What are Adjectives?

An adjective is a word like kind, happy, smart and intelligent. An adjective typically modifies a noun and denotes a temporary or permanent quality associated with that noun. For example, a smart boy is a boy who is distinguished from other boys by being smart. Not all adjectives are used to denote a quality associated with a noun. For example, the adjective mere in ‘a mere child’ does not denote a quality of the child.

Classes of Adjectives

Adjectives may be divided into the following classes:

  • Adjectives of Quality

Adjectives of quality refer to the kind or quality of a person or thing. They answer the question: ‘of what kind?’

For example:

  1. Tokyo is a large city. (Here the adjective large shows a certain quality associated with the city Tokyo.)
  2. Alice is a brilliant student. (Here the adjective brilliant shows a quality associated with the noun Alice.)

Note: Adjectives formed from proper nouns are generally considered as adjectives of quality.

Examples are Persian carpets, French wines, etc.

  • Adjectives of Quantity

Adjectives of quantity answer the question ‘how much?’

Examples are some, any, much, little, enough, all, no, half, whole, etc.

  1. We need some rice.
  2. You have little patience.
  3. He has lost all his wealth.
  4. He did not eat any rice.
  • Adjectives of Number

Adjectives of number answer the question ‘how many’. Examples are many, one, two, first, tenth, all, etc.

  1. Each hand has five fingers.
  2. Sunday is the first day of the week.
  3. All men must die.
  4. There are several mistakes in your essay.
  • Demonstrative Adjectives

Demonstrative adjectives answer the question ‘which?’ Examples are this, that, these, those and such.

  1. That boy is industrious.
  2. This bag is made of expensive leather.
  3. Those mangoes were very sweet.
  4. I hate such people.

Note: ‘This’ and ‘That’ are used with singular nouns. ‘These’ and ‘Those’ are used with plural nouns.

  • Interrogative Adjectives

When they are used with nouns to ask questions, the questions words like ‘What’, ‘Which’ and ‘Whose’ are called interrogative adjectives.

  1. Whose bag is this?
  2. Which way shall we go?
  • Distributives

Each, every, either and neither are distributive adjectives. These are normally used with singular nouns.

  • Position

Distributives are placed immediately before the nouns they qualify.

  1. Each boy wore a hat.
  2. Neither answer is correct.
  3. Every child needs love.

Note ‘Each’, ‘either’ and ‘neither’ can be used with plural nouns when they are followed by ‘of’

  1. Each of the boys wore a hat.
  2. Neither of the answers is correct.

Each is used when we are talking about the members of a group as individuals.

  1. Each boy was given a watch.
  2. Each of the boys was given a watch.
  3. Each and every Each is preferred when we are thinking of people or things separately, one at a time.
  4. Every is similar to all.

Every is preferred when we are thinking of people or things together.

  1. Each patient went to see the doctor. (In turn)
  2. He gave every patient the same medicine.

Either and neither are used to talk about distribution between two things.

Either is used in affirmative clauses. Neither is used in negative clauses.

  • Which shirt do you want?
  • Either shirt will do.
  • I will take either shirt, they are both good.
  • Neither answer is correct.
  • Neither of them came.
  • Absolute Adjectives

Some adjectives express ideas that cannot be graded. For example, a person can’t be

more or less dead. In the same way, a sphere can’t be more or less round. In grammars these adjectives are called non-gradable or absolute adjectives.

Non-gradable adjectives do not have comparative or superlative forms. There are very few non-gradable adjectives, so you can learn them by heart if you really want. Here is a list of common non-gradable adjectives in English. Note that this is not a comprehensive list.

Absolute, impossible, principal, adequate, inevitable, sufficient, complete, main, unanimous, unavoidable, entire, minor, fatal, unique, final, universal, ideal, whole, preferable, dead etc.

Although the adjectives given above are not normally used in comparative and

superlative forms, you might still hear expressions like more complete or most perfect. Though incorrect, these expressions are quite common in speech and they have become sort of acceptable, too. However, if you are a careful user of the language, you must avoid them especially in writing. Also be careful, not to use more along with a comparative adjective ending in –er and most with a superlative adjective ending in -est. Do not write more taller or most smartest. These are examples of double comparatives and superlatives. They are always wrong and must be avoided.

She is prettier than her sister. (NOT She is more prettier than her sister.)

Some compound adjectives have two possible comparatives and superlatives.

Positive: good-looking

Comparative: better-looking or more good-looking

Superlative: best-looking or most good-looking

Positive: well-known

Comparative: better-known or more well-known

Superlative: best-known or most well-known

In this case, you can decide which form you want to use, but don’t write most best-known

Or more better-looking.

