English Adjectives - Basic Terms

1. An adjective is a word that modifies (describes) a noun or pronoun. Adjectives make up a very large group of words in the English vocabulary (about 23%). Adjectives tell about the qualities and features of people, things, or concepts ( small, brave, elegant, intelligent) and can be viewed as an added intensifier or “decoration" to the basic sentence elements, adding variety and descriptive value.

Adjectives can also be expanded into
adjective clauses, which function similarly. In the following examples, the adjectives are underlined, and the nouns or pronouns they modify are in bold.
They were happy when their children got good grades in their report card.
[the adjective happy modifies the pronoun they, the adjective good modifies the noun report card]

2. A test for adjectives – A good way to make sure a word is an adjective is to ask about the modified noun: What kind of (noun) is it? "He is a respected teacher" is correct, as respected answers the question: What kind of teacher is he? " He is a respectfully businessman" is incorrect as respectfully answers "How" and not "What kind of". This means respected is an adjective and respectfully is a different part of speech, in this case, an adverb.

3. Verbs can also be recognized by some common adjective suffixes.
Suffix Meaning Examples
ible/ able can, able to do it manageable, responsible
ous having the quality of adventurous, joyous
ful full of hopeful, plentiful
less without hopeless, homeless
ish in the manner of childish, yellowish
like similar to in nature or appearance childlike, apelike
worthy deserving of noteworthy, trustworthy
ive having the quality of creative, imaginative
ic having the quality of economic, dramatic
ical having the quality of astronomical, biological
ant/ ent having the quality of relevant, patient
al having the quality of general, theoretical
y having the quality of
lucky, whimsy
an having the quality of
urban, Caribbean
en having the quality of
rotten, swollen

Note: Adjectives also use a large variety of prefixes denoting many different meanings.

Watch out!
4. The two adjective suffixes ed and ing may be confusing, as past- and
present participles can also be used as adjectives, not only as verbs. These often come in pairs, with the ing-adjective conveying an active, proactive meaning ( amazing, annoying) and the ed-adjective conveying a passive, “receiver” meaning ( amazed, annoyed).
Many customers were disappointed by the new product.
[ disappointed is a passive adjective as the customers were influenced to be disappointed]

The disappointing new product went off the shelves
[ disappointing is an active adjective as the product influenced the stores to stop selling it]

5. English adjectives neither indicate number nor gender, having one invariable form that does not add s for
plurals as with nouns ( big modifies boy, girl, boys, and girls). English adjectives may change form when the qualities of modified elements are compared for similarity, difference or intensity, using the comparative and superlative adjectives forms.
Their new apartment is as big as the old apartment.
[ as big as used to indicate similarity]

Their new apartment is bigger than the old apartment.
[ bigger than is used to indicate a difference between 2 apartments]

Their new apartment is the biggest in the building.
[ the biggest is used to indicate difference between one apartment and all the the others]

6. Compound adjectives are composed of two or more words that act as adjectives. There are a few rules that determine whether they should be used with a
hyphen or not.
The new Paris hotel has air-conditioned rooms.
Tourists often buy tax-free products at airports.
Martin Luther King was an important civil rights leader.

7. Adjectives can also be divided according to the following categories:

Adjective Type Purpose Examples
Number adjectives pointing out quantity and placement order one, two, thirty-four, first, second, thirty-forth
Interrogative adjectives asking questions which, whose, what
Quantity & Distribution adjectives describing quantity more, all, some, half, more, every, each
Quality adjectives relates to color, size, smell etc. red, large, stinking
Possessive adjectives showing what belongs to whom my, his, their, your
pointing at specific nouns this, that, those, these

Note: Quality-, possessive-, and demonstrative adjectives are nowadays treated as noun determiners but still also as adjectives by more traditional grammars.

8. Adjectives in English are attributive when they appear as part of the noun phrase. Attributive adjectives in English appear before the noun (whereas in other languages, these may follow the noun). Predicative adjectives appear outside the noun phrase and are linked to it with a
linking verb.
They moved into their renovated, new apartment in the last week of May.
[ renovated, new=attributive adjectives modifying apartment, last=attributive adjective modifying week]

He was happy because his wife looked beautiful.
[ happy=predicative adjective modifying he; beautiful=predicative adjective modifying wife; was, looked=linking verbs]

9. When more than one adjective is used to describe a noun, you should place the adjectives according to a certain order. The more factual the adjective is (color, purpose) the closer it is to the noun than an adjective describing an opinion ( nice, beautiful). Use the following table to help you.

Tip : Do not normally use more than three adjectives before a noun, with one or two being a more preferred choice.

determiner sequence quantity opinion size age, temperature shape color origin material purpose noun
the last few tasty tiny warm oval yellow French sugar breakfast cookies

ugly large old
metal drinking cups

10. The words so, such, too, and enough are commonly used with adjectives for emphasis. Read the examples below to learn about their added meaning. The formulas in bold show you how to use them in a sentence.

So and such emphasize result and consequence in the sentence.
The lunch mom made was so delicious that we finished all the food in minutes.
[ so+adjective emphasizes the adjective delicious and mentions the consequence]

It was such a delicious lunch that we finished all the food in minutes.
[ such+adjective+noun emphasizes the adjective delicious and mentions the consequence]

Too and enough relate to quantity.
The steaks were too big for us to finish.
[ too+adjective shows that something is in excess]

The salad was big enough for ten people.
[ adjective+enough shows that something is sufficient]

11. Some adjectives relating to nationality or the human condition can be used with the to refer to a whole group of people. They have a plural meaning (without s) and take a plural verb.
The French are renowned for their fine taste and developed sense of style.
The municipality has recently undertaken a new initiative to aid the homeless.

Grammar Guide Index