As parts of speech go, descriptors like adjectives and adverbs are definitely the most fun. They allow you to spice up your writing and relate to your reader by appealing to the senses. Imagine writing without any descriptors: parties wouldn’t be fun, dogs couldn’t be cute, and this blog post wouldn’t be captivating at all.

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Luckily, description and detail are welcome in this post as well as on the SAT. Just be sure you’re being clear and concise on the SAT and not throwing too many unnecessary flowery descriptions in. Keep it minimal to get your point across, but good writing sometimes needs descriptive language for clarity’s sake. If you’re writing your own blog, however, be as wordy and descriptive as your heart desires, it may actually help you.

Types of Descriptors on the SAT

The main types of descriptive words are adjectives and adverbs. The key to using them correctly, and not mixing them up, is to ask what word you’re modifying. Another way to describe is with comparisons and superlatives.

Adjectives – Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Use an adjective to describe a person, place, thing, or the placeholder word for the person, place, or thing. Easy enough! Let’s look at an example of adjectives in a sentence:

Game of Thrones was an excellent show until they ruined last season.

In this sentence, excellent describes our noun, the show. Last also helps describe which season was sucktastic. If we were to omit the descriptors in this sentence, the meaning is less clear and the sentence really doesn’t have a point. You’d basically just be saying:

Game of Thrones was a show until they ruined a season.

The whole point of the sentence is to discuss how they threw away years of build-up on a rushed, unfinished-feeling final season. Without our adjectives, we would completely miss the details that make up the main idea.

Adverbs – Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Adverbs typically end in ‘ly’ such as lazily, quickly, annoyingly, busily, etc. There are a few exceptions, but we’ll go over them in the common mistakes portion of this post.  Let’s break basic adverbs down with another example:

Daenerys had quite the character arc; She evolved really quickly from intending to bring peace to Westeros, to angrily and rashly destroying much of Kings Landing.

Really quickly is a case when you’d use an adverb to describe an adverb. Rather than leaving it at quickly, you throw really in there to emphasize just how suddenly Daenerys’ transition happened. Quickly is describing her evolution, and really is describing the speed at which she turned into a modern version of her father, blinded by power.

Angrily and rashly are simple adverbs describing our verb destroy. Ask yourself how Daenerys is destroying to identify the adverbs. Easy!

Adverb break! Daenerys passionately and intensely lets out a battle cry as she aggressively flies into battle. Let it out, girl.

A general rule: If you are describing a thing, you should use an adjective, but if you’re describing anything else (verbs, adjectives, more adverbs), then adverbs are the way to go!

Comparisons – Comparisons are used to compare 2 things. Groundbreaking. Adding an er onto an adjective is a common way you’ll see comparisons used, but you could also use the word ‘more’. Don’t mix ‘er’ words with ‘more’ unless you want to sound like a little kid. It could look something like this:

In the beginning, Arya was way tougher than Sansa.

Tougher directly compares Arya and Sansa. I even added an adverb, way, to show you how adverbs could be used out there in the wild to describe descriptions.

You wouldn’t say: In the beginning, Arya was way more tougher than Sansa.

What are you, five? Okay, that’s mean, but it does sound juvenile in comparison to the first sentence, right?

Superlatives – Superlatives are used to compare three or more things. They often end in ‘est’. Along the same lines, you can use ‘most’ to compare three or more things, but you can’t use ‘most’ and ‘est’ together, no matter what Little Caesars’ marketing team thinks.

There is so much wrong with the grammar here, luckily they’re in the business of pizza and not SAT prep.

An appropriate example of a superlative could be:

Out of the many Lannisters, Tyrion is the most intelligent.

There’s a whole clan of Lannisters, so we meet our three plus rule, and we use ‘most’ in this case to compare intelligence levels. You could also say:

Out of the many Lannisters, Tyrion is the smartest.

Now that we’ve covered the types of descriptors you may see on the SAT, let’s talk about how to use them correctly in some examples and go over the most common mistakes.

Common Mistakes with Descriptors on the SAT:

  1. The most common mistake we see students make is mixing up adjectives and adverbs.

I was real tired of Cersi by the end of the show.

I was really tired of Cersi by the end of the show.

‘Real’ is an adjective and ‘really’ is an adverb. An easy way to tell is by the ‘ly’ at the end. Adverbs frequently end in an ‘ly’. Using an adjective (real) in this sentence is incorrect because the word we’re describing is tired. Tired is an adjective, and adjectives are described by adverbs. The key to knowing which descriptor is correct to use on the SAT is to decipher what word is being described. Adjectives describe nouns or pronouns, and adverbs describe everything else.

2. Another super common mistake that’s made with descriptors on the SAT is the ‘well’ vs ‘good’ issue.

I’m doing good.

I’m doing well.

While the first sentence is a common way for people to respond to “how are you?”, it is technically grammatically incorrect. ‘Doing’ is a verb, so you wouldn’t use an adjective, ‘good’, to describe it. Adverbs always go with verbs and ‘well’ is one of the few adverbs that doesn’t end in ‘ly’, so it can be tricky.

3. The last major mistake students will make with descriptors on the SAT is choosing between ‘more’,er’, and ‘est’ while practicing comparisons and superlatives.

Joffrey is evil, but Ramsay is more evil.

Joffrey is evil, but Ramsay is eviler.

Joffrey is evil, but Ramsay is evilest.

The first sentence is technically correct, but on the SAT, if it can be said in a simpler way, it’s the way to go. The second sentence is a simpler, more concise way to make the same comparison, so it is the most correct option to College Board. The last sentence implies a superlative rather than a comparison with the ‘est’ ending. We are only comparing two things, Joffrey and Ramsay, so ‘est’ is inappropriate to use in this case. Save ‘est’ words for comparing 3 or more things.

Adjective Break! Sansa started out soft and spoiled, but was forced to endure so much abuse that she evolved into a strong, experienced leader.

What to Take with You

Descriptors on the SAT are easy enough once you understand the rules. Adjectives describe nouns or pronouns, and adverbs describe pretty much everything else. If you want to get crazy and compare things in your writing, comparisons words like ‘more’ and ending words with ‘er’ are reserved for 2 things, while ‘est’ words are meant for superlatives. Superlatives compare three or more things. Be careful to make sure you’re not mixing ‘more’ with ‘er’ or ‘est’ to avoid redundancy.

Kirsten Mann
Kirsten is the Operations Coordinator at Test Geek. She has a 35 on the ACT Reading Test and enjoys sarcasm and pop culture references.

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