Adjectives: a significant category in parts of speech of English grammar. With a good artillery of adjectives in your toolkit, you can effectively add a lot of depth and quality to your sentences. But you need to know how and when to use them. Read this article to learn all about adjectives and appropriate usage.
If we described in brief detail what an adjective is, the most important thing we would tell you is that an adjective describes a noun. And that is an accurate definition in its simplest form. But if you are here to find out more than just the simplest meaning, read on.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
You will find two types in English speech and writing: predicate and attributive.
Predicate adjectives modify the subject of the sentence. Typically, they follow a linking verb (more on that later).
See the following examples with the subject in bold and the adjective that modifies it underlined.
Last night's show was hilarious, don't you think?
This cafe's the best in town.
Of course I'm a great mom - they're alive, aren't they?
Notice how sometimes the subject being modified is a noun, and sometimes it's a pronoun.
Attributive adjectives, on the other hand, tell us about the noun that's either the subject or the object of the sentence. They're the more common kind of adjective. Or at least, they're the kind you most likely think about when somebody refers to adjectives.
You'll find them right next to the noun or pronoun they relate to. A linking verb doesn't separate them like with predicate adjectives. They always feature in the same noun phrase as the word they modify. Here are some examples:
Have you seen my new car parked outside?
Beautiful artwork adorned the walls.
The tall trees' leaves rustled quietly in the wind.
Now that you know what an adjective is and where it can be placed in a sentence let's learn a little more about what an adjective can do.
As mentioned in the introduction, the primary role of adjectives is to describe, or add quality to a noun. They help you add a little pizzazz to your sentences by adding descriptive qualities and giving your reader or listener a better understanding of the situation. Here are just a few of the things that adjectives can help describe:
Let's have a look at some examples of the above scenarios. Read the following sentences. You'll see the adjectives underlined and the nouns they modify in bold.
The story takes place in an eeriey hotel perched atop the cold Colorado mountains.
I want bright rooms with high ceilings and majestic plants dotted all over - like an indoor jungle.
Come dressed up as your favorite Disney character. There'll be afternoon dancing and prizes for the best outfit.
As you can see, adjectives help us understand precisely what the speaker had in mind. Imagine how dull these sentences would be without the adjectives!
Adjectives can modify a pronoun the same way they can modify a noun. If you see an adjective, ask, "Which word does it relate to?". If there's no noun, the word being modified is a pronoun. Like in the following sentences:
You are one of the most creative people I've ever met.
She'll be pleased to find out you flew over for Christmas.
I might not give my best performance today; I'm exhausted.
Another context where adjectives can be useful is when paired with a linking verb.
As a reminder, linking verbs are the opposite of action verbs. They describe a state of being rather than doing. Some linking verbs include:
Why does she seem so angry?
You should be grateful for what you have.
Dogs always seem very relaxed.
In the first two examples above, the adjectives modify a pronoun. In the last one, it modifies a noun.
Top Tip! A common mistake is to use an adverb with some linking verbs, such as "I feel badly." This is incorrect and should be "I feel bad."
These adjectives are predicate adjectives because predicates tell us about the sentence's subject.
Adjectives can take on many different roles in a sentence. What I mean by this is that while their broad definition is to "describe," what they can describe and how they do it can take on many different forms.
Let's look at some of the various categories of adjectives and what they tell us.
Descriptive adjectives are the most basic form of adjectives. As their name suggests, you can use them to describe a noun. Some descriptive adjectives include:
As you can see, these adjectives can describe color, physical appearance, the quality of someone's mind, intensity of physical pain, size, speed, age, personality, and so on.
Here are some example sentences:
She's the one wearing a blue dress.
Max is quite a shy child.
That car is driving incredibly fast.
Possessive adjectives, as per their name, indicate possession. Though they are not the same as possessive pronouns, such as 'yours,' 'mine,' or 'their,' for example, they can look quite similar and often get confused. Here's a list of the existing possessive adjectives:
A possessive adjective sits before a noun or pronoun to show ownership of that noun or pronoun. Here are some examples:
His parents must have dropped him on his head.
Have you seen my glasses?
Yes, they're on your head.
You can also use adjectives to compare. For this, you can use comparative adjectives or even superlative adjectives.
A comparative adjective still functions as an adjective, so it continues to describe something, but it also does one other thing: it helps you compare two or more things or states. For example, you might want to say not only that a building is tall but that it surpasses the one next to it in height. For this, you would use the comparative adjective 'taller.'
In most cases, comparative adjectives are formed by adding -er to the adjective. Like in the following examples:
I should have drank a smaller cup of coffee; I've got the jitters now.
He's older than all his siblings.
John is definitely funnier than my last partner.
However, if the adjective is a longer word (more than two syllables), adding -er doesn't always work. In that case, you should add 'more' or 'less' in front of the adjective and leave the adjective as is. For example:
Lilly has been more attentive lately.
