What Is an Adjective? Usage and Examples

By Alan Reiner – December 18, 2023

Adjectives are an essential element in the world of grammar, providing richness and diversity to how you express yourself. You may encounter adjectives daily without even realizing it. 

These words describe the qualities, states of being, or quantity of nouns and pronouns, such as silly, yellow, fun, or fast. They can help you convey more information about the subjects and objects in your sentences, painting a vivid picture for your readers.

When using adjectives in your writing or speech, you’ll typically place them right before the noun or pronoun they describe, like in the phrase “a scruffy dog.” Adjectives can be used to describe something independently or in comparison to something else, for instance, “Jane is smarter than her brother.” 

Mastering the use of adjectives will enhance your communication skills and make your language more engaging and precise.

The Role of Adjectives in Modifying Nouns

Adjectives play a significant part in enhancing your writing by modifying nouns. They allow you to describe the qualities or states of nouns more precisely, making your sentences richer and clearer.

Attributive Adjectives in Describing Nouns

When using attributive adjectives, you place them directly before the noun they modify. For instance, “a tall tree” or “a fast car.”

a fast car and a tall tree

These adjectives help to paint a more vivid picture of the noun’s qualities.

Predicate Adjectives and Their Function

Predicate adjectives, on the other hand, come after a linking verb and further describe the subject. For example, “The cake is delicious.” Here, “delicious” is a predicate adjective providing more information about the cake.

Finally, predicative adjectives only occur after a linking verb. They describe the subject by providing additional information, such as “The sky is blue.” In this example, “blue” is a predicative adjective giving more context to the noun “sky.”

Understanding Special Categories of Adjectives: Demonstrative, Interrogative, and Possessive

In addition to these types, there are other specific categories of adjectives to consider. Demonstrative adjectives (this, that, these, those) help to identify or point out specific nouns. Interrogative adjectives (which, what) are used in formulating questions relating to nouns, while possessive adjectives (my, your, its, etc.) indicate ownership.

By using adjectives in your writing, you can enrich your descriptions, making them vivid, engaging, and easier to comprehend. Remember to choose the appropriate type of adjective to convey your message effectively.

Applications and Functions of Adjectives

Adjectives play a crucial role in the English language, as they help you describe and express the qualities or states of nouns and pronouns. These words provide additional information about the size, color, quantity, or condition, making your speech more vivid and engaging.

Adjective Placements

In grammar, adjectives usually appear just before the nouns they modify. However, sometimes they can be found in other positions, like after the verb “to be.” When using adjectives, it’s essential to follow the proper order, such as Size, Age, Shape, Color, Material, and Purpose.

Consider the following example sentence: You have a beautiful, old, wooden desk. Notice how the adjectives are placed before the noun “desk” and follow the size-age-material pattern.

Comparative Degrees

Adjectives can also be utilized to make comparisons between two or more entities. There are three forms of adjectives: positive, comparative, and superlative. Your car is fast (positive), Your car is faster than mine (comparative), and Your car is the fastest in the neighborhood (superlative).

In English dictionaries, you will typically find adjectives listed in their base form, also known as the positive form. To enhance your language skills and enrich your speech, it’s beneficial to expand your adjective vocabulary.

Comparative and Superlative Forms of Adjectives

In English, adjectives have two forms that allow you to compare things: the comparative and the superlative. Comparative adjectives are used to compare two different things. On the other hand, superlative adjectives are used to compare three or more things.

The Rules for Forming Comparative Adjectives

To form the comparative, you generally add the suffix “-er” to the adjective. For example, “round” becomes “rounder.”

However, for longer adjectives, you typically use “more” before the adjective, like “more beautiful.”

Creating Superlative Adjectives: Suffixes and “Most”

Superlative adjectives are formed by adding the suffix “-est” or using “most” before the adjective.

For instance, “round” becomes “roundest” and “beautiful” becomes “most beautiful.”

Dealing with Irregular Forms of Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Some adjectives have irregular forms for comparatives and superlatives. For example, “good” becomes “better” and “best,” while “bad” changes to “worse” and “worst.”

Here are some examples of comparative and superlative adjectives:

  • Tall: taller (comparative), tallest (superlative)
  • Heavy: heavier, heaviest
  • Fast: faster, fastest
  • Important: more important, most important

Structural Components: Using “Than” and “The” in Comparisons

When using comparative adjectives, you often need the word “than” to introduce the comparison, e.g., “Her score was higher than yours.” With superlative adjectives, you usually use “the” before the adjective, e.g., “He is the smartest student in the class.”

Remember to use the appropriate comparative or superlative form when comparing different degrees of qualities among things and to choose the correct terms to convey your comparisons effectively.

Understanding Coordinate Adjectives

Coordinate adjectives are two or more adjectives that independently modify the same noun and hold equal importance within the sentence. They can be separated by commas or the conjunction “and.” The order of the adjectives can be reversed without changing the overall meaning.

Using Coordinate Adjectives For More Effective Description

When using coordinate adjectives, it’s essential to ensure that each modifier contributes unique information to the noun.

For example, in the phrase “a tall, dark, handsome man,” each adjective provides a distinct characteristic without repeating or overlapping in meaning.

Integrating Participles

Participles, such as numbers or cases, can also be used as coordinate adjectives. An example would be “the third, fourth, and fifth chapters,” where the ordinal numbers “third,” “fourth,” and “fifth” all equally modify the noun “chapters.”

Remember to use commas for separation when dealing with multiple-coordinate adjectives.

The “And” and Order-Swap Method

To determine if your adjectives are indeed coordinate, try inserting the word “and” between them or swapping their order. If the sentence still makes sense, they are likely coordinate adjectives. For instance, the phrase “a black-and-white photo” remains clear when rephrased as “a white-and-black photo.”

