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What’s an Adjective in English Grammar?

by | Feb 8, 2021 | Grammar

Adjectives are descriptor words that modify nouns. Any word you use to describe a particular person, place, or thing qualifies as an adjective. They’re pretty easy to pick out in sentences—thank goodness!—but determining exactly what type of adjective you’re dealing with can prove slightly challenging.

Let’s take a look at the various types of adjectives you might find, and how to identify them out in the wild.

What is an example of an adjective?

An adjective’s semantic role is to modify the information given by the noun. Adjectives include colors, nationalities, categories of all types, and many other descriptive words.

Example: The big dog barks at the squirrel.

Here, the adjective big modifies the noun dog.

Example: The squirrel scurries up the tall tree.

Here, the adjective tall modifies the noun tree.

Example: The loud dog chases the squirrel to the tree.

Here, the adjective loud modifies the noun dog.

Understanding the Stacking Adjectives

You can stack adjectives, using virtually as many as you want to describe a single noun. Just remember to always separate them with commas.

Example: The small, furry, yellow cat followed me home from school.

Here, the adjectives small, furry, and yellow all modify the noun cat.

Example: She climbed the tall, scary, dark tower to defeat the king.

Here, the adjectives tall, scary, and dark all modify the noun tower.

Example: Angela brought a massive, round, orange pumpkin to the fair last year.

Here, the adjectives massive, round, and orange all modify the noun pumpkin.

While it’s always a good idea to add details in your writing, remember that not all details are necessary. If the reader doesn’t need to know the color of someone’s eyes and hair, you might want to consider removing some of those adjectives. Avoid using superfluous adjectives in writing just to fill the page. Focus on writing what’s important to say and adding the appropriate adjectives when it’s relevant to the reader’s experience.

What Are Proper Adjectives?

Proper adjectives are descriptor words made from proper nouns. Proper nouns are names of people, places, organizations, and things. Both proper adjectives and proper nouns are easy to pick out because they always start with capital letters.

Example: I moved to Canada, and I became Canadian.

Here, Canada is the proper noun, and Canadian is the proper adjective.

Example: I am from America, but my favorite foods are Spanish and Thai.

Here, America is the proper noun, and Spanish and Thai are the proper adjectives.

Example: Julia doesn’t read many articles about Shakespeare, but she loves Shakespearean plays.

Here, Shakespeare is the proper noun, and Shakespearean is the proper adjective.

What are comparative and superlative adjectives?

Comparative adjectives are used to compare two things. Superlative adjectives are used to compare three or more things.

Example: My driveway is long. Tim’s driveway is longer. Karen’s driveway is the longest.

Here, long is simply an adjective. Longer is a comparative adjective, as it is comparing two things (my driveway vs. Tim’s driveway). Longest is a superlative adjective, as it is comparing three or more things (my driveway vs. Tim’s driveway vs. Karen’s driveway).

Here are more examples of adjectives and their comparative and superlative forms:

AdjectiveComparative AdjectiveSuperlative Adjective

With most adjectives, you can follow the –er and –est rules to find their comparative and superlative forms, but that isn’t true for all adjectives.

Here are some examples of exceptions to these rules:

AdjectiveComparative AdjectiveSuperlative Adjective

Understanding predicate adjectives

Predicate adjectives are adjectives that follow a linking verb to modify the subject of the sentence. Linking verbs can be complicated if you deep dive into them, but they are basically just verbs that link the subject of the sentence (typically a noun) to the adjective modifying that subject/noun.

Example: Maggie feels sad today.

Here, the predicate adjective sad modifies the subject Maggie through the linking verb feels.

Example: The bear has been hungry since last winter.

Here, the predicate adjective hungry modifies the subject the bear through the linking verb has been.

Here are more examples broken down into their parts:

SubjectLinking VerbPredicate Adjective
The riverseemswindy.
The moonlookedbright.
The atticismessy.
The cakesmellsdelicious.

Adjectives vs. Adverbs

Adjectives and adverbs are very closely related, but they are different forms of speech. Put simply, all adverbs are adjectives, but not all adjectives are adverbs—kind of like how all thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs.

Remember, adjectives are descriptor words that modify nouns. Adverbs are descriptor words that modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

[Learn more about adverbs here]

Example: My orange cat runs faster than my black cat.

Here, the adjectives orange and black modify their respective nouns (cat). The adverb faster modifies the verb runs.

Example: The round cake tastes sweeter than the rectangular cake.

Here, the adjectives round and rectangular modify their respective nouns (cake). The adverb sweeter modifies the verb tastes.

In Summary

Adjectives are descriptor words that modify nouns. It’s always a great idea to add detail to your writing, and adjectives help you do just that. Just remember that a little goes a long way when it comes to adding detail about your nouns, so make sure that each adjective adds true value to what you’re trying to say.

This is everything you need to know about adjectives and all the forms they can take. If you’d like to learn more about grammar and writing, check out our YouTube channel.

Emmi Conner
By Emmi Conner

Emmi holds a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She’s been published in Adelaide Literary Magazine, and Atlantis Magazine. Emmi has written multiple articles for Writer’s Hive in the academic section with topics about MLA, APA, and Chicago Style essay writing.


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