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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  • The quick, brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
  • That's an interesting idea. (Attributive.)
  • That idea is interesting. (Predicative.)
  • The good, the bad, and the ugly. (Substantive.)
  • Tell me something interesting. (Post-positive.)

In grammar, an adjective is a word whose main syntactic role is to modify a noun or pronoun, giving more information about the noun or pronoun's referent. Collectively, adjectives form one of the traditional English eight parts of speech, though linguists today distinguish adjectives from words such as determiners that also used to be considered adjectives.

Not all languages have adjectives, but most, including English, do. (English adjectives include big, old, and tired, among many others.) Those that do not, typically use words of another part of speech, often verbs, to serve the same semantic function; for example, such a language might have a verb that means "to be big", and would use a construction analogous to "big-being house" to express what English expresses as "big house". Even in languages that do have adjectives, one language's adjective might not be another's; for example, while English uses "to be hungry" (hungry being an adjective), French uses "avoir faim" (literally "to have hunger"), and where Hebrew uses the adjective "זקוק" (zaqūq, roughly "in need of"), English uses the verb "to need".

In most languages with adjectives, they form an open class of words; that is, it is relatively common for new adjectives to be formed via such processes as derivation.


Adjectives and adverbs

Many languages, including English, distinguish between adjectives, which modify nouns and pronouns, and adverbs, which modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Not all languages have exactly this distinction, however, and in many languages (including English) there are words that can function as both. For example, in English fast is an adjective in "a fast car" (where it modifies the noun car), but an adverb in "he drove fast" (where it modifies the verb drove).


Linguists today distinguish determiners from adjectives, considering them to be two separate parts of speech (or lexical categories), but traditionally, determiners were considered adjectives in some of their uses. (In English dictionaries, which typically still do not treat determiners as their own part of speech, determiners are often recognizable by being listed both as adjectives and as pronouns.) Determiners are words that express the reference of a noun in the context, generally indicating definiteness (as in a vs. the), quantity (as in one vs. some vs. many), or another such property.


A given occurrence of an adjective can generally be classified into one of four kinds of uses:

  • Attributive adjectives are part of the noun phrase headed by the noun they modify; for example, happy is an attributive adjective in "happy people". In some languages, attributive adjectives precede their nouns; in others, they follow their nouns; and in yet others, it depends on the adjective, or on the exact relationship of the adjective to the noun. 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." See also Post-positive adjective.
  • Predicative adjectives are 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." (See also: Predicative (adjectival or nominal), Subject complement.)
  • Absolute adjectives do 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."
  • Substantive adjectives act almost as nouns. 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 substantive 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".

Adjectival phrases

An adjective acts as the head of an adjectival phrase. In the simplest case, an adjectival phrase consists solely of the adjective; more complex adjectival phrases may contain one or more adverbs modifying the adjective ("very strong"), or one or more complements (such as "worth several dollars", "full of toys", or "eager to please"). In English, attributive adjectival phrases that include complements typically follow their subject ("an evildoer devoid of redeeming qualities").

Other noun modifiers

In many languages, including English, it is possible for nouns to modify other nouns. Unlike adjectives, nouns acting as modifiers (called attributive nouns or noun adjuncts) are not predicative; a beautiful park is beautiful, but a car park is not "car". In English, the modifier often indicates origin ("Virginia reel"), purpose ("work clothes"), or semantic patient ("man eater"). However, it can generally indicate almost any semantic relationship. It is also common for adjectives to be derived from nouns, as in English boyish, birdlike, behavioral, famous, manly, angelic, and so on.

Many languages have special verbal forms called participles can act as noun modifiers. In some languages, including English, there is a strong tendency for participles to evolve into adjectives. English examples of this include relieved (the past participle of the verb relieve, used as an adjective in sentences (such as "I am so relieved to see you"), spoken (as in "the spoken word"), and going (the present participle of the verb go, used as an adjective in sentences such as "Ten dollars per hour is the going rate").

