Adjectives – Definition

According to its definition, adjectives are words that describe or modify nouns to give it a more specific meaning. They are usually positioned before the noun they describe and there are occasions where you can use multiple adjectives to describe one noun.

Here’s a list of what adjectives can do:

  1. They can describe feelings or qualities
  2. They can tell us more about the object’s characteristics
  3. They can describe size or measurement
  4. They can describe age
  5. They can give nationality or origin
  6. They can describe color
  7. They can describe what the object is made of
  8. They can describe shape
  9. They can express value, criticism, or compliments

Here are some examples of how they’re used:

  • She is a happy gorilla.
  • That is a fast computer.
  • That tower is tall.
  • I’ve been using this old hat for 20 years.
  • My brother has a French girlfriend.
  • The yellow car stood out from the rest.
  • This metal baseball bat is far more effective than wooden ones.
  • Captain America uses a round shield as his weapon.
  • What a horrible movie!

Identifying Adjectives

Many adjectives can be identified based on their suffix.

  1. able – curable, breakable, adorable, adaptable
  2. ible -edible, responsible, gullible, terrible, convertible
  3. al – skeletal, controversial, professional, functional
  4. ful – beautiful, plentiful, colorful, peaceful, dreadful
  5. ic –tragic, classic, comic, magic, fanatic, geometric
  6. ive – aggressive, cooperative, competitive, active
  7. less – endless, harmless, heartless, flavorless
  8. ous –adventurous, fabulous, enormous, disastrous

Denominal Adjectives

Denominal adjectives are adjectives that originally derive from nouns. An example would be the noun ‘Wood’ can also be used to describe a ‘Wooden table’. Here are some other examples of how they’re used.

  1. That lady is very childish despite being in her 40’s.
  2. This situation is completely hopeless.
  3. This glass window is very sturdy.

How to use adjectives in English?

Adjectives in English do not change forms based on gender or number of the noun.

  • That is long pencil.
  • Those are long pencils.

You may be able to use intensifiers to strengthen the meaning of an adjective.

  • It’s a very interesting story.
  • Everyone was really excited to hear it.
  • He was an exceptionally good student.
  • My sister is an incredibly talented singer.
  • My friend is a highly successful businessman
  • I was bitterly unhappy during my time in school.
  • You were absolutely wonderful in your performance.
  • That was an extremely difficult question.
  • My mom isn’t a particularly good cook.

Adjectives usually appear before the noun they describe or modify.

  • The handsome man had a beautiful [wife].

Adjectives can also appear after using sensing verbs like is, to be, to seem, look and to taste.

  •  George is handsome.
  • She doesn’t seem bad.
  • He looks happy.
  • That wine tastes great.

IN SOME RARE CASES, the adjective can appear after a noun.

  • Court martial
  • Secretary general
  • Attorney general
  • Poet laurete
  • President elect
  • Princess royal

How to order multiple adjectives?

When you have several adjectives that are used together, there needs to be an order to help organize them. This very much depends on function of the adjective. However, the common order would be:

  1. Quantity
  2. Value/Opinion
  3. Size, Temperature
  4. Age
  5. Shape
  6. Color
  7. Origin
  8. Material

For example:

  • There were ten large red wooden chairs next to the table.
  • The children were playing with a new round rubbery ball.
  • He gave me his shiny 15-year old American baseball card.

Comparative Adjectives

Comparative adjectives not only give meaning to the noun, but they also indicate position on a scale of comparisons. The lowest point of the scale is called a positive form, the middle ground used to compare between two nouns is called the comparative form.

Noun (subject) + verb + comparative adjective + than + noun (object)

  • My car is faster than his.
  • My house is bigger than his.
  • My dog is smarter than his.
  • My cat is lazier than his.

Superlative Adjectives

The highest point of a comparative scale would be the Superlative form. This would be used to describe the peak form of an adjective that cannot be surpassed by any other.

Noun (subject) + verb + the + superlative adjective + noun (object)

  • My friend is the fastest runner in our school.
  • I’m the best dancer in the entire academy.
  • His paper airplane flew the highest among the others.

