Adjectives are part of the open class.  Traditionally, they are called ‘describing’ words because they communicate some specific feature or quality of a noun. They provide descriptive detail about qualities like colour, size, character and mood. By including adjectives, writers can shape our response.

5 things to know about adjectives

  • they can be placed before a noun (attributive) or after a copular verb (predicative)
    • the sunny day; the pale boy; a cloudy sky [attributive]
    • the day is sunny;  the boy grew pale; the sky became cloudy [predicative]
  • they can be formed by adding suffixes to other words
    • afford (verb) + -able = affordable; disappoint (verb) +-ed = disappointed; amuse (verb) + -ing= amusing (also known as verb modifiers)
    • mischief (noun) + -ous = mischievous; dirt (noun) + -y = dirty; skill (noun) + -ful = skilful; blame (noun) + -less = blameless
  • they can usually be graded by a degree adverbs (some adjectives like dead or still cannot be graded because they describe absolute qualities)
    • so rapid, quite warm, exceptionally dangerous, very blue, rather unexpected 
  • they can be compared using -er/more or -est/most
    • quieter, more precise [comparative]
    • highest, most skilful [superlative]
  • when they occur in strings, they are ordered according to their meaning:  description/feelings, size, age, -ed/-ing participles, colour, defining (adjectives closely linked to nouns)
    • the loyal old Dalmatian dog
    • some delicate tiny blue Forget-me-Not flowers

Key terms

You need to be able to understand and use the following terms:

Attributive and predicative adjectives



Gradable, non-gradable, comparative and superlative adjectives





Writing about adjectives

Adjectives are important in written and spoken language because they shape our response: adjectives with positive connotations create a positive mood; adjectives with negative connotations create a negative mood. Identifying the adjectives is the first step, but the second is being able to comment on their effect. We need to think about the position, the form and the connotations. Advertisers use adjectives to promote their products; politicians use adjectives to persuade us to vote for them; novelists use adjectives to create character and a sense of place; recipes use participle adjectives to describe ingredients precisely. Identifying interesting examples and exploring their meaning is the key to good analysis.


For additional exercises like this with notes and commentaries, see Mastering Practical Grammar (pages 45-51)

One response to “Adjectives

  1. Pingback: The key to adjectives | Sara Thorne English Language

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