The English language would be very dull without adjectives. They dress up our nouns whenever we need to punch things up a notch. So, that heartache you're feeling is no longer just a "heartache," it's a crippling heartache or debilitating heartache that is tearing you apart, or maybe just a small heartache that you'll get over quickly.
Whenever you're speaking or writing, you may want to get your point across with a little extra oomph. When it's time to do so, call in the big dogs: the adjectives.
Adjectives help express the tone, feelings, and emotions of our words by accentuating the point. Let's take our example of heartache above. It would be difficult to quickly ascertain how severe (or minor) that heartache is without the use of those adjectives.
Of course, context clues would eventually reveal more, but adjectives allow us to succinctly describe a situation so we can continue along in our story, essay, or speech. Keep reading for some examples of these adjectives or download the printable page below.
Through tone, a reader is able to gain an overall sense about a character's personality or disposition. It can even shape an entire piece of writing, making it feel serious, funny, dramatic, or upsetting.
Without the adjectives in these examples, we wouldn't know if this was going to be a story about sadness or hope:
Tone-Setting (Negative): With a heavy heart, the girl walked to the mailbox and mailed her letter.
Tone-Setting (Positive): The excited girl walked to the mailbox and mailed her letter.
Here are some more examples of positive and negative tones:
To Describe a Positive Tone
To Describe a Negative Tone
To Describe Other Tones
Often, feelings are something we can more visibly see or experience. Whether someone's sad, mad, happy, or ecstatic, feelings tend to house our emotions, amplifying a particular situation. For example:
Adjectives for Negative Feelings: The shy girl flushed with embarrassment.
Adjectives for Positive Feelings: The delighted girl flushed with anticipation.
Some feelings are clearly positive or negative, while others depend on the rest of the sentence to make the meaning clear. Here are some examples:
To Describe a Positive Feeling
To Describe a Negative Feeling
To Describe Other Feelings
Emotions and feelings are very similar. In fact, the definition of feeling is to have an emotion. The only difference is that emotions tend to refer to that which isn't tangible, while feelings are something you can kind of put your finger on. But, that's really splitting hairs. Let's take a closer look.
Emotions can't be easily seen. We can guess that someone is either sad or happy but emotions aren't always expressed. Rather, it's something we sense:
Adjective for Negative Emotions: The miserable boy walked home in the rain.
Adjectives for Positive Emotions: The jubilant boy walked home in the rain.
Check out these examples for positive, negative, and neutral emotions:
To Describe a Positive Emotion
To Describe a Negative Emotion
To Describe Other Emotions
It can be difficult to find just the right word to describe a tone or feeling being experienced by someone. You never want to come across sounding trite or use an adjective that's too weak to express the gravity of a particular situation.
It's a bit like building your vocabulary. The more you read, the more you'll discover new words and meanings, including adjectives, and how they are used to highlight emotions.
That said, like anything else that's good in life, keep it in moderation. Don't douse every noun in sugar. Instead, sprinkle a little sweetness on the situations or words that will truly benefit from a tasty addition.
Here are three things to remember when describing tone, feelings or emotions:
Clarity: Adjectives should help clarify your writing, not muddy the waters. So, take a quick scan through your work. Do your adjectives illustrate the point or situation? Are they at all unnecessary? For example, do you need to say "the hot, sweaty baseball player" or just "the sweaty baseball player"?
Overindulgence: Again, don't pick a slew of different adjectives: "The timid, nervous teacher slowly approached the noisy classroom with fearful trepidation." If you start using too many adjectives, your writing quickly becomes flowery. Not only are you going to confuse your readers, but your writing will appear choppy and even phony.
Time: Don't be afraid to take some time to figure out a situation. For example, you might have to analyze the tone of a short composition. Sit back for a while and let the words really sink in.
Hopefully, these tips will help you not only use adjectives in your own writing but also teach them to your children or students. Much like their cousin, the adverb, they add so much to our writing when used properly.
For a quick cheat sheet, refer to our printable list of adjectives above. This is only a selection of the thousands of adjectives available in the English language, but it should be enough to shift the writer's block you or your students may be feeling the next time you need to convey a certain tone, feeling, or emotion!