Other constructs that often modify nouns include prepositional phrases (as in English "a rebel without a cause"), relative clauses (as in English "the man who wasn't there"), other adjective clauses (as in English "the bookstore where he worked"), and infinitive phrases (as in English "cake to die for").

In relation, many nouns take complements such as content clauses (as in English "the idea that I would do that"); these are not commonly considered modifiers, however.

Adjective order

In many languages, attributive adjectives usually occur in a specific order. Generally, the adjective order in English is;[1]

  1. article or pronouns used as adjectives
  2. intensifier
  3. quality
  4. size
  5. age
  6. color
  7. participle
  8. proper adjective
  9. noun used as adjectives
  10. headnoun

So, in English, adjectives pertaining to size precede adjectives pertaining to age ("little old", not "old little"), which in turn generally precede adjectives pertaining to color ("old white", not "white old"). So, we would say "A nice (opinion) little (size) old (age) white (color) brick (material) house". However, some native speakers will say, "a big, ugly desk" (size, opinion) instead of "an ugly, big desk" (opinion, size), for example.

This order may be more rigid in some languages than others; in some, like Spanish, it may only be a default (unmarked) word order, with other orders being permissible to shift the emphasis.

Comparison of adjectives

In many languages, adjectives can be compared. In English, for example, we can say that a car is big, that it is bigger than another is, or that it is the biggest car of all. Not all adjectives lend themselves to comparison, however; for example, the English adjective extinct is not considered comparable, in that it does not make sense to describe one species as "more extinct" than another. However, even most non-comparable English adjectives are still sometimes compared; for example, one might say that a language about which nothing is known is "more extinct" than a well-documented language with surviving literature but no speakers. This is not a comparison of the degree of intensity of the adjective, but rather the degree to which the object fits the adjective's definition.

Comparable adjectives are also known as "gradable" adjectives, because they tend to allow grading adverbs such as very, rather, and so on.

Among languages that allow adjectives to be compared in this way, different approaches are used. Indeed, even within English, two different approaches are used: the suffixes -er and -est, and the words more and most. (In English, the general tendency is for shorter adjectives and adjectives from Anglo-Saxon to use -er and -est, and for longer adjectives and adjectives from French, Latin, Greek, and other languages to use more and most.) By either approach, English adjectives therefore have positive forms (big), comparative forms (bigger), and superlative forms (biggest). However, many other languages do not distinguish comparative from superlative forms.


Attributive adjectives, and other noun modifiers, may be used either restrictively (helping to identify the noun's referent, hence "restricting" its reference), or non-restrictively (helping to describe an already-identified noun). In some languages, such as Spanish, restrictiveness is consistently marked; for example, Spanish la tarea difícil means "the difficult task" in the sense of "the task that is difficult" (restrictive), while la difícil tarea means "the difficult task" in the sense of "the task, which is difficult" (non-restrictive). In English, restrictiveness is not marked on adjectives, but is marked on relative clauses (the difference between "the man who recognized me was there" and "the man, who recognized me, was there" being one of restrictiveness).

See also


  1. ^ University of York, Adjective order in English
  • Dixon, R. M. W. (1977). Where have all the adjectives gone? Studies in Language, 1, 19–80.
  • Dixon, R. M. W.; R. E. Asher (Editor) (1993). The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (1st ed.). Pergamon Press Inc. pp. 29–35. ISBN 0080359434. 
  • Dixon, R. M. W. (1999). Adjectives. In K. Brown & T. Miller (Eds.), Concise encyclopedia of grammatical categories (pp. 1–8). Amsterdam: Elsevier. ISBN 0-08-043164-X.
  • Warren, Beatrice. (1984). Classifying adjectives. Gothenburg studies in English (No. 56). Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis. ISBN 91-7346-133-4.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna. (1986). What's in a noun? (or: How do nouns differ in meaning from adjectives?). Studies in Language, 10, 353–389.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ADJECTIVE (from the Lat. adjectivus, added), a word used chiefly in its grammatical sense of limiting or defining the noun to which it refers. Formerly grammarians used not to separate a noun from its adjective, or attribute, but spoke of them together as a noun-adjective. In the art of dyeing, certain colours are known as adjective colours, as they require mixing with some basis to render them permanent. "Adjective law" is that which relates to the forms of procedure, as opposed to "substantive law," the rules of right administered by a court.

