What is an Adjective?

Brad Smith


I'm the creator of this site (Grammar Gang). I'm also the founder of Codeless, a long-form content creation company that's been featured in The New York Times, Business Insider, The Next Web, and hundreds more.

We produce around ~100 long, in-depth articles each month. So we're relying on these tools on a daily basis. Here, I break down the good, bad, and uuuuuuggggllllyyyy.
Brad Smith

An Adjective is any word that qualifies a Noun or Pronoun. The primary function of an adjective is to provide information about the Noun or Pronoun.

This information could be anything like, the size, shape, looks, color, material, or origin of the Noun.

For example, “James is a tall guy”.

In this sentence, the word ‘tall’ describes what kind of physical appearance James has. Thus, it is an adjective.

Similarly, take a look at the following sentences:

“The mango is ripe”.

“His painting is beautiful”.

“She is fat”.

The bold words are defining how the mango, painting, and woman/girl (she) is. That’s why all these words are adjectives.

Example of Adjectives

Adjectives usually fall between a Noun and an article (a, an, the), or possessive adjective (my, your, his, her, mine, ours), or demonstrative Adjective (this, that, these, those), or words denoting an uncertain amount (like some, few, more, all).

Let’s take a look at some instances:

“I love my red pen”.

“These strong guys can lift a truck”.

“A yummy almond milk is what I want”.

The bold words indicate adjectives. However, the rule I mentioned above is not rigid, and there are many situations where it (adjective) doesn’t follow the law.

For example, take “The view from hilltop was beautiful”.

“My computer is costly”.

“That plate is heavy”.

As you can see, the adjective words (in bold) in all three sentences came at the very end. That shows there is no hard and fast rule to apply adjectives in sentences.

The usage or place of an adjective in a sentence mostly depends on how the writer wants to script his thoughts. So, as long as, a word describes a Noun or Pronoun, it’s safe to call it an adjective.

Types of Adjective

#1. Articles

We all know there are three articles in English grammar – a, and, the – and these three tiny guys are the most common form of adjectives.

However, the story doesn’t end here. These three articles are further divided into two categories – definite and indefinite articles.

Since we use ‘the’ to refer to a specific subject or object (doesn’t matter whether it’s noun or pronoun), it’s called ‘Definite Article’.

Some quick examples:

  • This is the shirt I want.
  • He is the captain of the sheep.
  • The tall guy is our tourist guide.

These sentences specifically tell us about the exact shirt I want, the particular guy who’s captaining the sheep, and also the exact individual who would guide the tourists.

On the other hand, take a look at these sentences:

  • He wants a tennis racket.
  • I’m eating an apple.
  • She’s riding a bike.

Do these sentences tell you which specific tennis racket the guy wants, or which particular apple I’m eating or the exact bike the girl is riding?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. That’s why ‘a’ and ‘an’ are indefinite articles; they always come with general subjects or objects.

#2. Indefinite Adjective

Just like indefinite articles, indefinite adjectives are used to describe non-specific things. For example:

“I saw so many elephants in the zoo”.

“There are only a few items left in the store”.

“A huge crowd turned up for the show”.

“We played with lots of colors”.

All the italicized words like ‘so many’, ‘few’, ‘huge’, ‘lots of’ are indefinite adjectives. A few more indefinite adjectives are any, some, handful of, numerous, several, etc.

#3. Coordinative Adjective

It’s common to use more than one adjectives back to back to modify a noun. Something like this:

“Do push-ups to build big, broad shoulders”.

“You are tall, dark, and handsome”.

“Everyone is here to see that big, blue fish”.

These successive adjectives are what we call Coordinative adjective. The sole purpose of using coordinative adjectives is to discuss the noun or pronoun in a more explicit manner. And we often use commas or the word ‘and’ to separate coordinate adjectives.

However, English is a funny language, and it’s not necessary to place a comma or the word ‘and’ between two adjectives every time they appear in a sentence in series.

For example take this: “I love riding the tiny golf cart”.

You cannot insert a comma between tiny and golf because golf and cart together make one noun and tiny is describing the golf cart.

Similarly, if you want to figure out whether two consecutive words are coordinative noun, place ‘and’ between those words and read out the sentence loudly.

If it sounds natural, they’re coordinative adjectives. If it doesn’t, they’re not. As simple as that!

#4. Possessive adjective

Possessive adjectives are used to show ownership. Like my book, your car, her hair, their house, his skills, etc.