I'm less interested in what you do than why you do it.
These jeans are more expensive than those.
You can go one step further when comparing things by using superlative adjectives. These not only help you describe and compare two or more things; they also allow you to show which is the most or least of something.
For example, the tall building you mentioned before might not only be taller than the one next to it; it might be the tallest one in town. 'Tallest' is your superlative adjective here.
To build a superlative, add -est to the adjective.
Here are some sentence examples, with the superlative adjective underlined and the noun or pronoun it modifies in bold. I'll build on the comparative adjective examples above to keep it simple and so you can see the difference between comparative and superlative adjectives.
That's the smallest cup of coffee I've ever seen.
He's the oldest child in his family.
John is my funniest partner so far.
Like comparatives, if the adjective is long, instead of adding -est to it, just add 'most' in front of the word. For example:
Lily's the most attentive girl in the class.
I'm most interested in why you do what you do.
You've picked the most expensive pair of jeans!
Demonstrative adjectives help identify the thing, person, place, time, or object you are talking about. As with all adjectives, they relate to a noun and help the listener know which specific noun you are referring to. Here's a list of demonstrative adjectives:
Here's an example for each of these:
Is this friend the one you were telling me about?
I want that Christmas tree right there.
Take a look at these flowers that John got me.
This painting is my favorite from the museum.
Demonstrative adjetives help show that you aren't just talking about any painting, flowers, or another noun. They help you be more specific, so there's no room for error in interpreting what you mean.
Top tip! 'This,' that,' 'this,' and 'those' aren't always adjectives. Sometimes they are pronouns or adverbs.
Interrogative adjectives are used in questions when asking for specificity about a noun. If demonstrative adjectives are the answer, interrogative adjectives are the question.
Which Christmas tree would you like?
That Christmas tree right there.
The interrogative adjectives are:
Top tip! 'What,' which,' and 'whose' aren't always adjectives. Sometimes they are pronouns or conjunctions.
An adjective can reveal information about quantities. A quantitative adjective does precisely that. It answers the question "How much?" or "How many?". Here are some examples of quantitative adjectives:
And many more!
Place one of these close to your noun to specify the quantity you had in mind. For example:
I'd like a dozen eggs, please.
She doesn't want either of these; do you have any others?
I have some idea of what to expect.
Distributive articles individualize nouns. They separate them into single items. Where a general adjective like 'all' may refer to a group or collective, a distributive adjective like 'each' singles out the individuals within the group.
Distributive adjectives include:
Here are some examples of distributive adjectives (underlined) in a sentence:
They've made enough muffins for each child.
I try to stretch every morning.
Both options are appealing.
Now that we've learned about the different roles an adjective can play in a sentence and seen some examples of this in practice, it's time to look at the various forms it can take on. An adjective can look different depending on the context and might be placed in different parts of a sentence. Read on to find out more.
Sometimes, an adjective can function as a noun, and a noun can act as an adjective. It's like a role-reversal game.
Let's start with noun adjectives. You can use a noun as an adjective in a sentence, provided you place it correctly. Look at the following sentence as an example:
We have to go to the ticket office.
The word 'ticket' is usually an adjective, but it functions as an adjective here by modifying the noun 'office.' The two words are inseparable here if we are to preserve the meaning of the sentence.
This also works with proper nouns. Here's another example:
It was a warm Summer night.
The word 'summer' is usually a proper noun, but it functions as an adjective here by modifying the noun 'night.' There's even an additional adjective - 'warm' that modifies both words (more on cumulative adjectives later).
Let's have a look at some more examples. The noun-adjective is underlined, and the noun it modifies is in bold:
I need to go to the shoe store today.
What a beautiful love story!
When he grows up he, wants to be a news reporter.
Likewise, some adjectives can be used as nouns. I say 'some' because, just like all nouns can't function as adjectives, all adjectives can't function as nouns.
First, a quick review. What's a noun? It's a word that describes a person, thing, place, or animal. And it comes with an article, like 'the,' 'a' or 'an', or a possessive pronoun. So for an adjective to perform the role of a noun, it needs to meet these requirements.
A common way for an adjective to become a noun is when grouping people into categories. For example, "poor people" become "the poor," "adventurous people" become "the adventurous," and "homeless people" become "the homeless." Let's see how this applies in a sentence with the following examples. The adjective-noun and its article are underlined.
Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
The trek is a trip for the adventurous at heart.
We must do more to help our homeless.
This doesn't always apply to groups, however. An adjective can act as a noun and refer to a single person. Like in the following example:
The deceased leaves behind a loving wife and three children.
As you can see, the terms 'adjective' and 'noun' aren't just about how a word looks but also about what the word does.
A compound is two or more words linked together to make a new word. With compounds, among other things, you can create new adverbs, nouns, verbs... and adjectives.