Using Adjectives

Adjectives are describing words. Adjectives usually go before the nouns they modify

(attributive position). They can also go after the ‘verb be’ (predicative position). Note that most adjectives can go in both positions. Study the example of sentences given below.

  1. The flowers are red. (Predicative position)
  • These are red flowers. (Attributive position)
  • The car is expensive. (Predicative position)
  • It is an expensive car. (Attributive position)


Read the following sentences. In all of them, the adjectives are in the predicative position. Change them into the attributive position by rewriting the sentence. Note that the second sentence in the sequence should begin with a pronoun. You will also need to supply a suitable article.


Word Order: Position of Adjectives

Different kinds of words go in different positions in a sentence. For example, nouns usually go at the beginning of a sentence. Adjectives usually go before nouns. They can also go after verbs. Nouns, too, can go after verbs. The main factor that determines the position of a word is its function. For example, a noun used as the subject of the verb has to go at the beginning of the sentence. A noun used as the object of a verb can only go after the verb. As the placement of words can significantly affect the meaning of a sentence it is important to learn the rules regarding the position of words. Here is a basic guide to word order in English.

  • Adjectives usually go before the nouns they modify.
  1. Susie is a beautiful girl. (Here the adjective beautiful goes immediately before the noun (girl) it modifies.)
  2. We met an interesting man.
  3. That was a wonderful experience.
  4. She is a great woman.

Note: We cannot put another word between an adjective and the noun it modifies.

However, we can use any number of adjectives to modify the same noun.

She married a tall, dark, handsome man.

When more than one adjective modify the same noun, we usually separate them using a comma. No commas are used to separate the last adjective in the series from the noun it modifies.

  • Adjectives can also go after linking verbs.

Note: The most common linking verbs in English are: is, am, are, was, were, become, seem, appear, taste, feel, grow and turn. When adjectives go after linking verbs, they usually describe the subject.

  1. Susie is beautiful. (Here the adjective beautiful describes the noun Susie.)
  2. The fish tasted funny. (Here the adjective funny describes the taste of the fish.)
  3. The night grew dark.
  4. The milk turned sour.
  5. I felt awful.

Position of adjectives

Adjectives usually go before the nouns they modify.

  1. She is a nice girl. (Here the adjective nice modifies the noun girl and goes before it.)
  2. He is an intelligent boy.
  3. That was a clever idea.

When two or more adjectives come before a noun, they are usually separated by commas.

  1. A large, round table.
  2. A short, fair, pretty girl.

Note: We do not put a comma after the last adjective in the series.

When the last two are adjectives of color, they are usually separated by ‘and’.

  • A black and white cow (NOT black white cow)
  • Red and blue socks

When two or more adjectives come in the predicative position, we use ‘and’ between the last two.

  1. It was hot and sultry.
  2. The boy was handsome, smart and polite.
  3. The clouds looked white and fluffy.

Sometimes we put an adjective after the noun for the sake of emphasis.

There lived an old man strong and wicked. (More emphatic than ‘There lived a strong and wicked old man.’)

In phrases such as those given below, the adjective always comes after the noun.

  • Time-immemorial
  • Heir-apparent
  • God Almighty
  • President elect

In lines of poetry, too, the adjective is sometimes put after the noun.

O men with sisters dear! (Instead of ‘O men with dear sisters’)

The Positive, Comparative and Superlative Degrees

An adjective can exist in three forms – positive, comparative and superlative. The positive form is the base form of the adjective. The comparative form expresses a higher degree of some quality. The superlative form expresses the highest degree.

Fill in the blanks with the comparative or superlative form of the correct adjective.


Correct use of Some Adjectives

The adjective can be correctly used with a verb when some quality of the subject,

rather the action of the verb, is to be expressed.

  1. These flowers smell sweet. (NOT These flowers smell sweetly.)
  2. It tastes sour. (NOT It tastes sourly.)

The plural forms ‘these’ and ‘those’ are often used with the singular nouns kind and sort. Examples are: these kind of things

However, some grammarians insist that we should say: this kind of things

The words, superior, inferior, senior, junior, prior, anterior, and posterior take ‘to’ instead of ‘than’.

  1. He is senior to me.
  2. James is inferior to Peter’s intelligence.

In comparing two things or classes of things the comparative should be used.

  1. Take the shorter of the two routes. (NOT Take the shortest of the two routes.)
  2. Of the two suggestions, the former is better. (NOT Of the two suggestions, the former is the best.)

This rule, however, is not strictly observed. In informal English, the superlative is often used when we talk about one of only two items.

When a comparison is made by means of a comparative, the thing that is compared must be excluded from the things with which it is compared.

