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How is it that the word "work" can be used as an adjective, verb and an adverb? For e.g:

she worked quietly all afternoon

In the e.g. 'quietly' is an adverb but 'worked' can be a verb(showing action) or an adjective(describing the pronoun'she').

I'm having a little difficulty to understand the identification of words as nouns, adjectives and adverbs.

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    How do you tell adjectives from verbs in your native language?
    – James K
    Dec 23, 2022 at 19:59
  • Worked is not an adjective here, just a verb. Dec 24, 2022 at 9:33

2 Answers 2

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Many English words can be used in multiple ways. It's very common for a single word to be used in some sentences as a noun and some as a verb or adjective. Sometimes the different uses change the way it's pronounced, but not always. A word cannot be both a noun and a verb or a noun and an adjective at the same time, it has to be one or the other.

The Word "Work"

The word work is commonly used as a verb or a noun in English. It's not commonly used as an adjective or adverb. It seems like you might be confused about verbs and adjectives, so let's back up and cover some things you might already know.

We'll use the example sentences:

(A) Ellen worked quietly all afternoon.

(B) The work went quickly as she sang along to the radio.

Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives

noun - a person, place, thing, or idea. Each English sentence has a main noun (or pronoun) called the subject. In most simple English sentences, the subject will be at the beginning of the sentence, but not always. In (A), the subject is "Ellen" and in (B), the subject is "work" (or "the work").

verb - an action or state of being. Each English sentence has a main verb called the predicate which might be one verb or might include other words around the verb. In this moment, we'll talk about the predicate as one word. To find it, ask "What is the subject doing or being?" In (A), "worked" is this verb. In (B), the verb is "went."

adjective - you're right that an adjective is a word that describes a noun, but it can't also be a verb. Neither of these example sentences have adjectives describing the subject. But here are some possible ways to add them:

Studious Ellen quietly worked all afternoon.

The boring work went quickly as she sang along to the radio.

In these examples, there is an additional word that describes the subject of the sentence without saying what the subject is doing. If it says what the subject is doing, it's a verb.

Other words that can be used in multiple ways

There are many of these in English, but here are some examples:

  • Answer -> They answer (v) the questions. Her answer (n) was correct.
  • Vote -> Will you vote (v) in the next election? We need to count the votes (n).
  • Count -> We need to count (v) the votes. The final count (n) has been released.
  • Average -> She calculated the average (n) of the exam scores. The average (adj) student scored 60 points.
  • Alert -> I have an alert (n) on my phone when it is time for dinner. My alert (adj) dog always knows when someone visits.
  • Clean -> I need to clean (v) the kitchen. My clean (adj) kitchen is easy to cook in.
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Adjectives are modifiers of nouns. They typically have comparative forms (-er) and superlative forms (-est) and can be intensified with adverbs like "very". They are normally placed before nouns to give attributes, or in complements of sentences. But adjectives can't form the subject or object of a verb. And adjectives don't form clauses. Examples:

That is a red flower.

The flower is very pretty.

This flower is prettier.

The most beautiful flower is the rose.

Verbs are words that are central to clauses. They typically have five forms (eat eats ate eaten eating) and the infinitive "to eat". They have subjects and may have one or more objects. They can also be modified by adverbs.

In your sentence "worked" is undoubtedly a verb. It has a subject "she" and is modified by the adverb "quietly". It forms a clause. It is not an adjective. It doesn't modify a noun, it doesn't have comparative or superlative. It is one of the five forms of the verb "work", it is the past tense form. The simple past tense is formed that way.

The word "worked" does not describe or modify "She". The predicate of the sentence "worked quietly all afternoon" describes her action. But you wouldn't call her a "worked girl".

You can also ask "can the word 'work' be replace by another word. For example you can replace "work" by a form of the word "eat"

She ate quietly all afternoon.

This suggests that "work" and "eat" are in the same word class, the one we call "verbs". But

She beautiful quietly all afternoon.

Is ungrammatical. This suggests "beautiful" and "work" are in different word classes.

So in this case there is no doubt.

There may be some confusion when a participle is used to modify a noun. You might say "A worked piece of metal." This is probably best understood as a participle, not an adjective. That isn't the case here.

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