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What Is An Adjective? Definition And Examples

Nouns and pronouns are commonly used parts of speech that appear in almost all of our sentences. While they get the job done, sometimes you just want a little bit more sparkle and pizzazz. Would you rather take a vacation or a sensational vacation? Would you rather throw a party or a gigantic, outrageous party? Would you rather pet a kitten or a wicked, ghostly kitten? OK, maybe not so much that last one …

When we want to zhuzh up our nouns and pronouns, we need to find some good adjectives. Adjectives are a major part of speech that not only make nouns and pronouns more interesting, but they also provide a lot more information when we use them in speech and writing. With all of the good work they do, it seems only fair that we learn more about them and how to best use them in our sentences.

What is an adjective?

An adjective is a word that modifies a noun or a pronoun. In general, the purpose of an adjective is to describe a noun or pronoun and provide more information about it. Adjectives provide answers to questions such as “What kind?” “Which one?” and “Whose is it?”

To demonstrate how adjectives work, let’s look at two example sentences. The first sentence has no adjectives, and the second sentence has two adjectives.

 

  • Leslie bought shoes at the store.
  • Leslie bought new shoes at the busy store.

Both of these sentences are perfectly fine. However, the second sentence gives more information than the first one does. The second sentence tells us the shoes that Leslie bought haven’t been used before and that the store that she went to had a lot of customers in it.

There are two ways that adjectives are used in sentences and clauses:

1. The adjective is right next to the noun/pronoun that it modifies. Most of the time, adjectives come before the nouns/pronouns they modify, but they can sometimes come after them:

 

  • The blue birds built a nest. (The adjective blue modifies the noun birds.)
  • I was looking for someone else. (The adjective else modifies the pronoun someone.)

2. The adjective follows a linking verb and functions as a subject complement.

 

  • The house is old. (The adjective old follows the linking verb is. Old modifies the noun house as the subject complement of the sentence.)

In either case, it is possible to use multiple adjectives to modify the same noun or pronoun:

 

  • It was a dark and stormy night.
  • My big, goofy dog is named Buddy.
  • The mirror was crooked, cracked, and dirty.

When multiple adjectives are used before a noun/pronoun, they typically follow a specific adjective order.

A noun refers to a person, place, or thing. Learn about the different types of nouns and how to use them correctly in a sentence.

List of adjectives

There are tons and tons of adjectives. The following list gives a tiny sample of the many, many adjectives that exist:

 

  • happy
  • embarrassing
  • tall
  • delicious
  • uncomfortable
  • clumsy
  • suspicious

Examples of adjectives in a sentence

The following sentences give examples of how we use adjectives:

 

  • Gavin is a smart guy.
  • The big basket is full of red apples.
  • The cocky rabbit lost the race to the careful tortoise.
  • The old clock was broken.
  • The masked villain’s plot was stopped by the brave, groovy teenagers and their goofy, cowardly dog.

What is an adjective clause?

An adjective clause is a dependent clause that—like an adjective—modifies a noun or a pronoun. Adjective clauses are also referred to as relative clauses because they usually (but not always) begin with a relative pronoun. Relative pronouns include words such as who, whom, whose, where, which, and that.

In the sentence I know a girl who can play the piano, the noun girl is modified by the dependent clause who can play the piano. Because this clause modifies a noun, it is an adjective clause.

Because adjective clauses act as adjectives, they cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. For example, the following adjective clause doesn’t make grammatical sense by itself:

 

  • That plays beautiful songs.

Instead, the adjective clause must modify a noun or pronoun:

 

  • I am looking for a music box that plays beautiful songs.

Adjective clause examples

The following sentences all have adjective clauses. As you read each sentence, see if you can identify which noun or pronoun is being modified by the adjective clause.

 

  1. Jason was the student who knew the right answer.
  2. I found the squirrel that was hiding in my tool shed.
  3. The movie, which we saw yesterday, won lots of awards.
  4. My parents visited the place where they first met.

 

Answers: 1. Student 2. Squirrel 3. Movie 4. Place

How are adjectives used?

Adjectives can be used in several different ways when they modify nouns.

To describe nouns & pronouns

A common reason we use adjectives is to describe nouns and pronouns. Adjectives can describe a noun’s/pronoun’s characteristics. They can also describe approximate or exact quantities of nouns/pronouns. For example:

 

  • Quality: The busy beavers built a big dam.
  • Approximate amount: I gave bread to some ducks.
  • Exact quantity: She has three sisters.

