What Is an Adjective? | Definition, Types & Examples
An adjective is a word that modifies or describes a noun or pronoun. Adjectives can be used to describe the qualities of someone or something independently or in comparison to something else.
How are adjectives used in sentences?
Adjectives modify or describe nouns and pronouns. They can be attributive (occurring before the noun) or predicative (occurring after the noun). Predicative adjectives typically follow a linking verb (such as forms of the verb “to be”) that connects the subject of the sentence to the adjective.
Comparative and superlative adjectives
Comparative adjectives are used to compare two things. They’re usually formed by adding the suffix “-er” (or “-r” if the word ends in the letter “e”). For two-syllable words that end in “y,” the “y” is replaced with “-ier.”
Comparative adjectives can also be formed by adding “more” or “less” before an adjective that has not been modified. The “more” form is typically used for words with two or more syllables, while the “less” form is used for all adjectives.
Superlative adjectives are used to indicate that something has the most or least of a specific quality. They’re typically preceded by the definite article “the” and usually formed by adding the suffix “-est” (or “-st” if the word ends in the letter “e”). For two-syllable words that end in “y,” the “y” is replaced with “-iest.”
Superlative adjectives can also be formed by adding “most” or “least” before an adjective that has not been modified. The “most” form is typically used for words with two or more syllables, while the “least” form is used for all adjectives.
An absolute adjective is an adjective describing an absolute state that cannot be compared. For example, the word “dead” is often considered to be an absolute adjective because it’s not possible to be “deader” than someone else.
However, actual usage varies, and absolute adjectives are often modified by words such as “almost.”
Coordinate adjectives are two or more adjectives that modify the same noun in a sentence. Coordinate adjectives can be separated by commas or by the conjunction “and.”
Adjectives vs. adverbs
Adverbs can be used to modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs, whereas adjectives only modify nouns and pronouns. When used to modify a verb, an adverb describes how an action is being performed (e.g., Brandon runs slowly).
Adverbs are often formed from adjectives by adding the suffix “-ly.” However, not all words ending in “-ly” are adverbs (e.g., “ugly” is an adjective).
Adverbs can be formed from adjectives in numerous other ways, depending on the ending.
|Original ending||Adverbial ending||Example|
|-y||-ily (replacing the “y”)||easy; easily|
|-le||-y (replacing the “e”)||gentle; gently|
Some words can be used as either an adjective or adverb without being changed (e.g., “fast,” “late,” “early”).
Adjectives with linking verbs
Adjectives are often confused with adverbs when they are used as complements for linking verbs (e.g., “the wife is devoted”). In these instances, a common mistake is to use an adverb in place of an adjective.
While adverbs describe how an action is performed, linking verbs (e.g., “be,” “seem,” “become,” “feel”) often refer to a state rather than an act and therefore take an adjective. In the example below, an adjective is needed because “feel” is a linking verb.
How to order adjectives
Attributive adjectives and determiners are typically given in a specific order according to their function. This isn’t an order that English speakers learn as a set of rules, but rather one that people pick up intuitively and usually follow without thinking about it:
- Determiner (e.g., a, the, one)
- Opinion (e.g., beautiful, valuable, indecent)
- Size (e.g., big, small, tiny)
- Shape or age (e.g., round, square, hundred-year-old)
- Color (e.g., white, brown, red)
- Origin (e.g., Dutch, aquatic, lunar)
- Material (e.g., wooden, metal, glass)
Other types of adjectives
There are many types of adjectives in English. Some other important types of adjectives are:
- Appositive adjectives
- Compound adjectives
- Participial adjectives
- Proper adjectives
- Denominal adjectives
- Nominal adjectives
An appositive adjective is an adjective (or series of adjectives) that occurs after the noun it modifies. It is typically set off by commas or dashes. It works similarly to an appositive noun.
A compound adjective is an adjective that is formed using two or more words that express a single idea (e.g., in-depth). When a compound adjective occurs before the noun it modifies (attributive), the individual words are typically connected by a hyphen. Frequently, no hyphen is needed when the compound adjective is placed after the noun (predicative).
A participial adjective is an adjective that is identical to the participle form of a verb (typically ending in “-ing,” “-ed,” or “-en”).
A proper adjective is an adjective formed from a proper noun and used to indicate origin. Like proper nouns, proper adjectives are always capitalized.
A denominal adjective is an adjective formed from a noun, often with the addition of a suffix (e.g., “-ish,” “-ly,” “-esque”).
A nominal adjective (also called a substantive adjective) is an adjective that functions as a noun. Nominal adjectives are typically preceded by the definite article “the.”
Other interesting language articles
If you want to know more about nouns, pronouns, verbs, and other parts of speech, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations and examples.
Frequently asked questions about adjectives
- What are the different types of adjectives?
There are many ways to categorize adjectives into various types. An adjective can fall into one or more of these categories depending on how it is used.
Some of the main types of adjectives are:
- Are numbers adjectives?
Cardinal numbers (e.g., one, two, three) can be placed before a noun to indicate quantity (e.g., one apple). While these are sometimes referred to as “numeral adjectives,” they are more accurately categorized as determiners or quantifiers.
- What is a proper adjective?
A proper adjective is an adjective that was derived from a proper noun and is therefore capitalized.
Proper adjectives include words for nationalities, languages, and ethnicities (e.g., “Japanese,” “Inuit,” “French”) and words derived from people’s names (e.g., “Bayesian,” “Orwellian”).
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