use and formation of adjectives in English
What is an
is a word that defines, qualifies or modifies the meaning
of a noun, or more rarely of a pronoun. It expresses the qualities or
attributes of the word it qualifies. There are two main categories
of adjectives: a) determining adjectives, and b)
descriptive adjectives .
1. Determining adjectives :
Also called limiting
adjectives, these are words that are more often
referred to as determiners, and are dealt with elsewhere. There is a
limited number of these words. They are notably possessive adjectives (such
as my, their), numerals and
(such as one, two,
every, many), demonstrative
adjectives (such as this
(such as which).
To learn about the use of these determining adjectives, please
consult the appropriate pages.
2. Descriptive adjectives
Descriptive adjectives (such as big,
permanant or perceived qualities of a noun; their number is unlimited.
New descriptive adjectives
enter the language every day, often in the fertile world of slang.
There are two categories
of descriptive adjectives;
i.e. it is possible to graduate their intensity, by the addition of an
degree, such as very,
quite, enough; most qualifying adjectives can also be put
into comparative or superlative forms (big, bigger, biggest).
or qualifying adjectives , such as big,
nice, complicated which express the
passing or perceived qualities of a noun, and
adjectives (including absolute adjectives) such as married,
second, hydraulic, unique, dead which express permanent qualities or
Classifying adjectives cannot be graded: a person
is either married,
or not, or dead,
or not; he or she cannot be "very married", nor
than another person, at least not under normal usage of the words.
That being said, many adjectives can be used
either as qualifying adjectives, or as classifying
adjectives, depending on the context. Take the example of the adjective
the first example above, old
is a perceived quality, and therefore gradable, in the second old has an absolute
value, with the meaning of former or previous. Examples:
- My car is
(qualifying, with a noun)
He is intelligent (qualifying, with a pronoun) see Pronouns)
computer was much quieter than the new model (classifying)
See gradation and comparison of adjectives
■ Use of
Adjectives are used in two main ways; they can either be attributive
or they can be predicative.
Attributive adjectives :
This is the most common use of adjectives, standing next to a noun in
a noun phrase.
In English, simple and complex adjectives almost always come before
the noun .
- The big
- My dear old grandfather .
- A very modern plastic dish.
- An easily recognisable face.
- A pink and green dress
- A not-too-infrequent event.
Exceptions: adjectives that follow nouns or pronouns. (postpositive adjectives)
There are only a very small number of exceptions,
- a A few adjectives such as concerned
which have a particular meaning when they come after a noun.
Some adjectives, notably participles, which can follow a noun when they
stand as the contraction of an unexpressed relative clause. (examples 3
- c. Adjectives that qualify pronouns (examples 5 & 6) must follow.
- d. Cases in which old
follow the noun. (example 7)
- e. The other important case when an adjective will
follow a noun is when the adjective is postmodified by a prepositional
phrase. (examples 8 & 9)
For details on the ordering of adjectives within a noun
group, see adjective
- All the people concerned were told to leave the room.
- The children present did not like the show. (=The children who were
- He's the last man standing.
- There are only three cakes left.
- I want to give you something special
- That would be quite understandable to anyone intelligent.
- The man is two metres tall. I'm 20 years old.
I bought all the bottles left
in the shop.
He was a man proud
of his success
Adjectives are said to be predicative when they are used as the
complement of the verb
to be, or other similar verbs such as get, become, grow,
In English, adjectives never
take a plural inflexion (s),
not even on the rare occasions when they are used as nouns, such as in The
poor. We cannot say the poors.
result was magnificent.
My girlfriend is beautiful .
The weather is getting colder.
I grew fonder of London after living there for a month.
of adjectives in English
Many adjectives are lexical words in their own right, i.e. they exist
independently of any other word, or are the root word of a word family.
For example good, bad,
Other adjectives are inflected
forms of other words, derived notably from verbs. For example charming, lost.
Other adjectives can be formed from nouns, for example beautiful
or even from other adjectives (for example yellowish).
One of the beauties of the English language is
the simplicity with which words can be formed from other words: all
that is needed is to add the appropriate ending, and a new word is
made. Here are some examples.
doable, mendable, possible, plausible - with -able or -ible
Careless, fruitless, homeless, motionless - with less
Beautiful, hopeful, wonderful, awful, blissful - with ful
Soggy, foggy, lazy, stormy,
skinny, bloody, - with -y
Smallish, greenish, darkish, - with -ish
Distinguished, bored, displaced, contented, squared - with -ed
Challenging, alarming, amazing, exciting - with -ing
Many qualifying adjectives can be used in a comparative
or a superlative
In most cases, the comparative form of an adjective is made with the
and the superlative form with the word most.
But with most common short monosyllabic
adjectives, and some two-syllable adjectives, the comparative is made
by adding the ending -er,
and the superlative with the ending -est There are two
common adjectives with irregular comparative and superlative forms: good, better, best,
and bad, worse, worst.
- Careful, more
careful, most careful
difficult, most difficult, Certain, more certain, most certain
harder, hardest, Black, blacker, blackest, Old, older, oldest,
Clever, cleverer, cleverest,
larger, largest (just
add -r and -st to adjectives ending in
bigger, biggest , hot, hotter, hottest (final p t k b d g n
& m are doubled unless proceeded by a long vowel, or
diphthong, as in
harder or quieter)
- Pretty, prettier,
prettiest , heavy, heavier, heaviest (adjectives
ending in y have inflected forms in -ier and -iest)
Qualifying adjectives can be graded by adverbs
of intensity or of degree, and by some other adverbs. The
most common adverbs of intensity are:
rather, fairly, very, extremely, highly
These adverbs come before the adjective. But note the
Adjectives that are in the comparative form can
be modified by intensifiers such as much, far and
sometimes by adverbs of degree (examples 8).
qualifying an adjective,
enough comes, exceptionally, after
the word it qualifies (examples 6 and 7). (Qualifying a noun,
the word it qualifiees) ► See Enough
and quite :
used attributively, quite
can either follow the article, or come before the article: i.e. we can
choose between a rather
good book and rather
a good book, or quite a nice guy
and a quite nice guy.
the choice is generally open, with quite
it is more usual to say quite
a than a
Some kinds of adjectives, notably participles,
can be modified by a wide range of adverbs (examples 9 and 10).
- I'm quite certain I
left my hat in the car.
This is a rather good restaurant OR this is rather a
It's very clear that you have read the book already.
This is a highly complicated situation to be in.
This situation is highly complicated.
OK, that was a clear enough reply.
Is the door wide enough to get through ?
That was much better than last time. It's rather better than
They are a newly married couple.
He made a carefully worded statement.
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