What Are Descriptive Adjectives? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 31, 2023

Do you want to learn more about descriptive adjectives? Here's the article you've been looking for! Here, you'll learn all you need to know about descriptive adjectives and how to use them in your writing.

In short:

  • Descriptive adjectives are qualifying words that comment on a person's or thing's attributes by describing them.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Descriptive Adjectives?

Descriptive adjectives are a specific category of adjectives that you can use to describe someone or something's characteristics or attributes. They can also describe animals, places, ideas. and so on.

  • Adjectives, as you may know, are a part of speech known as modifiers. They either modify the subject of the sentence (predicate adjectives) or tell us about the noun that's either the subject or the object of the sentence (attributive adjectives).

Descriptive adjectives are no different. They're simply a category of adjectives.

There are lots of other categories, including quantitative, demonstrative, possessive, interrogative, and distributive adjectives, to name a few.

  • Recognizing a descriptive adjective is easy; as long as it describes the noun or pronoun it modifies, it's a descriptive adjective.

'Describing' can mean many things, though. So, what do we mean exactly?

To give some concrete examples, descriptive adjectives can give information about:

  • appearance (tall, handsome)
  • personality (funny, kind)
  • age (old, new)
  • value (expensive, precious)
  • uniqueness (rare, original)
  • intelligence (smart, intelligent)
  • emotional state (angry, excited)
  • color (black, blue)
  • temperature (hot, chilly) 

What Are Non-Descriptive Adjectives?

The descriptive kind makes up the majority of adjectives. That makes sense if you think about the fact that an adjective's main job is to describe. You might be wondering what an adjective does if it's not describing. While that's a topic for another article, I do want to give you a brief idea of some of the other things adjectives can do.

So, without further ado, here are some examples of sentences that use non-descriptive adjectives.

Who does that pencil belong to? (demonstrative)

Is that your daughter? (possessive)

Which Christmas tree would you like? (interrogative)

I have some idea of what to expect. (quantitative)

They've made enough muffins for each child. (distributive)

As you can see, the above examples may relate to and qualify the noun or pronoun, but they don't describe it.

Using Descriptive Adjectives

Now you have some idea of what descriptive adjectives are. You might want to know how you're supposed to use them in a sentence. For this, you need to consider word order.

Let's start with the basics. If you're using an attributive adjective, you'll place it just before the noun it modifies.

For example:

She was a tall girl.

We ate a delicious lunch.

The silent night appeased me.

If you're using a predicate adjective, the rules are slightly different. Typically, they follow a linking verb. This means they are also placed after the noun they modify rather than before it.

As a reminder, linking verbs are the opposite of action verbs. They describe a state of being rather than doing.

Some linking verbs include:

  • be
  • feel
  • smell
  • become
  • seem

Here are some examples:

Why does she seem so angry?

You should be grateful for what you have.

Dogs always seem very relaxed.

Apart from where the adjective is placed within the sentence, there's also a hierarchy of adjectives. Say, for example, you want to use more than one adjective in the same sentence. What order should you place them in? This is where things can get complicated, and really, this is just something that comes naturally to us native speakers or that English language learners will pick up over time with some practice. But there is actually an official order, believe it or not.

Here's the official order of adjectives according to the Cambridge Dictionary:

1. opinion (unusual, lovely, beautiful)
2. size (big, small, tall)
3. physical quality (thin, rough, untidy)
4. shape (round, square, rectangular)
5. age (young, old, youthful)
6. color (blue, red, pink)
7. origin (Dutch, Japanese, Turkish)
8. material (metal, wood, plastic)
9. type (general-purpose, four-sided, U-shaped)
10. purpose (cleaning, hammering, cooking)

Here are some examples:

I saw a beautiful, tall, rectangular building.

She was an unusual young woman when she first arrived. 

I bought a new wooden sponge.

Sentence Examples

I'm now going to show you a bunch of sentence examples that use descriptive adjectives. In all the examples, the adjective itself is underlined, just like I've done with all the examples throughout this article.

She's the one wearing a blue dress.

I have a sore throat.

That puppy looks quite anxious.

That car is driving incredibly fast.

This is a rare and precious stone.  

You look a little bored.

You can really see the Roman influence in the architecture.

He's a smart, curious young man.

I'm really excited about watching the final tonight.

The silky fabric felt smooth under my hand.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on descriptive adjectives. I hope you found it helpful and that you now feel well-equipped to use them in your own writing.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Descriptive adjectives provide information about a person, place, animal, or thing's attributes.
  • They describe the sentence's noun or pronoun.
  • Place them before the noun they modify or after a linking verb, depending on the type of adjective.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like our Grammar Book. It's a free online database of grammar articles just like this one. Check it out!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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