In summary, when using coordinate adjectives, pay attention to their unique contributions, appropriate punctuation, and versatile sentence placement. Properly employing them in your writing will create clear descriptions and enhance your overall sentence structure.

Distinguishing Between Adjectives and Adverbs

It’s important to know the difference between adjectives and adverbs when crafting your sentences. Adjectives are words that describe or modify nouns and pronouns. They convey specific characteristics or provide more information about the noun or pronoun. For example:

  • She owns a large house. (The adjective, “large,” describes the noun, “house.”)

Adverbs, on the other hand, modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Often formed by adding “-ly” to an adjective, they provide additional information about how, when, where, or to what extent something occurs. For instance:

  • He spoke quickly. (The adverb, “quickly,” describes the verb, “spoke.”)

In some cases, adverbs can also be used within dependent and relative clauses or provide negative information. Observe the following examples:

  • She sings beautifully, though she never had any formal training. (Dependent clause)
  • The book which he lent me was really informative. (Relative clause)
  • I never eat junk food. (Negative information)

Keep in mind that there are exceptions, and some adverbs don’t end in “-ly.” Also, adjectives don’t modify verbs, unlike adverbs. By understanding these key distinctions, you can enhance your writing and make it more engaging and accurate.

Interchangeable Roles: Nouns as Adjectives and Vice Versa

Sometimes, nouns and adjectives can switch roles in a sentence, enhancing your language versatility. Attributive nouns are nouns used as adjectives to modify other nouns, typically in singular form. For example, the phrase ‘bathroom tiles’ uses the noun ‘bathroom’ as an adjective to describe the type of tiles.

Nominalized adjectives occur when adjectives function as nouns. This often happens when they are preceded by ‘the’ and refer to a group of people or things. For example, ‘the poor’ refers to people who are poor.

Prepositions can also contribute to this interchangeability. In some cases, nouns following prepositions can serve as adjectives. Consider the phrase ‘the cup on the table’, where ‘table’ acts as an adjective to specify location.

When it comes to predicates, adjectives can follow linking verbs and describe the noun in the subject position. For example, in the sentence ‘the book is informative’, ‘informative’ is an adjective describing the noun ‘book’.

Lastly, nominalized terms can be created by transforming an adjective or verb into a noun. This can be achieved by adding a suffix, such as ‘-ness’ to ‘happy’ to make ‘happiness’, or by simply using the word in a different context, such as ‘a good read’.

Best Practices for Using Adjectives in Writing

Opting for Specific and Impactful Adjectives for Clarity and Precision

When using adjectives, remember to keep your writing clear and concise. Select specific adjectives to provide detail and enhance your sentences.

For example, instead of “The book is good,” use “The engrossing book captivated my attention.”

Navigating the Spelling Nuances of Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Pay attention to spelling, especially when comparing using “-ier” or “-iest.” For example, “lovely” becomes “lovelier” and “loveliest.” In contrast, use “more” and “most” for adjectives with three or more syllables, like “considerate.”

Answering Essential Questions: Incorporating Adjectives in Context

Incorporate adjectives in your writing to answer questions like “Which one?”, “What kind?”, and “How many?”. For instance, “eleven wise council members gathered for the meeting.”

Linking verbs can also connect adjectives to the subject, as in “The English professor is knowledgeable.”

Striking the Right Balance: Simplicity and Detail in Adjective Usage

Use adjectives to balance simplicity and detail, helping your reader form a mental image. Providing too many adjectives can overwhelm you, so it’s essential to prioritize and be selective.

Additional Resources and the Importance of Proofreading

For additional guidance, refer to English grammar books and reliable sources. Always proofread your writing, ensuring appropriate use of adjectives to create engaging and informative sentences.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of adjectives?

There are several types of adjectives, including descriptive adjectives, which describe qualities or characteristics of nouns (e.g., happy, blue); comparative adjectives, which compare two nouns (e.g., taller, faster); and superlative adjectives, which express the highest degree of a quality among three or more nouns (e.g., tallest, fastest).

How do adjectives function in a sentence?

Adjectives modify or describe nouns or pronouns. They often come before the noun they describe, but they can also follow a linking verb (e.g., be, seem, feel) and describe the subject of the sentence. For example, in the sentence “The dog is friendly,” “friendly” is an adjective describing the noun “dog.”

What is the difference between an adjective and an adverb?

While adjectives describe nouns (people, places, or things), adverbs modify verbs, other adverbs, or adjectives. Adverbs usually answer questions like how, when, where, or to what extent something is done. For example, in the sentence “The cat slept soundly,” “soundly” is an adverb modifying the verb “slept.”

Can you give examples of common adjectives?

Here are some examples of common adjectives: happy, sad, fast, slow, small, large, cold, hot, red, blue, soft, and hard. These adjectives can be used to describe various nouns or pronouns.

How do adjectives help with description?

Adjectives help create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind by providing specific details about nouns or pronouns. They give information about size, color, shape, feeling, taste, or many other qualities. For example, instead of saying “a car,” you can use adjectives to describe it as “a shiny red sports car,” which paints a more vivid picture for the reader.

Are there any rules for using adjectives correctly?

To use adjectives correctly, follow these guidelines: 1) place them before the noun they describe (e.g., a large house), 2) use them after a linking verb (e.g., the cake is delicious), 3) in a series, use commas between adjectives of the same type (e.g., a cold, windy day), and 4) when comparing two nouns, use comparative adjectives with “than” (e.g., She is taller than her sister). Remember that adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify in gender and number.