What Is an Adjective? | Definition, Types & Examples

Adjectives are used to modify nouns and pronouns. They can be used in both descriptions (e.g., “a dark night,” “an honest person”) and comparisons (e.g., “the darkest night,” “the most honest person”).

Adjective examples
The sunlight shimmered on the calm lake.

Edward is shy but talented.

This winter is warmer than the last.

How are adjectives used in sentences?

Adjectives modify or describe nouns and pronouns. Attributive adjectives precede the noun they modify, whereas predicative adjectives come after the noun. Predicate adjectives always follow a linking verb, such as “seem” or “be.”

Examples: Attributive and predicative adjectives
The turbulent waters caused the ship to flounder.

Traffic will be terrible this weekend because of the festival.

We attended a fascinating technology conference last weekend.

Our grandson seems excited about going to college.

Most adjectives can be either attributive or predicative, but some adjectives are strictly attributive or predicative. For instance, the adjective “inner” is always attributive, and the adjective “afraid” is always predicative.

  • Welcome to the inner circle.
  • Welcome to the circle that is inner.
  • My pets are afraid.
  • My afraid pets …

The QuillBot Grammar Checker can help you make sure you’re using adjectives and other parts of speech correctly.

Comparative and superlative adjectives

A comparative adjective compares just two things (e.g., “funnier,” “more endearing”). Adding “-er” (or just “-r” for words ending in “e”) is the most common way that comparative adjectives are formed. (For two-syllable words ending in “y” replace the “y” with the suffix “-ier”).

Some words require adding “more” before the adjective instead of an “-er” ending (e.g., “more gracious,” not “graciouser”). Adjectives that require “more” instead of “-er” typically have two or more syllables.

“Less” can be added before most adjectives (e.g., “less apt,” “less interesting”).

Examples: Comparative adjectives in a sentence
Life is busier and more stressful than it was last year.

Class is less interesting when you’re not there.

He is younger than his cousin, but he already seems more mature.

A superlative adjective indicates that more than two people or things are being compared. Superlative adjectives indicate that someone or something exhibits a quality to the highest or lowest degree.

The superlative form of an adjective typically begins with “the” followed by the base adjective with the suffix “-est” added (e.g., “the nearest”). For adjectives ending in “e,” the superlative form adds “-st,” and for two-syllable adjectives ending in “y,” replace the “y” with “-iest.”

Some adjectives with two or more syllables require “most” instead of taking the “-est” suffix (e.g., “the most extravagant,” “the most exciting”).

The word “least” can be added before most adjectives to indicate the lowest degree of that quality (e.g., “the least purchased,” “the least encouraging”).

Examples: Superlative adjectives in a sentence
The gardener who grew the largest pumpkin won a prize.

This is the loveliest sunrise I’ve ever seen.

I’ve arranged your options from least expensive to most expensive.

Absolute adjectives

An absolute adjective describes a state that defies comparison (e.g., “immortal”). Modifiers such as “nearly” or “virtually” are often attached to absolute adjectives (e.g., “nearly unanimous”).

Absolute adjectives are sometimes used in hyperbolic or nonliteral comparisons. For example, “perfect” and “unique” are absolute states, but expressions like “most perfect” and “most unique” are common.

Examples: Absolute adjectives in a sentence
Snowflakes form in a seemingly infinite number of patterns.

Our friendship feels eternal.

Coordinate adjectives

Coordinate adjectives are combined with other adjectives to describe the same word or phrase. A group of two or more adjectives typically includes either commas or the conjunction “and.”

Examples: Coordinate adjectives in a sentence
Last summer was humid and stormy.

We climbed the old, creaky wooden staircase.

Adjectives vs adverbs

Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns, while adverbs describe verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. Adverbs typically answer the questions of “when,” “where,” “how,” or “to what degree.”

Most (but not all) words that end in “-ly” are adverbs (exceptions include adjectives like “friendly,” “silly,” and “lonely”). Adding the suffix “-ly” to an adjective often yields an adverb (e.g., “sufficient” becomes “sufficiently”).

Forming adverbs from adjectives
Original ending Adverbial ending Example
“-y” “-ily” (replacing the “y”) happy; happily
“-le” “-y” (replacing the “e”) simple; simply
“-ic” “-ally” iconic; iconically

Words that can function as both adjectives and adverbs without any alteration include “near,” “hard,” and “high.”

To distinguish between adjectives and adverbs, it’s helpful to first determine which word is being modified.

In a sentence like “Sit near me,” the word “near” modifies the verb “sit,” so it’s functioning as an adverb.

However, in the sentence “I will contact you in the near future,” “near” functions as an adjective that modifies the noun “future.”

Adjectives with linking verbs

Linking verbs typically refer to a state of being (e.g., “is,” “looks,” “tastes”) or a state of change (e.g., “grows,” “becomes”) rather than an action.