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Simple English

Simple English Wiktionary has the word meaning for:

An adjective is a name for a word that modifies (describes) a noun. Nouns are words that name a place, a person, a thing, or an idea. An adjective is a word that gives more information about the noun that goes with it (accompanies).

Word Order

As a rule, in English, the adjective comes before the noun it describes.

Some examples, with the adjective in bold:

  • I like blue skies and fluffy clouds.
  • He is a nice man.
  • It was a cold day.
  • They are good people


Sometimes an adjective is not followed by a noun:

  • The sky is blue.
  • The joke she told was so funny, I could not stop laughing all day.
  • He went crazy

It's still an adjective, because we could have "the blue sky", "the funny joke", and "the crazy man". The adjective is still describing the noun though they are not side by side.

An adjective is a name for a word that modifies (describes) a noun. Nouns are words that name a place, a person, or a thing. An adjective is a word that gives instant status about the noun to enable to make a clear picture of the noun in the mind of the reader and create a feeling of the writer.

Comparative and Superlative

Sometimes we have different forms of the same adjective. If one joke makes us laugh more than another joke, then that joke is funnier. This is called the comparative form of the adjective. The day that is colder than any other is the coldest day. This is the superlative form of "cold". Some adjectives need additional words when we want to compare them. For instance, one car may be cheaper than another, but the second car may be more reliable. (We use "more reliable", instead of "reliabler".) Reliable is being trustworthy or worthy of trust, deserving confidence.

The rule is:

For short adjectives ending in a consonant like cold, black, fast, one adds the suffix er to make a comparison of greater magnitude. Example: The North Pole is colder than Florida. The greatest possible comparison is made by adding the suffix est. Example: In the wirnter, the North Pole is the coldest place on earth. For long adjectives like intelligent, conscientious, comprehensive, one uses the word more to make a comparison of greater magnitude. Example: Children are more intelligent than adults. To make the greatest possible comparison one uses the word most. Example: She is the most conscientious objector I have ever known.

Nouns as noun modifiers

In the English language, it is possible for a noun to modify (describe) another noun. Example: take the noun 'angel' and the noun 'face'. Put them together and the result is 'angel face'. Make one up with 'country' and 'house'. Now, think of two nouns and put them together.

Adjectives and adverbs

One can make adverbs from some adjectives by adding the suffix ly. Example: take the adjective 'beautiful', the adverb is beautifully. One can do it the other way around: take an adverb like 'presumably', the adjective is 'presumable' (assumable). 'Presumable innocence' means the accused is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty (which is not always practiced everywhere, however).

The adjective 'guilty' becomes the adverb 'guiltily' and viceversa (the other way round)(the opposite), the adverb 'guiltily' becomes the adjective 'guilty'. As a rule, 'dogs chase cats' but not viceversa. Cats seldom chase dogs.

100 Adjectives used in Basic English

ableacidangryautomaticbeautifulblackboilingbrightbrokenbrowncheapchemicalchiefcleanclearcommoncomplexconsciouscutdeepdependentearlyelasticelectricequalfatfertilefirstfixedflatfreefrequentfullgeneralgoodgreatgrayhanginghappyhardhealthyhighhollowimportantkindlikelivinglongmalemarriedmaterialmedicalmilitarynaturalnecessarynewnormalopenparallelpastphysicalpoliticalpoorpossiblepresentprivateprobablequickquietreadyredregularresponsiblerightroundsamesecondseparateserioussharpsmoothstickystiffstraight • strong • suddensweettallthicktighttiredtrueviolentwaitingwarmwetwidewiseyellowyoung

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