Adjectives in English
use and formation of adjectives in English
|Index :||Types of adjective||Use of adjectives||Adjectives
|Forming adjectives||Comparison of adjectives||Gradation
What is an adjective?
limiting adjectives, determining adjectives are words that are generally classed in the family of 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 quantifiers (such as one, two, three, every, many), demonstrative adjectives (such as this or that), interrogative adjectives (such as which). To learn about the use of these determining adjectives, please consult the appropriate pages.
2. Descriptive adjectives : qualifying or classifyingWhen we talk of adjectives, we generally tend to mean "descriptive adjectives". These are adjectives such as big, English, wonderful, words that describe the 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;
- 2.1. qualificative or qualifying adjectives , such as big, nice, complicated which express the passing or perceived qualities of a noun, and
- 2.2. classifying adjectives (including absolute adjectives) such as married, second, hydraulic, unique, dead which express permanent qualities or absolutes.
Classifying adjectives cannot normally be graded: a person is either married or not, or dead or not; he or she cannot be "very married", nor "more dead" 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 old.
- My car is very old (qualifying, with a noun)
- He is old (qualifying, with a pronoun) see Pronouns)
- The old computer was much quieter than the new model (classifying)
See gradation and comparison of adjectives below.
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 metal box
- 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 involved, present and responsible, which have a particular meaning when they come after a noun.
- b. Some adjectives, notably participles, which can follow a noun when they stand as the contraction of an unexpressed relative clause. (examples 3 & 4)
- c. Adjectives that qualify pronouns (examples 5 & 6) must follow.
- d. Cases in which old and tall 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)
Examples:For details on the ordering of adjectives within a noun group, see adjective order.
- All the people concerned were told to leave the room.
- The children present did not like the show. (=The children who were present ....)
- He's the last man standing.
- There are only three cakes left.
- I want to give you something special
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
Predicative adjectivesAdjectives 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, etc.
- The result was magnificent.
- My girlfriend is beautiful .
- The weather is getting colder.
- I grew fonder of
London after living there for a month.
The same rule applies to some adjectives used as nouns.
We talk about the poor, or the living, or the wounded We cannot say the poors or the livings, or the woundeds.
Example: The injured and the dead were evacuated by ambulance.
On the other hand, with colours, specially when referring to teams, adjectives used as nouns do take a plural s .
Example: The final is between the reds and the blues.
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, ugly.
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 (from beauty) or motionless (from motion), 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.
Examples:comparative or a superlative form. In most cases, the comparative form of an adjective is made with the word more, and the superlative form with the word most.
- Unthinkable, 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
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.
Examples:Qualifying adjectives can be graded by adverbs of intensity or of degree, and by some other adverbs. The most common adverbs of intensity are:
- Careful, more careful, most careful
- Difficult, more 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
- Big, bigger, biggest , hot, hotter, hottest - Final p t k b d g n & m, are doubled when standing alone after a short vowel
- Hard, harder , warm warmer, quiet quieter - Final p t k b d g n & m, are not doubled when following another consonant or a long vowel or diphthong.
prettiest , heavy, heavier, heaviest -
ending in y have inflected
forms in -ier and -iest.
quite, rather, fairly, very, extremely, highly
These adverbs come before the adjective. But note the following points:
- Enough: qualifying an adjective, enough comes, exceptionally, after the word it qualifies (examples 6 and 7). (Qualifying a noun, enough comes before the word it qualifiees) ► See Enough
- Rather and quite : used attributively, quite and rather 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. With rather, the choice is generally open, with quite it is more usual to say quite a than a quite.
Some kinds of adjectives, notably participles, can be modified by a wide range of adverbs (examples 9 and 10).
Examples:Classifying adjectives can not normally be graded, though there are some circumstances where grading is possible . Compare the three examples below using the classifying adjective electric. Normally something is electric or it is not electric; it can't be very electric or quite electric...... However it can be partly electric.
- I'm quite certain I left my hat in the car.
- This is a rather good restaurant OR this is rather a good restaurant.
- 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 I expected.
- They are a newly married couple.
He made a carefully worded statement.
- OK: This new car is electric.
- Not OK: This new car is very electric.
- OK . This new hybrid car is partly electric.