Adjectives are describing words that give more information about nouns. They can tell us about the size, colour, shape or number of something, as well as our opinion of it.
In this study guide, you will learn about different types of adjectives with examples of how to use them in a sentence. Check out the exercises at the end to test your understanding! You can also download this guide as a free pdf to use offline at home.
Adjectives provide more information about nouns. They can make our language more interesting and descriptive and can be used in persuasive writing. Adjectives can give us details about the colour, size, and shape of something. They also allow us to describe non-physical features of our personality or feelings. Some adjectives have particular functions, as you will see in the examples below.
Many adjectives are formed by adding a suffix to a noun or verb. For example, the noun colour becomes colourful, and the verb chat becomes chatty. See the table below for examples of common adjective endings:
The negative form of an adjective is usually created by adding a prefix. The most common adjective prefixes are: un- and in-, for example inconvenient, unattractive. The suffix ‘less’ can also be used to form some negative adjectives, for example, careless, useless.
We form many adjectives from verb participles. Some follow the form of present participles (such as boring) and others follow the form of past participles (such as broken). Some adjectives that describe feelings and emotions are formed in this way, e.g. disappointed, exhausting.
Adjectives can appear in two different positions in a sentence.
Adjectives that are before the noun are called “attributive adjectives”.
Subject + verb + adjective + noun
e.g. Sarah wore an amazing hat.
Adjectives that appear after a linking verb are known as “predicative adjectives”.
Verbs that can function in this way include: be, get, look, taste and feel.
Subject + verb + adjective
e.g. The book was boring.
e.g. The food tasted horrible.
We can only place certain adjectives in the predicative position (after a verb). These include: asleep, alight, alive, alone and awake. So it is possible to say ‘Jo was asleep’, but not ‘Jo was an asleep woman’.
When we use more than one adjective before a noun, we need to follow the correct adjective order. Check out the example sentences with three adjectives below. Adjectives that give an opinion should always appear before other adjectives.
When we use more than one adjective before a noun, they are usually separated with commas, e.g. A creepy, old house. When we place adjectives after a linking verb, ‘and’ is used with three or more adjectives, for example: He felt tired, scared and lonely.
This, that, these and those are “demonstrative adjectives”. They are used before a noun to clarify ‘which one’ we are talking about. In general, this and these refer to something close to the speaker, and that and those refer to something further away. That and those can also refer to a noun in the past.
Examples of demonstrative adjectives:
I love this book.
Have you been to that café?
I bought those shoes years ago in London.
These trees always look beautiful in spring.
The most common type of adjectives are “descriptive adjectives”. They give us more information about a noun. They can make our language more interesting and colourful. Descriptive adjectives give us information about the age, size, appearance and colour of something. Some descriptive adjectives also express opinions. Words such as beautiful, useful, ingenious or ugly show our opinion about the noun.
Examples of descriptive adjectives:
It was a beautiful day.
He was a kind, thoughtful boy.
He was driving a small, black car.
Jenny said she was hungry.
Tony said he felt tired.
“Distributive adjectives” are determiners that help us to give information about one individual among many. Adjectives in this group include: each, every, either and neither. We use each to give information about an individual in a group of two or more: Each child was given a book. The distributive adjective every suggests a larger group: Every child in the school wore the correct uniform. We use either and neither to make comparisons between two people or things. Either means ‘one or the other’. Neither means something like ‘not this one and not that one’.
Examples of distributive adjectives:
Each twin was given an identical present.
Every country has its own traditions.
There are apples and pears. You can have either.
I don’t mind tea or coffee. Either is ok.
Neither dress would be suitable for the party.
Neither of the boys liked football.
Both boys are getting tall!
We use “interrogative adjectives” to modify a noun in a question. These adjectives can only appear at the beginning of the question. Interrogative adjectives are determiners that seek clarification as to which thing or which individual is being discussed. For example, in a cake shop the assistant asks ‘Which cake would you like? Which, what and whose are interrogative adjectives. These adjectives also function as pronouns. When used as an interrogative adjective they always go before a noun.
Examples of interrogative adjectives:
Which shirt do you prefer?
What pizza have you ordered?
Whose bag is that?
Which man won the prize?
What sort of ice cream do you want?
“Numeral adjectives” (also known as adjectives of number) allow us to specify the number of things or people we are talking about. Definite numeral adjectives include cardinal numbers (one, two, three) ordinal numbers (first, second, third) and words such as single, double and triple. This group also includes indefinite numeral adjectives, such as all, some, enough, many and a few.
Examples of numeral adjectives:
It was the first time I had travelled alone.
Did you win second prize?
They bought a double bed.
Have you got enough money?
She lived in France for many years.
“Possessive adjectives” indicate ownership or possession. These adjectives are also used to describe someone in your family, for example ‘my sister’. They appear before a singular or plural noun in the sentence. My, your, his, her, its, our, your and their are all possessive adjectives.