How to form a regular comparative and superlative?

The form of a regular comparative or superlative very much depends on how many syllables there are on the original adjective.

ONE SYLLABLE ADJECTIVES

Add -er for the comparative and -est for the superlative. If the adjective has a consonant + single vowel + consonant spelling, the final consonant must be doubled before adding the ending.

Adjective Comparative Superlative
Hard Harder Hardest
Fast Faster Fastest
Strong Stronger Strongest
High Higher Highest

TWO SYLLABLE ADJECTIVES

Adjectives with two syllables can form the comparative either by adding -er or by preceding the adjective with more. These adjectives form the superlative either by adding -est or by preceding the adjective with most.

In many cases, both forms are used, although one usage will be more common than the other. If you are not sure whether a two-syllable adjective can take a comparative or superlative ending, play it safe and use more and most instead. For adjectives ending in y, change the y to an i before adding the ending.

Adjective Comparative Superlative
Pretty Prettier Prettiest
Busy Busier busiest
Angry Angrier Angriest
Tilted More tilted Most tilted
Tangled More tangled Most tangled

THREE SYLLABLE ADJECTIVES OR MORE

Adjectives with three or more syllables form the comparative by putting more in front of the adjective, and the superlative by putting most in front.

Adjective Comparative Superlative
Important More important Most important
Expensive More expensive Most expensive

How to form irregular comparatives and superlatives

Some irregular comparatives and superlatives have completely different forms compared to the original adjective. You’ll have to watch out for these exceptions and learn the difference. Here are some examples of the most common ones you’ll find.

Adjective Comparative Superlative
good better best
bad worse worst
little less least
much more most
far further / farther furthest / farthest

Comparing attributes

When comparing the attribute of two things, there is a standard set of constructions depending on if they are EQUAL or NOT EQUAL.

EQUAL ATTRIBUTES

To compare attributes of two things that are equal, the pattern is:

As + adjective describing the attribute + as

UNEQUAL ATTRIBUTES

To compare two attributes that are not equal, there are three patterns with the same meaning.

  1. Not as + adjective describing the attribute + as
  2. Less + adjective describing the attribute + than
  3. Comparative adjective + than

Adjectives comparing equal quantities

To compare two things that have two equal quantities, the pattern can be applied:

As + quantity adjective + noun + as

The quantity adjective used depends if the noun is countable or uncountable.

COUNTABLE NOUNS VS UNCOUNTABLE NOUNS

  1. For countable nouns, use as many and as few to define equal comparisons.
  2. For uncountable nouns, use as much and as little to define equal comparisons.

If the noun is understood from context, it’s possible to omit the noun from the sentence. Here are some examples:

  • Jake has as many apples as Sandy.
  • Luke has as few books as I do.
  • He suffered as much (pain) as they did.
  • She spent as little (money) as my brother did.

Adjectives Comparing unequal quantities

To compare two things that are unequal, the pattern can be applied:

Adjective indicating quantity + noun + than

The quantity adjective used depends if the noun is countable or uncountable.

COUNTABLE NOUNS VS UNCOUNTABLE NOUNS

  1. For countable nouns, use more or fewer to define them as non-equal comparisons.
  2. For uncountable nouns, use more or less to define them as non-equal comparisons.

If the noun is understood from context, it’s possible to omit the noun from the sentence. Here are some examples:

  • Jake has more apples than Sandy.
  • Luke has fewer books than I do.
  • He suffered more pain than they did.
  • She spent less money than my brother did.

Compound Adjectives

A compound adjective is when two adjectives are joined together to modify the same noun. Usually the terms are hyphenated to avoid confusion between two separate adjectives and a compound adjective.

  • The cold-blooded killer is now locked-up in jail.
  • We should all try to be a be a bit more open-minded.
  • That four-by-four table matches the kitchen well.

Bottom Line

Now that you’ve learned all about what are adjectives, you’ll want to check out the other 8 parts of speech. Familiarize yourself with what is a verb, noun, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.

You can also master English by knowing how to use determiners properly. It’s always a good idea to review your English grammar by checking out ESL Workshop.

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