to hike, and to dance.

When a noun or pronoun precedes a gerund in a sentence, the noun or pronoun must be in the possessive form. A common error in colloquial speech, and one that is commonly seen on standardized examinations, is the use of the objective form of a noun or pronoun that precedes a gerund in a sentence.

A gerund is a verb ending in "-ing" that acts as a noun.

Eating cake is the best part of my birthday.

I like to visit my friend, but driving to her house can take a long time.

He enjoys listening to music.

When a noun or pronoun precedes a gerund in a sentence, it must take the possessive form. The possessive form of a noun includes an apostrophe and the letter "s" and the possessive forms of pronouns are my, your, his, her, its, our, their and whose.

My eating all that cake made me sick to my stomach.

Bob's driving is rather reckless.

His listening to loud music all night drove me crazy.

Examination questions may present a gerund preceded by a noun or pronoun in the objective form. Objective forms of nouns do not have an apostrophe and an "s" and the objective forms of pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, them, and whom. (Notice that the third person feminine pronoun is "her" in both the possessive and objective form.)

I attributed his stomach ache to him eating all that cake.

We appreciate Bob driving us to her house.

I cannot take him listening to loud music anymore.

These sentences are all incorrect because the noun and pronouns preceding the gerunds are in the objective case. Remember that gerunds are nouns and think of possessive pronouns as adjectives since they describe "whose [noun]."

  • my cake (or "my eating")
  • Bob's car (or "Bob's driving")
  • his music (or "his listening")

Objective pronouns act as objects or objects of prepositions; they are never adjectives. Look at how silly the use of objective forms can be:

  • me cake (so it should never be "me eating")
  • Bob car (so it should never be "Bob driving")
  • him music (so it should never be "him listening")

These are the corrected versions of the above sentences:

I attributed his stomach ache to his eating all that cake.

We appreciate Bob's driving us to her house.

I can't take his listening to loud music anymore.

A run-on sentence contains two or more independent clauses that are not connected by the proper punctuation. A run-on sentence may have a period as its only punctuation mark, or it may be inappropriately punctuated with one or more commas (this type of run-on sentence is called a "comma splice.")

The college entrance examinations will test your ability to identify and correct run-on sentences. Furthermore, you should be aware of the different ways to combine and separate independent clauses so that your writing is effective, clear, and concise.


This is a run-on sentence:

I can't wait to go to the concert my favorite band is playing.

The sentence contains two independent clauses that run into each other:

  1. "I can't wait to go to the concert"
  2. "my favorite band is playing"

These are the different ways to correct the error:

1. Use a period to separate the independent clauses into sentences.

I can't wait to go to the concert. My favorite band is playing.

2. Use a semicolon to separate the independent clauses within a single sentence. A semicolon can be used alone, or it can be followed by a conjunctive adverb and a comma. (You may need to restructure the sentence when using a conjunctive adverb to maintain the clarity of the sentence.)

  • conjunctive adverbs: also, consequently, furthermore, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, nevertheless, nonetheless, otherwise, therefore, thus

I can't wait to go to the concert; my favorite band is playing.

My favorite band is playing; consequently, I can't wait to go to the concert.

3. Use a conjunction to join the two clauses. Depending on the context, use either a coordinating conjunction and a comma or a subordinating conjunction alone. (If you choose to restructure the sentence and place the subordinate clause first, use a comma to separate it from the main clause.)

  • coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (mnemonic = FANBOYS)
  • subordinating conjunctions: e.g., after, although, as, because, before, if, since, that, though, unless, until 

I can't wait to go to the concert, for my favorite band is playing.

I can't wait to go to the concert because my favorite band is playing.

Since my favorite band is playing, I can't wait to go to the concert.

4. Change the syntax to create a compound subject, verb, or object.

I can't wait to go to the concert and see my favorite band.

This syntax creates a compound object with two infinitive phrases: "to go to the concert" and "(to) see my favorite band."


This is a comma splice:

I am going to the concert, my sister is also going.

This sentence contains two independent clauses incorrectly separated by a comma:

  1. "I am going to the concert"
  2. "my sister is also going"

Correct the sentence using one of the four techniques:

1. Use a period:

I am going to the concert. My sister is also going.

2. Use a semicolon:

I am going to the concert; my sister is also going.

I am going to the concert; likewise, my sister is going.