Examples of possessive adjectives:
My car is very old.
Have you seen her house?
Their car is brand new.
Your children are making too much noise!
Our grandparents were always kind to us.
Proper nouns are the names of places, people or things. A “proper adjective” is formed from a proper noun. In English, proper nouns and proper adjectives always have an initial capital letter. Examples of proper adjectives include nationalities, such as American, Italian and Indian. Other examples include the names of historical periods, such as Victorian or Georgian and adjectives formed from people’s names, e.g. Shakespearian or from cities, e.g. Parisian.
Examples of proper adjectives:
This is a Chinese vase.
She had an American husband.
He was a famous Shakespearean actor.
There are many Georgian houses in Bath.
Parisian cafes are very atmospheric.
“Quantitative adjectives” allow us to describe the amount of something. These adjectives appear before a noun. Adjectives in this group include: lots of, some, any, few, little, several and plenty of. Whereas some is used in positive sentences, any is used in questions and negatives. Many is also used in negative sentences. In positive sentences ‘a lot of’ sounds more natural in English.
Examples of quantitative adjectives:
Have you got any coffee?
Several students went to the auditions.
She’ll be fine because she’s got plenty of money.
Not many people get married in their early twenties.
I’ve got to read a lot of books for my course.
Comparatives are formed by adding ‘-er’ to an adjective, e.g. taller. Superlatives are formed by adding ‘-est’ to an adjective, e.g. tallest. If the adjective has three or more syllables, it is usual to put the word ‘more’ in front of the adjective, rather than adding ‘-er’. The rule is the same for comparatives.
So we can say: tall, taller, the tallest, but we would say beautiful, more beautiful and the most beautiful. There are a few irregular forms of comparatives and superlatives: good – better – the best, and bad – worse – the worst. The spelling rules for comparatives and superlatives are listed below.
|One syllable adjectives||Add -er||Add -est|
|Adjectives ending in b, d, g, n, p, t|
|Double the last letter and add -er|
|Double the last letter and add -est|
|Adjectives ending in ‘-y’|
|Drop the ‘-y’ and add ‘-ier’|
|Drop the ‘-y’ and add ‘-iest’|
|Adjectives with two or more syllables|
The most beautiful
These two adjective forms can be confusing. Adjectives ending in ‘-ed’ describe how someone is feeling, e.g. I am tired; I am bored. However, adjectives ending in ‘-ing’ describe things that make us feel like that, e.g. Running is tiring; My job is boring. Be careful not to say ‘I am boring’ when you actually mean ‘I am bored’!
Look at the following examples:
|I am excited.||Going travelling is exciting.|
|I am interested in art.||Art is interesting.|
|I felt bored during the film.||The film was boring.|
A “compound adjective” is one formed from two or more words. In a compound adjective, the words are joined with a hyphen (-). The words used to form the compound adjective may be adjectives, nouns or parts of verbs. There are many different ways of forming compound adjectives. The following are just a few possibilities:
|Adjective + noun||Short-term|
|Noun + adjective||Smoke-free|
|Noun + past participle||Middle-aged|
|Adjective + participle||Old-fashioned|
Examples of compound adjectives:
She is a hard-working student.
It was a moon-lit night.
They agreed it was a thought-provoking film.
He is a well-known author.
They only eat meat-free sausages.
We can change the meaning of adjectives by using adverbs. The type of adverbs that modify adjectives are called adverbs of degree. These include: very, really, totally, extremely and too. Adjectives are classified as gradable or ungradable. A gradable adjective can be modified by an adverb such as very or extremely, but an ungradable adjective can only be modified by an adverb like completely or absolutely. See the examples below:
Some adjectives are used with a complement – a preposition or conjunction that naturally appears with the adjective. Adjectives can combine with more than one preposition to produce more than one meaning. Examples of adjective + preposition combinations include: Interested in, happy about and confused by.
Collocations are word combinations that commonly appear together. There are hundreds of adjective + noun collocations in English. A key skill is to know which combination of adjectives and nouns ‘sound right’, and which do not. For example, you could talk about a ‘huge disappointment’, but you wouldn’t say a ‘tiny disappointment’.
You may find it useful to learn collocations in groups, according to a theme. A simple adjective like ‘heavy’ has several common collocations: a heavy workload, a heavy drinker, a heavy sleeper and heavy snow.
A few adjectives can be used with ‘the’ to create a noun referring to a group of people. For example, we can talk about ‘the rich’ or ‘the poor’. Other examples include: ‘the dead’, ‘the old’ and ‘the elderly’. Some adjectives of nationality can also be used in this way, for example: the British, the French and the Spanish. Used in this way, the adjective refers to all of the people in that group. For example: The elderly are often over-looked in our society.
Questions 6-10. Choose the best adjective to complete each sentence.