You can make a compound adjective by combining:
And so on!
It's important to remember that no matter what type of words the compound adjective is made up of, it always functions as an adjective. For example, "mouth-watering" comprises a noun and a present participle, but it's an adjective and should be used as such. That is to say, it should modify a noun.
Participles can be used to form adjectives, too. There are two types of participle: present and past.
Examples: baked, tired, lost
Participial adjectives behave the same way as any other adjective: they modify a noun or pronoun.
Here are some examples of sentences with a present participle as the adjective:
Sleeping Beauty is my favorite Disney movie.
Have you seen my reading glasses?
I can't hang out today; I've got a driving lesson.
Now here are some examples of sentences with a past participle as the adjective:
I got us croissants and other baked goods for breakfast.
This wasn't my preferred outcome, but it'll do.
The boys retrieved the lost cat from the tree.
The fun thing about participial adjectives is that they can also be turned into comparatives and superlatives, just like any other adjective. Just bear in mind that since they are usually longer words, they tend to be formed with 'more' and 'most.' Like in the following examples:
This is the least interesting book I've ever read.
I find Halloween more exciting than Christmas.
He's on the list of most wanted criminals.
While coordinate and cumulative adjectives have the same purpose - to qualify a noun or pronoun - they each come with different grammar rules.
Coordinate adjectives are two or more adjectives placed before the noun in a sentence. You can list them in any order and use commas or the word 'and' to separate them. For example:
We feasted on the juicy, ripe strawberries.
In the above sentence, the two adjectives play an equal role in modifying the noun 'strawberries.' You could reverse the order without changing the meaning of the sentence:
We feasted on the ripe, juicy strawberries.
You could also use 'and' instead of a comma:
We feasted on the juicy and ripe strawberries.
Cumulative adjectives, on the other hand, must be placed in a specific order and aren't separated by commas. For example:
He was faced with two big iron doors.
In the sentence above, you'll find three adjectives - 'two,' 'big,' and 'iron' modifying the noun 'doors.' The order of these adjectives couldn't be reversed. You couldn't say:
He was faced with big two iron doors. ❌
Nor could you say:
He was faced with iron two big doors. ❌
You also couldn't place a comma or 'and' between the adjectives:
He was faced with two big and iron doors. ❌
Both of the above sentences sound wrong, making it easy to know that these are cumulative adjectives and which order to place them in. However, depending on the sentence, it isn't always as obvious. Take the following sentence as an example:
He's a funny young man.
You might say it's perfectly reasonable to reverse the order and say:
He's a young funny man. ❌
So how are you supposed to know that 'funny' comes before 'young'? This is when adjective order comes in. Here's the official order of adjectives according to the Cambridge Dictionary:
Let's have a look at some more examples:
Look at the majestic grey rhino.
We bought some new cooking utensils.
Don't press the big round red button.
Clauses are parts of a sentence that contain at least a subject and a verb. The kind of information they provide determines what kind of clause they are. There are adverb clauses, noun clauses, and adjective clauses.
Adjective clauses, as you might have guessed, provide more information about the noun or pronoun. They do that to allow a more elaborate description of the adjective. So technically, adjective clauses describe the adjective, with the end goal of qualifying the noun.
Here are some examples of sentences that contain adjective clauses. You'll see the clause underlined and the noun it modifies in bold.
We're supporting the team that is wearing the blue shirts.
They went to see Kendrick Lamar, whose latest album is fantastic.
The house with the best Christmas decorations will win a prize.
Adjective phrases are very similar to adjective clauses; only they don't contain a subject or a verb. They're a group of words that function as a noun with the aim of qualifying the noun.
Here is an example of a sentence that contains an adjective phrase, with the phrase underlined and the noun it qualifies in bold.
This car is old and used, yet incredibly expensive.
As you can see, there are three adjectives in this sentence: "old," "used," and "expensive." Therefore the adjective phrase must include all three of those. It just so happens that the phrase also contains two conjunctions and an adverb.
Not all adjective phrases need to have more than one adjective phrase, though. Here's an example of an adjective phrase with just one adjective and two words in total:
In your opinion, what was 2022's greatest album?
So how do you make an adjective? At first glance, there doesn't appear to be a template since they all look pretty different. But there are a few guidelines to help you.
The first thing for you to know is that adjectives are formed from nouns or verbs. Add on a suffix, and you've got your adjective!
Here are the most common suffixes for adjectives:
As you've seen, adjectives are a pretty versatile part of the English language and are used often. They can add color to your sentences and give the reader or listener more detail about your intended meaning.
It's important to remember that, just like adverbs, you shouldn't overuse adjectives. If you can, it's better to find a single noun that can replace two words. For example, instead of a "big house," you could say "mansion."
So yes, use them, but use them wisely.
And if you want to learn about more parts of speech and other key English grammar concepts, visit our Grammar Book.
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