Some common possessive adjectives in action:

“Let me feed my horse”.

“I’m a fan of your writing skills”.

“I’m going to their house”.

#5. Numeric or Numbers adjectives

The name says it all!

In a sentence, any number that comes before (many times, after) a noun or adjective is a Numbers adjective. When in action, numeric adjectives look something like this:

“I drink 15 glass of water every day”.

“23 players were sent off for not abiding by the rules”.

“The total number of soldiers involved in this mission was 11”.

#6. Demonstrative adjective

Demonstrate means ‘to show’ something, and the definition of the demonstrative adjective is exactly the same. A demonstrative adjective works like the article ‘the’ and used to indicate specific objects.

For example, “This is the shirt he wanted to buy’.

These are the cookies I love”.

That guy has some serious issues with Jen”.

Those girls are participating in the cheerleading competition”.

All the highlighted words belong to the Demonstrative adjective category because they all are pointing towards a particular thing or person or group of persons.

#7. Attributive adjectives

Attributive adjectives explicitly communicate about the qualities or characteristics of a Noun or Pronoun. There are different types of Attributive Adjectives depending on what features it talks about. For example:

  1. Size and Shape adjectives talk about the measurements and looks of a Noun or Pronoun. Regular words like ‘tall’, ‘fat’, ‘thin’, ‘round’, ‘square’, ‘rectangular’, etc. are a few examples of Size and Shape adjective.
  2. Material adjectives tell the readers which metal is used to make the object. For example, ‘Gold plates’, ‘silver spoon’, ‘glass shield’, ‘copper wire’, etc.
  3. Age adjectives indicate the age of a person, place, animal, or thing. It includes accurate age numbers like ‘seven-year-old’, ‘two months old’, and also general terms like old, and young.
  4. Observation adjectives include words that talk about cognitive measures or qualities that cannot be described by numbers or specific units. For example, ‘beautiful’, ‘best’, ‘perfect’, ‘mean’, ‘honest’, ‘greedy’ or any human quality.
  5. Color adjectives are words that describe the color of a thing. This includes colors like ‘red’, ‘blue’, ‘pink’, ‘black’ and all the other colors you can name.
  6. Qualifier adjectives are mainly used to define nouns in a more precise manner. For instance, golf cart, cricket bat, delivery truck, etc.
  7. Origin adjectives or also known as Proper adjectives denote the descent or roots of a Noun or Pronoun, and it includes everything from a human being to an animal. Like an Indian guy, African elephant, American chocolate, British army, etc.

How to use adjectives correctly

Adjectives always come in one of the three forms – positive, comparative, and superlative. These are often called degrees of comparison.

Positive Adjective

We use positive adjectives to describe something in its regular mode. For example:

“I want to be in good shape”.

“Sam runs fast”.

“It is going to be an exciting match”.

“He is bad in taking decisions”.

Comparative Adjective

However, the comparative degree is slightly different from the positive degree and primarily used to compare between two individuals or things.

For example:

“I want to be in a better shape than him”.

“Sam runs faster than Ryan”.

“It is going to be a more exciting match than the previous one”.

“He is worse in decision making than his brother”.

To change most of the one-syllable adjectives from positive to comparative degree, we generally add the suffix ‘er’ or ‘r’ – if it already ends with the letter ‘e’.

For example, take a quick rewind and read the second sentence: “Sam runs faster than Ryan”.

As you can see, the positive degree was ‘fast’, while the comparative degree became ‘faster’ once we added the suffix ‘er’ to it.

Similarly, there are some more examples like:

“It was an easier method to solve the maths problem than the previous ones”.

“Yellow is a brighter color than green”.

“I’m happier than my neighbors”.

However, for multi-syllable adjectives, we tend to ditch the ‘r’ and ‘er’ way and add ‘more’ in front of the word to make it comparative. Some examples include:

“Nikki is a more intelligent student than most of her classmates”.

“You look more beautiful in this red dress”.

“We need to put more effort to win the match”.

Superlative Adjective

And finally, the superlative degree is used to denote something which is most superior in terms of quality than any of its counterparts.

And the rule to change a positive to superlative is almost identical to the one we use to form a comparative degree. Just add the suffix ‘est’ or ‘st’ (if the adjective already ends with ‘e’) to one-syllable adjectives and ‘most’ ahead of multi-syllable adjectives.

