How to tell if your grammar is real bad

February 03, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

Read the following two sentences.

1. It sure rained hard Saturday.

2. I hope the mail comes real soon.

What's the first thought that comes to your mind?

Do you feel like you're hearing a conversation in a local barbershop?

Perhaps you're thinking of the weather or the mail.

Maybe you're wondering what the weather has to do with the mail.

It could be that you're thinking the sentences don't sound quite right.

So what's wrong with those sentences? Are there extra words? Yes, there are, but extra words aren't necessarily a bad thing, unless you're a newspaper editor. Some people like to use extra words for emphasis.


The sentences don't sound right because the modifiers are used incorrectly.

To keep the original intent, the sentences should read like this:

1. It surely rained hard Saturday.

Rained is the verb. The word sure can be used as an adjective when it is paired with a noun, as in "a sure thing," but adjectives do not properly modify verbs. Only adverbs, such as surely, can do that.

2. I hope the mail comes really soon.

Comes is the verb. Soon is an adverb that answers the question "when?" When will the mail come? Soon. The adverb really is modifying the adverb soon. How soon? Really soon. The word real can be used as an adjective, as in real estate or real property or real numbers. Grammatically, adjectives cannot be used to modify a verb. Only adverbs can do that.

When I asked my fifth-graders how they would change the sentences to make them correct, they cleverly decided to write around the modifier issue.

One suggestion was:

1. It rained hard Saturday.

2. I hope the mail comes soon.

Those are both perfectly fine sentences, but they didn't reveal that the students understood the difference between adjectives and adverbs.

We'll keep reviewing the concepts this year. Why? Because knowing how to describe someone, something or some action properly can provide a more vivid picture for the reader. The result is a clearer understanding of the writer's intent.

Grammar reminder

If you or your children need a refresher, there are some things to keep in mind.

Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns. They answer the questions which one? what kind? how many? how much? whose?

Here are some examples:

The first player (which one)

A red dress (what kind)

twenty blocks (how many)

little progress (how much)

Laura's car (whose)

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. Adverbs frequently end in -ly. They answer the questions where? when? how? how often? to what extent?

Here are some examples:

The bus went downtown. (where)

We ate at the restaurant yesterday. (when)

Do your job well. (how)

Sally is there frequently. (how often)

The little girl was completely covered in sand. (to what extent)

Think you've got it? Try this mini quiz. Circle the correct word to complete the sentence.

1. Traffic was moving (slow, slowly).

2. Sue folded her sweater (neat, neatly).

3. Was she hurt (bad, badly)?

4. This is a (real, really) good bowl of soup.

5. I had to drive (careful, carefully) on the wet roads.

Would you like a clue? OK. All the correct choices are adverbs.


1. slowly

2. neatly

3. badly

4. really

5. carefully

Here's wishing you a very happy day filled with correct modifiers.

(very - adverb telling how happy)

(happy - adjective telling what kind of day)

(correct - adjective telling what kind of modifier)

(with - preposition ... we'll talk about those in another column)

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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