What is an adjective? Simply put, an adjective describes or modifies a noun. It provides further information about a noun, indicating things like size, shape, color, and more. Adjectives can also modify pronouns. They answer questions like, "Which one?," "How many?," "Whose?," and "What kind?" Without adjectives, we wouldn't know if you had a serene vacation or a disastrous vacation. Let's dive into the intricacies of this important part of speech.
Now, we know adjectives are information gatherers. Specifically, they provide further information about an object's size, shape, age, color, origin or material. Here are some examples of adjectives in action:
It's a big table. (size)
It's a round table. (shape)
It's an old table. (age)
It's a brown table. (color)
It's an English table. (origin)
It's a wooden table. (material)
It's a lovely table. (opinion)
It's a broken table. (observation)
It's a coffee table. (purpose)
Also, when an item is defined by its purpose, that word isn't usually an adjective, but it acts as one with the noun in that situation.
For more on that, enjoy this deep dive into Types of Adjectives.
English grammar can be tricky. For every rule, there's likely an exception. Typically, however, English adjectives end with these suffixes:
-able/-ible: adorable, invisible, responsible, uncomfortable
-al: educational, gradual, illegal, nocturnal, viral
-an: American, Mexican, urban
-ar: cellular, popular, spectacular, vulgar
-ent: intelligent, potent, silent, violent
-ful: harmful, powerful, tasteful, thoughtful
-ic/-ical: athletic, energetic, magical, scientific
-ine: bovine, canine, equine, feminine, masculine
-ile: agile, docile, fertile, virile
-ive: informative, native, talkative
-less: careless, endless, homeless, timeless
-ous: cautious, dangerous, enormous, malodorous
-some: awesome, handsome, lonesome, wholesome
Many adjectives also end with -y, -ary, -ate, -ed, and -ing. However, nouns and adverbs can end with -y. Many nouns end with -ary. Nouns and verbs also end with -ate. And verbs can also end in -ed and -ing. To work out if a word is an adjective or not, look at its location in a complete sentence.
If you come across a word that ends in -y, -ary, or -ate (or any other suffix for that matter) and want to know if it's an adjective, look at where it is and what it's doing in the sentence. If it comes immediately before a noun, it's likely an adjective. Better yet, if it comes between any of these constructs, it's almost definitely an adjective:
An article (a, an, the) + noun
The grassy field was wet with dew.
In this example, "grassy" comes between an article (the) and a noun (field), so you know it's an adjective.
A possessive adjective (my, his, her, its, your, our, their) + noun
These are my old trophies.
In this example, "old" comes between a possessive adjective (my) and a noun (trophies), making it an adjective.
A demonstrative (this, that, these, those) + noun
Did you see that immaculate kitchen?
In this example, "immaculate" comes between a demonstrative (that) and a noun (kitchen), so it must be an adjective.
An amount (some, most, all, a few) + noun
We had a few ordinary days.
In this example, "ordinary" comes between an amount (a few) and a noun (days), so it's definitely an adjective.
Adjectives can also act as complements. Complements complete a sentence when the verb is "to be." Not every complement is an adjective, but some adjectives can be complements. For example:
She is tall.
He is smart, handsome, and rich.
This tent is malodorous.
When you list several adjectives in a row, there's a specific order they need to go in. Native English speakers tend to put them in the correct order naturally, but if you're learning English, you'll have to memorize the order. It goes like this:
Determiner - An article (a, an, the), a number or amount, a possessive adjective (my, his, her, its, your, our, their), or a demonstrative (this, that, these, those)
Observation/Opinion - Beautiful, expensive, gorgeous, broken, delicious, ugly
Size - Huge, tiny, 4-foot-tall
Shape - Square, circular, oblong
Age - 10-year-old, new, antique
Color - Black, red, blue-green
Origin - Roman, English, Mongolian
Material - Silk, silver, plastic, wooden
Qualifier - A noun or verb acting as an adjective
This is the correct cumulative order for adjectives that come directly before a noun. They are not separated by commas.
My beautiful big circular antique brown English wooden coffee table was broken in the move.
Remember that, when an item is defined by its purpose, that word isn't usually an adjective. However, in that situation, it acts as one. We see that in "coffee" table here. It's also important to note that, when we're stacking up adjectives like this, we don't use "and" before the final descriptor.
If an adjective comes after the verb "to be" as the complement, then the qualifier (the defining word) will stay with the noun at the beginning of the sentence. You'll notice in the example below that "coffee" stays with "table" as well. The rest of the adjectives in the complement are separated by commas with the final two being separated by "and."
My coffee table is beautiful, big, circular, antique, brown, English, and wooden.
For more on comma usage, here are 8 Times Commas Were Important.
Adjectives come in many shapes and sizes. That makes sense, given their important function. Nouns are one of the most important parts of speech. It's only fitting that their comrades are multi-faceted.
The thing with adjectives is you never want to overdo it. Too many adjectives can bulk up a sentence, reducing its fluidity. Like the adverb, only use adjectives when they'll really pack a punch and help you paint a picture. With that in mind, take a look at these Adjective Phrase Examples. With the right dosage, these adjective words can liven up your lines.