Most people know what an adjective is, but when it comes to describing an adjective phrase, it’s easy to get confused. An adjective phrase, or an adjectival phrase, is more than a group of words with an adjective in it. It’s actually a group of words that describe a noun or pronoun in a sentence, thus functioning as an adjective.
The good news is, you don’t have to be a grammar buff to understand what an adjective phrase is or how it works. In fact, we use these phrases all the time without even thinking. Let’s take a closer look.
The trick to identifying an adjective phrase is to look at the first word within the group of words. If the first word is an adverb or a preposition, there’s a good chance you’re looking at an adjective phrase.
Ask yourself, what is this phrase modifying? Is it describing a noun? If it is, in fact, modifying the noun or subject of a sentence, then you’re looking at an adjective phrase.
An adjective phrase can be formed out of an intensifier and an adjective. An example might be:
The dazzlingly beautiful woman walked down the street.
Sometimes, one adjective isn’t descriptive enough. In this case, a string of adjectives can work together as an adjective phrase to describe a noun, such as: She had the most silky, smooth, and radiant hair I’ve ever seen.
In the sentence, “Monica is a sweet girl,” there is one adjective, namely, sweet. However, in the sentence, “Monica is a sweet, intelligent, beautiful girl,” we see an adjectival phrase that paints a much more in-depth picture of Monica.
Adjective phrases don’t simply modify nouns. They can also modify pronouns. Let’s look at two examples:
Each of these sentences has an adjective phrase. In the first example, the adjective phrase from Boston points back to the pronoun (and subject) “he.” In the second example, the adjective phrase from Boston points back to the noun (and subject) “Tom.”
It doesn’t matter if the noun is a pronoun or not; the adjective phrase still functions in the same manner. So, if you’re looking for a more complex way to modify a noun — beyond a simple adjective — try using an adjective phrase. You can either use several adjectives in a row, begin a phrase with a preposition, or start with an adverb to modify the noun at hand.
Of course, the best way to understand this type of phrase is to see it in action. Let’s take a look at an example with an adjective and one with an adjective phrase:
These two sentences mean the same thing. However, the former has an adjective, while the latter has an adjectival phrase.
Here’s another example:
Again, these two sentences mean the same thing. However, the former has an adjective, while the latter has an adjectival phrase.
Some adjective phrases modify nouns or noun phrases. Here are a few examples:
Other adjective phrases modify the predicate of the sentence. Here are some examples:
Adjective phrases can also modify objects and will follow the word they are modifying. Here are some examples:
A well-chosen adjective phrase can give a sentence more life and personality. A single adjective alone may be all the spice you need, but if it can be built out into an adjective phrase, you may be able to provide readers with greater detail.
When you’re ready to sprinkle some adjective phrases into your writing, head over to Adjective Phrase Examples for more ideas.