But keep in mind, the superlative form of adjective always starts with the definite adjective or article ‘the’. Without ‘the’, the whole sentence becomes grammatically wrong. See how the superlative forms of adjectives appear in the following sentences:

“Today, I’m the happiest person of this world”.

“Sam is the fastest runner of his school”.

“Risha is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen”.

Absolute or non-gradable adjectives

Absolute adjectives are the fourth form of Adjective which, as the name sounds, are already whole in their current form and don’t need words like more or most to grade them.

Some absolute adjectives words could be ‘perfect’, ‘supreme’, ‘brilliant’, ‘unique’, ‘complete’, ‘absolute’, ‘dead’, ‘wonderful’, pregnant, etc.

Common mistakes while using Adjectives

#1. Use of ordinal numbers after a noun

Incorrect: I’m in my undergrad year first.

Correct: I’m in my first year of undergrad.

A common mistake many writers do while using a number after Noun is, inserting an ordinal number (like first, sixth, fourth, third, etc.) instead of a cardinal number (like one, two, three, four, etc.).

If you wish to use an ordinal number, always place it before the noun.

#2. Using double comparatives together

Incorrect: “He is more cleverer than the other party”.

Correct: “He is cleverer than the other party”.

Incorrect: “She is more fatter than her sibling”.

Correct: “She is fatter than her sibling”.

It’s an age-old error that we usually do while speaking but sometimes implement in writing, too. It’s enough to use a single comparative word to compare between two or more nouns.

Adding ‘more’ to every comparative word like ‘more taller’ or ‘more heavier’ won’t help your writing. On the contrary, it makes you sound like a dumba**.

#3. Group A determiner ahead of Group B determiners

So, first of all, what is Group A determiner?

Basically, articles, possessive adjectives (my, her, his, etc.) and demonstrative adjectives (these, that, those, these) are called Group A determiners.

Whereas, quantifiers that include words like ‘all’, ‘a few’, ‘both’, ‘some’, etc. fall under Group B determiners.

It’s a cardinal sin in English grammar to use a Group A determiner ahead of a Group B determiner.

So, always use a Group B determiner before Group A.

Incorrect: “The all boys of this room are culprits”.

Correct: “All the boys of this room are culprits”.

Incorrect: “These all books are of no use”.

Correct: “All these books are of no use”.

#4. Plural noun after the word ‘any other’

Avoid using plural nouns after the word ‘any other’ when you are comparing a specific person or thing to everyone or everything.

For example:

Incorrect: “Platinum is more precious than any other metals”.

Correct: “Platinum is more precious than any other metal”.

Incorrect: “Russell is more dangerous than any other batsmen”.

Correct: “Russell is more dangerous than any other batsman”.

#5. Superlative adjectives while comparing two nouns

Incorrect: “Who is the sharpest out of the two shooters?”

Correct: “Who is sharper out of the two shooters?

Incorrect: “Out of these two, this is the best smartphone”.

Correct: “Out of these two, this is a better smartphone”.

It’s a must to use the comparative form of adjective when comparing two nouns. The superlative degree is correct when you’re declaring something the most superior among all the available choices.

Like,

Correct: “This is the best smartphone in the market”.

Incorrect: This is a better smartphone in the market”.

#6. Working with sentences that contain ‘so’ and adjectives

Incorrect: “I have never seen a so beautiful woman”.

Correct: “I have never seen so beautiful a woman”.

Incorrect: “She was a so talented painter that she completed the painting in just an hour”.

Correct: “She was so talented a painter that she completed the painting in just an hour”.

Looks familiar, right? Many writers put the article ahead of the ‘so’ and adjective when dealing with sentences like that.

But now, you know what the correct structure is – ‘so + adjective + article + noun’.

#7. Using adjectives as adverbs

I often come across writers who mistake an adjective as an adverb and end up sentences like this:

“She walks slowly”.

Many of you might be wondering, “what’s wrong in that sentence? That’s perfectly fine”.

It doesn’t matter, however it sounds correct while speaking, grammar-wise that sentence is wrong because the word ‘slowly’ modifies the verb ‘walks’, it doesn’t talk about the pronoun ‘she’.

Thus, it’s correct to call ‘slowly’ an adverb; not an adjective. The correct adjective form of ‘slowly’ would be ‘slow’. And the whole sentence would now be:

“She walks slow”.

So, with that, today’s adjectives classes end here.

In this article, we discussed what adjective is, its different types, the three degrees, and at last, took a look at the silly errors that our eyes often fail to catch while using adjectives.