  • Hercules was stronger than any other man. (NOT Hercules was stronger than any man – this sentence would suggest that Hercules was stronger than Hercules himself, which, of course, is absurd.)

Adjective phrase

A word group that has an adjective as its head is called an adjective phrase. An adjective phrase is a group of words that does the work of an adjective.  Note that the adjective in this phrase may be accompanied by other words such as determiners, modifiers etc. Adjective phrases can go before a noun (attributive position). They can also go after a linking verb like ‘be’ (predicative position).

  1. He was wearing a dark brown suit. (Here the adjective phrase ‘a dark brown’ modifies the noun suit.)
  2. The fish tasted awfully funny. (Here the adjective phrase ‘awfully funny’ says

something about the fish. It goes after the copular or linking verb ‘tasted’. A copular verb does not take an object and it cannot be modified by an adverb. The word or phrase that follows a copular verb typically says something about the subject of the sentence.

The fish tasted awful. (NOT The fish tasted awfully.) Here the adjective awful says something about the fish. It doesn’t modify the verb tasted.

Note that the adjective in an adjective phrase may be modified by an adverb. When it is modified by an adverb, the adverb goes before the adjective. The adjective may also be modified by other determiners like articles, possessives and demonstratives.

  • Consider the phrase ‘my cute little daughter’

Here, the adjective phrase ‘my cute little’ consists of a possessive (my) and two adjectives (cute and little).

Sometimes the idea expressed by an adjective can also be expressed using a noun phrase.

Consider the examples given below.

  1. Brutus is an honorable man. (Here the adjective honorable modifies the noun man.)

The same idea can be expressed using the phrase: a man of honor

  • Brutus is a man of honor.

Another example is given below.

  • Churchill was an eminent man. (Here the adjective eminent modifies the noun man.)
  • Churchill was a man of eminence. (Here the noun phrase ‘a man of eminence’ means the same as the phrase ‘an eminent man’.)

Sometimes a group of words does the work of an adjective.

Study the following examples.

  1. The mayor was a wealthy man.
  2. The mayor was a man of great wealth.

In sentence 1, the adjective wealthy says what sort of man the mayor was. In sentence 2, the group of words ‘of great wealth’ also says the same thing. It qualifies the noun

man as an adjective does. It therefore does the work of an adjective and is called an adjective phrase.

  1. The magistrate was a kind man. (Here the adjective kind modifies the noun man.)
  2. The magistrate was a man with a kind heart. (Here the adjective phrase ‘with a kind heart’ modifies the noun man.)
  3. They lived in a stone house.
  4. They lived in a house built of stone.
  5. The workers belonged to a hill tribe.
  6. The workers belonged to a tribe dwelling in the hills.

Study the following adjectives and the adjective phrases that are equivalent to them.

  • A golden necklace – a necklace made of gold
  • A white coat – a coat of white color
  • A jungle track – a track through the jungle
  • A deserted city – a city with no inhabitants
  • The French flag – the flag of France
  • A wooden hut – a hut built of wood
  • A blank page – a page with no writing on it

Relative Pronouns used to introduce Adjective Clauses

We have already learned that an adjective clause is a group of words that works like

an adjective. Adjectives are used to modify nouns. In the same way, adjective clauses are also used to modify nouns. In this lesson we will take a look at the five relative pronouns used to introduce adjectives clauses. Note that adjective clauses are also called relative clauses. The most common adjective clauses begin with the relative pronouns ‘who’, ‘which’ and ‘that’.

Note that ‘who’ is only used to refer to people and ‘which’ is only used to refer to things. ‘That’ can be used to refer to both people and things. The other two relative pronouns used to introduce adjective clauses are ‘whose’ and ‘whom’.

Whose is the possessive form of who. Whom is the object form of who.

The girl, whose brother we met in the morning, is my sister’s classmate.

Here the relative pronoun ‘whose’ shows the relationship between the girl and her

brother. ‘Whom’ can replace object pronouns (him, her, them etc.) ‘Who’ and ‘whom’ are often confused. Although it is possible to use ‘whom’ instead of ‘who’ in a less formal style, you have to keep the distinction between these forms in academic writing. Note that when ‘whom’ is used in a sentence, it will be immediately followed by another noun /pronoun and verb. ‘Who’, on the other hand, acts as the subject of the relative clause and hence it is not immediately followed by another noun.

  1. She married a rich guy whom I have known for quite some time. (Note that whom is immediately followed by another pronoun.)
  2. She married an engineer who was my senior at university. (NOT She married an engineer whom was my …)

Adjectives used without Nouns

Adjectives are often used without nouns.

