Adjectives – Definition, Rules & Examples

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Adjectives-Definition

Below, we define what adjectives are, along with the different usage forms. Please read on for a straightforward explanation with examples.

Adjectives – In a Nutshell

  • An adjective describes a common noun.
  • A comparative adjective compares two things, and a superlative three or more.
  • If a regular adjective has one syllable – or two syllables and ends with ‘-y’ – we add ‘-er’ to form its comparative and ‘-est’ for the superlative.
  • However, use ‘more … than‘ for comparisons and ‘the most …‘ for superlatives if the adjective has three syllables or more.

Definition: Adjectives

An adjective describes a noun (a common name) or a pronoun.1 Typically, it gives more detail about a person, animal, object, or idea.

How to use adjectives

An adjective may be used to describe the features or modify the qualities of the noun that follows in the sentence. For instance, tennis fans might describe Roger Federer as a good tennis player. Likewise, some devotees would contend he is an excellent one.

Sometimes, an adjective has more than one opposite; sad is a synonym for unhappy. A regular adjective forms its opposite with the prefix ‘un-‘ such as an interesting film, an uninteresting magazine, etc.

Adjectives modify nouns

In English, an adjective refers to the noun that follows it, unlike in some other languages where the noun comes first.

Simple examples include:

  • a white shirt
  • a fast car
  • a spectacular view

Forms of adjectives

Now, let us consider the different types with some examples of their usage.

Absolute adjectives

An absolute adjective is non-gradable. We do not quantify it with ‘very’, ‘a bit’ or ‘a little’. It describes an on/off binary state such as excellent, necessary, or finished.2

Examples:

  • We will be free tomorrow evening.
  • It’s a perfect choice.
  • They offered an unacceptable alternative.

Comparative adjectives

Using comparative adjectives, we can contrast two things or describe changes. We could say that London is bigger than Birmingham, or that summer temperatures are hotter (than before).

Superlative adjectives

We use superlatives to compare multiple concepts, places, or objects.3

Example:

Of their three children, Mark is the oldest and Jeffrey is the youngest.

Base adjective Comparative adjective Superlative adjective Example
small smaller than the smallest Florida is smaller than Texas.
Rhode Island is the smallest state.
large larger than the largest North Carolina is larger than South Carolina.
Alaska is the largest US state.
intelligent more intelligent than the most intelligent Roberta is probably more intelligent than me. In fact, she might be the most intelligent student in our class.

If an adjective has one syllable or two syllables ending with ‘-y’, we form the comparative by adding the suffix ‘-er’ and the superlative with ‘-est’.

However, suppose the adjective has three syllables – or two syllables and does not end with the letter ‘y’. In these cases, we form their comparatives with ‘more … than’ and superlatives using ‘the most …’.

Example:

The project is still in progress but is more complete than we expected.

Coordinate adjectives

This term refers to more than one adjective used in sequence. We separate them with commas, when there are three or more, and when the word ‘and’ is placed before the last adjective.4

Example:

It was a hot, sunny day, so I am afraid they had a long, arduous, and tiring journey.

Adjectives vs. adverbs

An adjective describes a noun, whereas an adverb modifies a verb. So, to adapt the earlier example, we could say that Roger Federer plays tennis well (or excellently).

The adverb excellently is regular: we add ‘-ly’ to the base adjective ‘excellent’. In contrast, ‘well‘ is an irregular adverb. It does not follow the usual spelling convention and, in this case, is radically different from the base adjective ‘good‘. Other irregular adjectives include fast, hard, and late.

Adjectives vs. adverbs

FAQs

These descriptive words create a good impression or favorable effect. Some examples are bright, generous, and elegant.

Most common ones have opposites. Examples include good and bad, deep and shallow, happy and sad (or unhappy), etc.

Yes, we sometimes use a linked preposition. We might say we are good at (playing) football, or – if necessary – observe that apples are different from pears.

No, we do not use them to depict actions. We use adverbs instead.

Sources

1 Dictionary. “English Dictionary.” Cambridge Dictionary. Accessed November 09, 2022. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/

2 Grammarist. “Coordinate adjectives.” Accessed November 09, 2022. https://grammarist.com/grammar/coordinate-adjectives/

3 state symbols USA. “Size of States.” Accessed November 09, 2022. https://statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/national-us/uncategorized/states-size

4 British Council. “Adjectives – gradable and non-gradable” Accessed November 09, 2022. https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/b1-b2-grammar/adjectives-gradable-and-non-gradable