List of adjectives used to describe

There are a huge number of adjectives that you can use to describe people and things. Some examples are listed below, but you can probably think of other fun adjectives that can describe people and things.

 

  • silly
  • young
  • many
  • few
  • twelve
  • fifty

Looking for the right word to describe someone’s best attributes? Instead of common words like “kind” or “funny,” use one of these positive words.

To compare nouns & pronouns

We also use adjectives to compare people and things to each other. When we compare two things, we use a comparative adjective. For example, if a black pencil has a length that exceeds that of a brown pencil, we would say that the black pencil is longer than the brown pencil. Longer is a comparative adjective. When we compare more than two things, we use a superlative adjective. For example, if we had three boxes that weighed 2, 5, and 10 pounds, we would say that the 10-pound box is the heaviest of the three boxes. A comparative adjective ends in -er or uses the words more or less, and a superlative adjective ends in -est or uses the words most or least.

List of adjectives used to compare

As long as it makes sense to do so, almost any adjective can be used as a comparative or superlative adjective. Listed below are just a few examples of adjectives that can be used to compare nouns and pronouns:

 

  • cuter
  • slower
  • more massive
  • less complicated
  • toughest
  • darkest
  • most impressive
  • least believable

Types of adjectives

Because they can do so much, it doesn’t come as a surprise that there are many different types of adjectives. In fact, we can think of at least 13 different types of adjectives! If you’d like to learn more about each of the different types of adjectives, you can check out our detailed guides on adjectives listed below.

 

  1. Comparative adjectives
  2. Superlative adjectives
  3. Predicate adjectives
  4. Compound adjectives
  5. Possessive adjectives
  6. Demonstrative adjectives
  7. Proper adjectives
  8. Participial adjectives
  9. Limiting adjectives
  10. Descriptive adjectives
  11. Interrogative adjectives
  12. Attributive adjectives
  13. Distributive adjectives

Adjective vs. determiner

Unlike nouns and verbs, the types of adjectives are not as strictly defined. For this reason, style guides and grammar resources may not consider some of the types of adjectives you learn about here to actually be adjectives at all. In particular, some may consider words that act as possessives, demonstratives, interrogatives, and quantifiers as a part of speech known as determiners, which may also include the articles a, an, and the. Because of this, don’t be surprised if you see an adjective described as a determiner depending on the particular style guide that you use.

Adjective vs. adverb: what’s the difference?

Adjectives are used similarly to another part of speech known as adverbs. Both adjectives and adverbs are used as modifiers in sentences: they give more information when used with other words.

The main difference between adjectives and adverbs is what words they modify. As mentioned previously, adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Adverbs modify, well, pretty much everything else. Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives, entire sentences and clauses, and even other adverbs.

The key to determining whether to use an adjective or an adverb as a modifier is to figure out what part of speech is being modified. If you want to modify a noun or a pronoun, you need an adjective. If you want to modify something else, you need an adverb.

For example, take a look at the following sentence:

 

  • I cuddled the cat.

This sentence is fine but a little plain. Suppose you wanted to make this sentence more interesting by describing the cat. Before you do, consider what kind of word cat is. It is a noun. Because it is a noun, you need to use an adjective to modify it as in:

 

  • I cuddled the fluffy cat.

Let’s go back to our original sentence again. This time, we want to give more information about how we treated the cat. So, we want to modify the word cuddled. Before we go grab a modifier, let’s consider what kind of word cuddled is. It is a past tense verb. Because it is not a noun or a pronoun, we will use an adverb to modify it as in:

 

  • I gently cuddled the cat.

By identifying the word you want to modify, you can avoid making a grammatical error and mixing up adjectives and adverbs. Let’s test this out by looking at the following sentence and choosing the correct word:

 

  • My dog smelled (bad/badly) after she rolled around in the stinky garbage.

Before we can choose the right word, we need to consider what we are trying to say. We want to say that the dog had a stinky smell after playing in the trash. So, we know that the word smelled is a linking verb in the sentence and not an action verb: the dog isn’t smelling something. The word that we want to modify, then, is the word dog. We know that the word dog is a noun. Since we are modifying a noun, we would use the adjective bad and not the adverb badly.

All the adjectives, none of the errors

You won’t mistake your adjectives again when you check your writing on Thesaurus.com’s Grammar Coach™. This writing tool uses machine learning technology uniquely designed to catch grammar and spelling errors. Its Synonym Swap will find the best nouns, adjectives, and more to help say what you really mean, guiding you toward clearer, stronger, writing.

Whether you’re using proper, limiting, or descriptive adjectives, start writing smarter today!

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