English Adjectives: A Complete Grammar Guide

In grammar, adjectives are one of the traditional eight English parts of speech, although linguists  today distinguish adjectives from words such as determiners that formerly were considered to be adjectives. 

An adjective is a “describing” word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified.

What is an adjective?

In the following examples, the highlighted words are adjectives:

  • Furry dogs may overheat in the summertime.
  • The colorful balloon floated over the treetop.
  • The coal mines are dark and dank.

An adjective can be modified by an adverb, or by a phrase or clause functioning as an adverb.

For example:

  • The woman is quite pretty. (the adverb “quite” modifies the adjective “pretty“)

Some nouns, many pronouns, and many participle phrases can also act as adjectives.

For example:

  • Eleanor listened to the muffled sounds of the radio hidden under her pillow. (both highlighted adjectives are past participles.)


Adjectives can be identified by their endings. Common adjective endings are as follows:

  • -able/-ible: credible, achievable, gullible, capable, illegible, sensible, remarkable, horrible
  • -al: annual, functional, individual, logical, essential
  • -ful: awful
    , cheerful, doubtful, faithful, forceful
  • -ic: terrific, cubic, manic, rustic
  • -ive: intensive, adaptive, attractive, dismissive, inventive, persuasive
  • -less: doubtless, endless, fearless, helpless, homeless, breathless, careless, groundless, restless
  • -ous: adventurous, famous, generous, courageous, dangerous, tremendous, fabulous

Though, a large number of adjectives are different…

  • hot
  • dark
  • smart
  • cool
  • common
  • complete
  • large
  • deep
  • thin
  • far
  • atractive
  • great
  • doutful
  • cold
  • crowded
  • careless
  • noisy        
  • quiet
  • real
  • pink
  • silent
  • simple
  • strange
  • generous
  • wide
  • young

Uses of Adjective

  • Attributive adjective is part of the noun phrase headed by the noun they modify; for example, happy is an attributive adjective in “happy people“.In English, attributive adjectives usually precede their nouns in simple phrases, but often follow their nouns when the adjective is modified or qualified by a phrase acting as an adverb.

For example: “I saw three happy kids“, and “I saw three kids happy enough to jump up and down with glee.”

  • Predicative adjective is linked via a copula or other linking mechanism to the noun or pronoun they modify.

For example, happy is a predicate adjective in “They are happy” and in “That made me happy.”

  • Absolute adjective does not belong to a larger construction (aside from a larger adjective phrase), and typically modify either the subject of a sentence or whatever noun or pronoun they are closest to.

For example, happy is an absolute adjective in “The boy, happy with his lollipop, did not look where he was going.”

  • Nominal adjective acts almost as noun. One way this can happen is if a noun is elided and an attributive adjective is left behind. In the sentence, “I read two books to them; he preferred the sad book, but she preferred the happy”, happy is a nominal adjective, short for “happy one” or “happy book“.

Another way this can happen is in phrases like “out with the old, in with the new“, where “the old” means, “that which is old” or “all that is old“, and similarly with “the new“. In such cases, the adjective functions either as a mass noun (as in the preceding example) or as a plural count noun, as in “The meek shall inherit the Earth“, where “the meek” means “those who are meek” or “all who are meek“.

Adjective Order

Rules and examples for order of adjectives.

Comparison of Adjectives

Three forms of comparison of adjectives in English

Positive: it is an ordinary form of adjectives

Comparative: shows when two persons or objects being compared

Superlative: indicates that the quality or quantity is at its highest or is most intense


Comparatives are used when two persons or objects being compared.


When an adjective compares three or more things, the superlative form of the adjective is used. Superlatives indicate that the quality or quantity is at its highest or is most intense.









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