Look, Appear, Feel + Adjective or Adverb?

She looked nervous after she looked nervously at her watch.

Most students know that the Be verb takes an adjective, not an adverb. But what about other stative, non-action verbs such as look, appear, and feel? These verbs can take both an adjective and an adverb! The confusion lies in the fact that these verbs have both non-action and action meanings.

Trick:

Can you use the Be verb in place of look, appear, or feel?

- If you can, then it’s usually a non-action verb and should take an adjective.

- If you can’t, then it’s usually an action verb and should take an adverb.

1. Look:

Non-Action + Adjective:

Look can be a non-action verb that can describe someone’s appearance. We use this verb to explain how someone else looks/appears to the speaker.

Examples:

  • I think she looks very happy. (Trick: I think she is very happy. = correct)
  • He looks tired today. (Trick: He is tired today. = correct)

Action + Adverb:

Look is also an action verb that means to use one’s eyes to see something.

Examples:

  • He is looking carefully at the schedule. (Trick: He is being carefully at the schedule. = incorrect)
  • She looked furtively at him from across the room. (Trick: She was furtively at him from across the room. = incorrect)

2. Appear:

Non-Action + Adjective:

Appear can be a non-action verb that can describe someone’s appearance. We use this verb to explain how someone else looks/appears to the speaker.

Examples:

  • My teacher appears tired today. (Trick: My teacher is tired today. = correct)
  • He appeared nervous this morning. (Trick: He was nervous this morning. = correct)

Action + Adverb:

Appear is also an action verb that means to show up suddenly.

Examples:

  • She appeared quickly once the bell rang. (Trick: She was quickly once the bell rang. = incorrect)
  • The flowers appeared suddenly in the magician’s hand. (Trick: The flowers were suddenly in the magician’s hand. = Be careful; appear must take an adverb here but the Be verb does make sense.)

3. Feel:

Non-Action + Adjective:

Feel can be a non-action verb that can describe someone’s emotions or physical state. We use this verb to explain how the speaker feels or how a speaker thinks someone else feels.

Examples:

  • I feel stressed out at work. (Trick: I am stressed out at work. = correct)
  • She must feel excited since it’s her graduation day . (Trick: She must be excited since it’s her graduation day. = correct)

Action + Adverb:

Feel is also an action verb that means to touch something. This use is not as common as the non-action verb.

Examples:

  • I felt quickly for my phone to make sure it was still in my pocket. (Trick: I was quickly for my phone to make sure it was still in my pocket. = incorrect)
  • She felt the fabric carefully before she bought it. (Trick: She was the fabric carefully before she bought it. = incorrect)

Practice:

Download the Adjective or Adverb PDF

Answers:

1. nervous   2. nervously   3. happy   4. frantically   5. frantic
6. sleepily   7. sick   8. excited   9. suddenly   10. good

Can you think of any other verbs like this? Add them to the comments below.

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