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.

26 comments

Leave a Comment ↓

  1. Brisa says:

    May 21, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    “All my troubles seemed so far away .”
    Is “far” an adjective here even though it is not followed by a noun? “So” is an adverb premodifying “far”. Is “away” another adverb functioning as a postmodifier?
    Thank you in advance for your help.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 22, 2019 at 6:18 pm

      Hi Brisa,

      This is a tough one! “Seemed” can be replaced by “be (were)” in this famous lyric, so you’d think that “far” would be classified as an adjective. However, most dictionaries classify “far” in this position as an adverb. I found “far away” as an example of “far” as an adverb under definition #1 in Oxford Dictionaries here: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/far

      I also found “away” classified as an adverb and used with “far” under definition #1.1 in Oxford Dictionaries here: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/away

      In your example above, there are three adverbs together, where the adverb “so” modifies the adverb expression “far away” (broken down into the adverb “far” + the adverb “away). If you think of “away” being commonly used to specify time or distance (e.g., two months away / ten blocks away) then it’s easier to see how “far” can be substituted for a more general time or distance (e.g., two months away = far away / ten blocks away = far away).

  2. Rajasree says:

    Feb 24, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    He appeared to be anxious..
    Correct or not?

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 28, 2019 at 10:12 am

      Hi Rajasree, it’s correct to say “He appeared to be anxious” but it’s more common to say “He appeared anxious.”

  3. Navila says:

    Dec 27, 2018 at 10:58 am

    thanks

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 28, 2018 at 1:17 pm

      You’re welcome, Navila.

  4. Matin says:

    Nov 18, 2018 at 9:13 am

    Thanks because im iranian this is very great text

    Thanks

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 20, 2018 at 5:51 pm

      I’m glad it helped you, Matin!

  5. Gregor says:

    Oct 21, 2018 at 4:31 am

    Could you explain this please?
    Which one is NOT acceptable?
    I immediately felt _____ her arms.
    A) safely at home in
    B) at home in the safety of
    C) safely home in
    D) home safety in

    Answer:

    D

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Oct 23, 2018 at 3:29 pm

      Hi Gregor,

      D is correct. You can’t “feel home,” and “home safety” is not a thing.

      Also, please note that “feel safe” is quite common as well. This is a normal case of “feel” + an adjective because “feel” here doesn’t involve the action of touching, so is acting like the Be verb (which normally takes an adjective).

      However, “safely home/safely at home” are also possible in English. Adverb + noun is not a common sentence pattern, so this combination is an exception to the normal rule. We can say:
      – felt at home in her arms
      – felt safe in her arms
      – felt safely at home in her arms
      – felt safely home in her arms

  6. Alex says:

    Jul 09, 2018 at 2:08 am

    You seem to have chosen to highlight ‚appear‘ instead of the more common ‚seem‘; „she seems tired“ sounds better than „she appears tired“ to me. Or, then, I would tend to say: „She appears to be tired“ which comes to „She seems (to be) tired.“ ‚to be‘ being optional, yet preferred, in some cases. ‚to be‘ is, of course, more unusual today with ‚look‘ „He looks (to be) in a hurry.“

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jul 09, 2018 at 1:28 pm

      Hi Alex,

      I gave examples of look, feel, and appear as non-action verbs because they have action-verb counterparts, whereas “seem” isn’t used as an action verb.

      When using non-action verbs in speaking and writing, I agree that be, seem, look, and feel are more commonly used than appear. I also agree that appear can be followed by the object or by “to be” + object.

  7. injy says:

    Sep 25, 2017 at 9:48 am

    what about
    the teacher ….. to be nervous.
    a) appearing
    b) has appeared
    c) appears
    d) appear

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 25, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      The best answer is c. “Appeared” would also work.

  8. DP says:

    Sep 11, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Thanking you

  9. khaled says:

    Jul 28, 2017 at 6:13 am

    thanx teacher,🤘🏻🙏🏻

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jul 28, 2017 at 11:31 am

      You’re welcome, Khaled!

  10. Lisa Slaney Mitchell says:

    Mar 16, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Perfect timing! Works well with the Ocean Garbage Lesson for March. Extra grammar exercises to support a lesson is always welcomed.

  11. Grace says:

    Mar 15, 2017 at 9:35 am

    I truly love these explanations and the work sheet to confirm if they were understood. Thank you so much.
    I’m a Spanish native English teacher always looking for resources to share with my students.
    Thank you very much.
    Grace del Prado

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 15, 2017 at 11:44 am

      Happy to hear it, Grace! Thanks for your comment.

  12. Diane B says:

    Mar 15, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Great, thanks.

  13. Mike says:

    Mar 04, 2017 at 5:14 am

    Thank you!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 06, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      You’re welcome, Mike!

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