To refer to some well-known groups of people

The structure the + adjective is used to talk about some well-known groups of people.

Examples are: the blind, the deaf, the unemployed, the rich, the poor, the young, the old, the dead etc.

  1. He is collecting money for the blind. ( He is collecting money for blind people.)
  2. Blessed are the meek.
  3. The government should do something for the poor.

Note that these expressions are always plural. The blind means all blind people. Similarly, the dead means all dead people. Adjectives are not normally used in this way without ‘the’.

  • Blessed are the meek . (NOT Blessed are meek.) These expressions cannot be used with a possessive ‘s.
  • The problems of the blind should be properly addressed. OR
  • Blind people’s problems should be properly addressed. (NOT The blind’s problems should be properly addressed.)

In a few fixed phrases, the + adjective can have a singular meaning. Examples include:

The accused, the former, the latter, the deceased etc.

  • The accused was released on bail. Note that plural meanings are also possible.
  • Abstract ideas

An adjective can be used after ‘the’ to refer to some abstract quality or idea.

  • She doesn’t believe in the supernatural.
  • Adjectives used without nouns

The future (= futurity) is unknown to us.

  • Adjectives of nationality

Some adjectives of nationality ending in -sh or –ch can be used after the without

nouns. These adjectives include Irish, Welsh, English, British, Spanish, French etc.

The Irish are proud of their sense of humor.

Note that the expressions the Irish, the English etc., are plural. The singular equivalents are for example an Irishman or an Englishwoman.

Attributive adjectives after nouns

Most adjectives can go in two main places in a sentence: in attributive position

And predicative position.

In attributive position, an adjective comes before the noun it modifies.

  1. She is a nice girl.
  2. She married a rich businessman.

In predicative position, an adjective goes after the verb.

  1. She is nice.
  2. He looked upset.

While attributive adjectives usually go before the nouns, a few can be used after nouns. This, for example, happens in some fixed phrases.

  • Secretary General
  • Poet Laureate
  • Attorney General
  • Court martial

Some adjectives ending in -able/-ible can also be used after nouns.

  1. It is the only solution possible.
  2. Book all the tickets available.
  3. After something, everything etc.

Adjectives come after words like something, everything, anything, nothing, somebody, anywhere etc.

  1. I would like to go somewhere quiet. (NOT I would like to go quiet somewhere.)
  2. I heard something interesting today. (NOT I heard interesting something today.)

In most expressions of measurement adjectives come after the measurement noun.

  • ten years older (NOT Older ten years) (NOT ten older years)
  • Attributive adjectives after nouns six feet deep two miles long

Verb + object + adjective

Adjectives can be placed after the object.

You make me happy.

Can you get the children ready for school?

Adjective or Adverb?

Adjectives are words used to modify nouns. They usually go before nouns.

Adjectives may also go after ‘be verbs’ (is, am, are, was, were) and copular verbs like become, seem, look, feel etc.

  1. I feel happy. (NOT I feel happily.)
  2. She seemed excited. (NOT She seemed excitedly.)
  3. They were upset.

Adverbs are words used to modify verbs. They usually express the manner in which

something is done. Adverbs are also used to modify adjectives and other adverbs.

An adverb used to modify an adjective or another adverb usually goes before it.

Enough is an exception to this rule. It goes after the adjective or adverb it modifies.

Complete the following sentences using the correct words from those given in brackets.


Adjective Or Participle

Participles can also act as adjectives. In this case, they modify nouns. Sometimes

participles are used as adjectives after be or other copular verbs. In this case, they complete the predicate.

When participles help to form continuous and perfect tenses, they act as participles.

This grammar exercise tests your ability to recognize participles and adjectives.


Mistakes in the use of adjectives

This grammar exercise tests your ability to use adjectives correctly.


Here is a list of errors that students often make in the use of adjectives.

Incorrect: She is more stronger than her sister.

Correct: She is stronger than her sister.

Avoid double comparatives. Adjectives of one syllable usually form their comparatives by Adding –er to the positive. Longer adjectives take more.

Incorrect: Bombay is further from Delhi than Agra.

Correct: Bombay is farther from Delhi than Agra.

Further means ‘additional’.

Farther is used to talk about distance.

Incorrect: You have much books.

Correct: You have many books.

Incorrect: I have many work to do.

Correct: I have much work to do.

Use much with uncountable nouns. Use many with countable nouns.

Incorrect: She is growing strong and strong everyday.

Correct: She is growing stronger and stronger everyday.

The comparative form of the adjective is used in structures like these.

Adjectives exercise

Complete the following sentences using the appropriate form of the adjective given.


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