3. Use a conjunction:

I am going to the concert, and my sister is also going.

4. Change the syntax:

My sister and I are going to the concert.

This sentence combines the two clauses by creating a compound subject ("my sister and I") and changing the number of the verb.


  • Use this quiz to test your ability to identify run-on sentences. The quiz also includes questions about sentence fragments.
  • Take these interactive quizzes on run-on sentences and comma splices: 1, 2, 3, 4
  • If you have trouble with any of the questions, post a comment and we will try to explain the error to you.

A misplaced modifier is a modifying word, phrase, or clause that seems to refer to the wrong word in a sentence.

When reading a sentence that contains a modifier, pay attention to what the modifier is describing.

My friend saw a puppy on the way to school.

The modifying phrase "on the way to school" is misplaced. Since it is closer to "puppy" than to "my friend," the modifier seems to describe "puppy." The puppy was not on the way to school. My friend was on the way to school. To correct the sentence, move the modifier closer to the words it is describing.

On the way to school, my friend saw a puppy.

This sentence is clearer than the original because the modifier is no longer misplaced.

My mother put the cookies onto the table that she had baked.

The modifying clause in this sentence is "that she had baked." What does it describe? The modifier's proximity to "table" makes it seem as if the table had been baked. To clarify the meaning of the sentence, move the modifying clause closer to the word that it describes ("cookies.")

My mother put the cookies that she had baked onto the table.

Some adverbs can cause confusion in a sentence when they are misplaced. Check the placement of the following adverbs carefully:

  • almost
  • ever
  • even
  • just
  • only
  • merely
  • scarcely

I almost read the entire book.

The adverb "almost" seems to be modifying the verb "read." This would mean that I did not read the book. I almost read the book. Move the modifier closer to the word it is modifying to correct the sentence.

I read almost the entire book.

This sentence makes more sense than the original.

The Girl Scout only sold one box of cookies this week.

The adverb "only" is misplaced in this sentence because it appears to modify the verb "sold" instead of the adjective "one." This sentence implies that she "only sold" the cookies. She did not eat them, she did not hide them, she did not crush them under her feet – she only sold them. "Only" should modify "one" because she sold "only one box." Move "only" closer to the word it modifies so that the sentence makes more sense.

The Girl Scout sold only one box of cookies this week.

Another type of misplaced modifier is called a "dangling modifier." The modifier is said to be "dangling" from the end of a sentence when it does not clearly and logically modify any word in the sentence.

To prepare for a hurricane, many bottles of water and cans of food should be bought.

The modifier, the infinitive phrase "to prepare for a hurricane," modifies the subject of the sentence. The subject is "many bottles of water and cans of food." Bottles and cans do not prepare for a hurricane. A person must prepare for a hurricane. Restructure the sentence so that the modifier refers to a logical subject.

To prepare for a hurricane, you should buy many bottles of water and cans of food.

This dangling modifier was an infinitive phrase. A dangling participle is a misplaced modifier that is a participial phrase.

The tense of a verb indicates the time frame of an action's occurrence. Actions that occur now use the simple present tense, actions that already occurred use the simple past tense, and actions that will occur use the simple future tense.

simple present tense: I study. [This is happening now.]

simple past tense: I studied. [This happened in the past.]

simple future tense: I will study. [This will happen in the future.]

The perfect tense of verbs is used to indicate the relative sequence of events in a sentence. The present perfect tense indicates that an action has been occurring and may be continuing to occur now. The past perfect tense indicates that an action occurred in the past before another action. The future perfect tense indicates that an action will occur in the future before another action.

present perfect tense: I have studied, so I will pass the test. [I studied in the past and might still be studying now. I will pass in the future.]

past perfect tense: I had studied, so I passed the test. [First I studied. I completed this action, then I passed the test.]

future perfect tense: I will have studied, so I will pass the test. [In the future, I will study. I will complete this action and then I will pass in the future.]

The college entrance examinations will test your ability to identify and correct errors in verb tense sequence. This will require both a knowledge of the verb tenses and context-reading skills.

By the time we arrived at the concert, the opening band finished its set.

This sentence contains an error in verb tense sequence. The band finished playing before we arrived, so the verb in the main clause should be in the past perfect tense.

By the time we arrived at the concert, the opening band had finished its set.

This sentence is correct.