While an adjective can be used as the complement of a linking verb, using an adverb instead is a common error.

Examples: Adjectives and adverbs with linking verbs
  • The violin solo sounded unpleasantly.
  • The violin solo sounded unpleasant.
  • Burnt rice smells horribly.
  • Burnt rice smells horrible.
  • I feel terribly about missing the party.
  • I feel terrible about missing the party.
Some verbs can function as either linking verbs or action verbs depending on the context. For example, “grow” can be used as a linking verb in a sentence like “We’ve grown old,” where it links the subject “we” to the predicate adjective “old.” In other instances, such as “Children grow so quickly,” the verb “grow” is an action verb and takes the adverb “quickly.”

How to order adjectives

Attributive adjectives and determiners should be arranged in a specific sequence when used together. This order of adjectives is acquired intuitively by most native speakers and typically doesn’t require deliberate memorization.

  • Determiner (e.g., “an,” “that,” “every”)
  • Opinion (e.g., “marvelous,” “controversial,” “hilarious”)
  • Size (e.g., “large,” “minute,” “expansive”)
  • Age or shape (e.g., “triangular,” “ancient,” “oblong”)
  • Color (e.g., “green,” “golden,” “violet”)
  • Origin (e.g., “African,” “interstellar,” “global”)
  • Material (e.g., “silk,” “rubber,” “synthetic”)
Examples: Adjective word order
We purchased an adorable two-story Cape Cod house.

I am looking for a suspenseful, short novel to read during my vacation.

Other types of adjectives

There are numerous ways to categorize adjectives, including the following:

Appositive adjectives

Appositive adjectives follow the word they modify and are typically set off by commas or em dashes, much like appositive nouns.

Example: Appositive adjectives in a sentence
The marketplace, bustling and chaotic, showcased colorful produce.

Compound adjectives

A compound adjective consists of two or more words joined together to convey one concept (e.g., “deep-sea,” “state-of-the-art,” “open-ended”). Attributive compound adjectives, which precede the word they describe, are typically hyphenated for clarity. Predicate compound adjectives, which occur after the word they describe, typically are not hyphenated.

Examples: Compound adjectives in a sentence
Keith tries not to be a narrow-minded person.

I don’t find Keith narrow minded.

Compound adjectives that include an adverb with an “-ly” suffix (e.g., “evenly spread”) should never be hyphenated.

  • She’s an incredibly-successful attorney.
  • She’s an incredibly successful attorney.

Participial adjectives

Participial adjectives look exactly like the past or present participle forms of verbs, which typically end with “-ed,” “-ing,” or “-en.”

Examples: Participial adjectives in a sentence
In the darkening forest, we wandered off the worn path.

The newly decorated classroom looked stunning aside from its broken window.

Some participial adjectives look identical to gerunds. However, a gerund is an “-ing” verb form that functions as a noun (e.g., “I love swimming”).

Proper adjectives

Proper adjectives are derived from proper nouns (e.g., “Pompeii,” “Dickens”) and are typically capitalized.

Examples: Proper adjectives in a sentence
Linguists want to preserve the Shanghainese dialect.

In a classic Faustian bargain, the protagonist trades her moral principles for knowledge and power.

Denominal adjectives

Denominal adjectives are derived from nouns. Many can be recognized by their suffixes, which include “-ly,” “-ish,” “-like,” and “-esque.”

Example: Denominal adjective in a sentence
His acceptance speech was childish and unsportsmanlike.

The film had Spielberg-esque production quality.

Nominal adjectives

Adjectives that can serve as nouns are called nominal adjectives (or substantive adjectives). Some nominal adjectives are typically pluralized (e.g., “deliverables”), while others are singular (e.g., “the privileged”).

Examples: Nominal adjectives in a sentence
The singer is loved by young and old alike.

Let’s focus on the essentials.

Frequently asked questions about adjectives

Are numbers adjectives?

Cardinal numbers (“one,” “two,” “three,” etc.) can be placed before a noun to give information about quantity, and ordinal numbers (“first,” “second,” “third,” etc.) can be placed before a noun to give information about order. 

While these numbers look like adjectives, they are in fact quantifiers, which is a type of determiner.

What are the different types of adjectives?

Adjectives are classified in many ways, with some adjectives falling into multiple categories, depending on the context in which they are used.

The categories of adjectives include the following:

What is a proper adjective?

A proper adjective is formed from a proper noun and is typically capitalized.

Proper adjectives include terms derived from locations, languages, and ethnicities (e.g., “Bostonian,” “Sino-Tibetan,” “South Asian”); individuals’ names (such as “Keynesian,” “Darwinian,” “Newtonian”); and religious terms (e.g., “Rastafarian,” “Christian,” “Talmudic”) among other proper nouns.

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