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Adjectives and Adverbs in Academic Writing

Academic texts depend heavily on adjectives (which modify nouns and noun
phrases) and adverbs (which modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs) in
order to communicate meaning effectively.

The most obvious long-range benefit from the fission process is the potential to
provide a source of power that would assure a higher standard of living in those
countries that do not have adequate reserves of fossil fuel.

Excerpt from: Eisenhud, M., &Gesell, T. (1997). Environmental Radioactivity. San Diego: Academic Press.

The following adjectives are commonly used in academic texts. Try using them
in your assignments in place of the more informal, colloquial expressions you use
in conversation.

Common Academic Examples of use with nouns*

Adjectives most commonly found in
academic texts

Relating to important / salient salient feature

importance necessary significant subsidy

Relating to high / increasing sole indicator

size/ amount low / declining primary consideration
/ intensity / adequate / sufficient only restriction
frequency prime / main / primary / major indiscriminate consumption
only / sole declining interest
annual / hourly increasing birthrate
indiscriminate annual evaluation

Relating to new / innovative innovative strategy

quality economical economical estimate
consistent consistent representation
sustainable sustainable solution
abstract abstract concept
hierarchical hierarchical organization

Relating to different / alternative alternative options

variation variable variable dimensions

Relating to likely / possible likely paradigm

probability sure / definite / inevitable possible scenario
impossible inevitable outcome

* Note that these nouns are very common in academic texts. If you do not know their
meanings, and how to use them, refer to the Examples Bank in the Longman Dictionary
of Contemporary English software. Then try using them in your writing where

Academic texts generally contain fewer adverbs than adjectives. Those adverbs
that are most commonly used across all disciplines generally fall into the
following four categories.

Category Most common Examples of use

Intensifiers More/ very / extremely / Surviving the extremely cold conditions
even / quite required more perseverance than even
the seasoned hunters were prepared

restrictives Only / particularly Female students, particularly those

who are fair-skinned, need to take extra
precaution to protect themselves when
participating in the outdoor project.

hedges Usually / sometimes / This procedure is perhaps one of the

generally / probably / most complicated one in medical
relatively / perhaps history; it is usually carried out by
highly experienced teams with very
sophisticated equipment.

additives Further / also It was further argued that fair pricing

was another area that needs to be
considered as a substantive measure.

Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of
spoken and written English. Harlow, Essex: Pearson.
Coxhead, A. (2000). The new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34 (2), 213-238.

Dr. Elaine Khoo, 2005. The Writing Centre, University of Toronto at Scarborough. See terms and
conditions for use at http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~ctl/twc/terms.htm