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Look, Appear, Feel + Adjective or Adverb?

June 5, 2014

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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Comments (26)

Mike (Guest)

Thank you!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're welcome, Mike!

Diane B.(Teacher)

Great, thanks.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're welcome!

Graciela D.(Teacher)

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

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

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

Lisa S.(Teacher)

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

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks for sharing this, Lisa! We like being able to offer a variety of materials on a given topic so that teachers have plenty of choices.

You might find our Earth Day Idioms poster handy as well: https://blog.esllibrary.com/visual-learning/earth-day/

And here's the link to the Ocean Garbage lesson, if anyone is looking for it: https://blog.esllibrary.com/visual-learning/earth-day/

khaled (Guest)

thanx teacher,????

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're welcome, Khaled!

DP (Guest)

Thanking you

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're welcome!

injy (Guest)

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

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

The best answer is c. 'Appeared' would also work.

Alexander S.(Teacher)

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.“

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

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.

Gregor (Guest)

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

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

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

Matin (Guest)

Thanks because im iranian this is very great text

Thanks

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

I'm glad it helped you, Matin!

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