What is an adjective?

by Laura Jones
December 15, 2020
woman studying what is an adjective

What is an adjective and are they important in English? An adjective is a word that describes or modifies a noun or a pronoun. And yes, they are important in English, as they are in every language because they allow us to give more descriptive information in a sentence. There are lots of types of adjectives that work in different ways, so let’s have a look at them. 

Adjectives in English explained

Attributive adjectives

An adjective usually appears before a noun. Adjectives give us more information about something and they can name a lot of different qualities like shape, size, colour and material. 

For example: 

  • It’s a brown dog. (colour)
  • It’s a small cat. (size)
  • It’s a round fruit. (shape)
  • It’s a new car. (age)
  • It’s a gold ring. (material)
  • It’s an American magazine. (origin)
  • It’s a beautiful day. (opinion)

Predicative adjectives

Predicative adjectives appear after the noun and after a verb too. They are used with linking verbs such as be, seems and becomes but they always describe the noun. Here are some examples: 

  • Julie is pretty. 
  • The shop looks empty. 
  • Alex seems unhappy. 
  • I feel sick today. 
  • That sounds brilliant!

It’s important to learn about predicative adjectives because people often get confused and use an adverb instead of an adjective. We have a blog about this, so you can check it out. 

Demonstrative adjectives

There are four demonstrative adjectives: this, that, these, those. These adjectives are used to indicate specific nouns. 

  • This cat is my favourite; I don’t like that one. 
  • Those dogs over there are very loud. 
  • These plants belong in the garden. 

I know these adjectives are tricky for people learning English to get right, so here’s a quick reminder of how we use them: 

Near objectsFar objects
Singularthisthat
Pluralthesethose

Number adjectives

Numbers used in sentences are often adjectives. They are used to answer the question How many?. Take a look at these examples: 

  • We looked at twelve houses before we bought this one. 
  • They are a close family of five. 

Indefinite adjectives

Indefinite adjectives describe nouns; they are also called quantifiers and you might know them by this name. The most common ones are any, each, few, many, much, most, several, and some.

  • Most children like chocolate. 
  • Would you like some wine? 
  • I made several people ill last time I cooked. 

Adjective endings in English

Most adjectives have certain endings that help you recognise them. The most common ones are –ed and –ing, as in bored and boring. Here are some other common endings: 

  • -able/-ible: comfortable, suitable, responsible
  • -ful/-less: careful, careless, helpful, helpless
  • -ous: dangerous, enormous, glamourous
  • -ish/-like: childish, childlike, stylish, lifelike
  • -y: happy, pretty, angry

Comparative and superlative adjectives

Quite a lot of adjectives have a comparative and superlative form. For example: 

  • happy – happier – the happiest
    • She was happy when he left.
    • She was happier when he left. 
    • She was the happiest when he left. 
  • delicious – more delicious – the most delicious.
    • That cake was delicious.
    • That cake was more delicious than I thought it would be.
    • That was the most delicious cake I’ve ever had!
  • good – better – best: 
    • He was a good player. 
    • He was a better player than Tom.
    • He was the best player.

Nouns that look like adjectives

Sometimes nouns look and behave like adjectives. In fact, most nouns can modify another noun and the examples are everywhere. We can take the noun a glass, as in something we drink from. If we want to be more descriptive, we can add another noun: a wine glass. Wine is a noun but it looks like an adjective. Here are some more examples: 

  • A history teacher
  • A race horse
  • A shoe shop
  • Football teams
  • Cherry trees

You can notice that when we want to make a plural, we only make the second noun plural. We don’t say footballs teams, for example. 

The most spoken words in English

Adjectives that look like nouns

Just as nouns can behave like adjectives, adjectives can also behave like nouns sometimes. Think about the sentence We can read about the lives of the rich and famous. Rich and famous are both adjectives but in this sentence we are using them like nouns. We do this when we talk about groups of people, but it doesn’t work with all adjectives. Here are a couple more examples: 

  • This charity helps the homeless
  • This house is for the elderly

As you’ve seen, there are lots of ways we can use adjectives in English so we encourage you to experiment! 

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