What is an adjective?

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What is an adjective?

What is an adjective? An adjective is a word that describes a noun or a pronoun.

Adjective Poster

That's a nice, short definition. I'll bet that you can memorize that pretty easily. In fact, why don't you make it your goal to memorize that definition?

The adjectives in the following examples are in bold. They come right before the nouns that they are modifying.

         yellow sun            furry monkey             sixteen candles             Caroline's book

What is an adjective?
Knowing the adjective questions will help you learn.

What is an adjective? You know that by now, right? Well, there are a few other things you should know about these parts of speech.

There are certain questions about adjectives that you should memorize, and we call these the adjective questions.

Knowing the adjective questions will help you know for sure whether any word is acting as an adjective.

Adjectives answer at least one of these adjective questions.

1. Which one? (yellow, the, that)

2. What kind? (furry, plastic, special)

3. How many? (sixteen, several, many)

4. Whose? (Caroline's, his, its, John's)

The Adjective Questions At Work

What is an adjective? It's something that describes a noun or pronoun.

Let's look at this cute monkey here. How would you describe it? You could say it's a furry monkey. The adjective furry describes the noun monkey and answers the adjective question Which one? or What kind?

Which monkey? The furry monkey. What kind of monkey? The furry monkey.

Let's pretend that this monkey belongs to a girl named Bianca. You could say that it's Bianca's monkey. The adjective Bianca's describes the noun monkey and answers the adjective question Whose? Whose monkey? Bianca's monkey.

You can watch a video on the adjective questions here.

A Cute Monkey

What are articles?

Articles are special kinds of adjectives. (By the way, what is an adjective? Do you remember? Good.) Good news! There are only three articles in the English language! That's easy! They are the, a, and an.

  • The = Definite Article

The article the is called a definite article.

That's because it points out a definite, or specific person, place, or thing.

If I say Read the book., I'm not referring to any old book. I'm referring to a specific book.

  • A & An = Indefinite Articles

The articles a and an are called indefinite articles. That's because they don't point out specific people, places, or things.

If I say Read a book., you could read any book that you wanted to read.

Use a before words that begin with consonant sounds and use an before words that begin with vowel sounds.

So, you would say a game (g is a consonant sound), but an ant (a is a vowel sound).

It seems kind of funny, but articles answer the adjective question, Which one?

What are proper adjectives?

Proper adjectives start with capital letters just like proper nouns. In fact, proper adjectives are made from proper nouns.

They normally answer the adjective question, What kind?

Proper Noun Proper Adjective
America American cars
English English grammar
Mexico Mexican food

What are comparative & superlative adjectives?

Many adjectives can have different degrees. By this I mean that something can have more or less of an adjective's quality. For instance, you may find the weather in California to be hot, Tahiti's weather to be hotter, and the Sahara Desert's to be the hottest.

California is hot.

California is hot.

(positive adjective)

Tahiti is hotter.

Tahiti is hotter.

(comparative adjective)

The desert is the hottest.

The desert is the hottest.

(superlative adjective)

Do you see how there are different degrees of the adjective hot? We've just used the comparative and superlative forms of the word hot to show this adjective's different degrees.

Comparative Adjectives

Use the comparative form when you're comparing two things. In the examples below, we're comparing Richard Branson and his neighbor.

Richard Branson is richer than his neighbor.

Richard Branson is more adventurous than his neighbor.

Most comparative adjectives end in -er (richer, happier, taller) or begin with more (more beautiful, more peaceful, more spontaneous).

There are also irregular comparatives which do not follow this -er or more pattern (better, less, worse).

Superlative Adjectives

Use the superlative form when you're comparing three or more things. In the examples below, we're comparing good old Richard with his neighbor AND Tim Ferriss.

Out of Richard, his neighbor, and Tim Ferriss, Richard is the richest.

Out of Richard, his neighbor, and Tim Ferriss, Tim is the most adventurous.

Richard Branson

Let's just pretend this guy is Richard Branson's neighbor.

Tim Ferriss

Most superlative adjectives end in -est (richest, happiest, tallest) or begin with most (most beautiful, most peaceful, most spontaneous). 

But, just like comparative adjectives, there are some irregularities (best, least, worst). In the charts below, positive simply means the form of the adjective before it is in its comparative or superlative form.

Regular Comparatives and Superlatives

Positive Comparative Superlative
happy happier happiest
beautiful more beautiful most beautiful

Irregular Comparatives and Superlatives

Positive Comparative Superlative
good better best
little less least
bad worse worst

Neither Comparative Nor Superlative

Some adjectives can't change degrees. For example, a woman is either pregnant or she isn't. There is no pregnanter or pregnantest. Your best buddy might be your main man, but you don't have a mainer or mainest man.

Feeling overwhelmed? Just remember the answer to the question, What is an adjective? (It's a word that describes a noun or pronoun, remember?) That's the most important thing to remember.

See more examples of adjectives here.

Adjective or Pronoun?

Some words can be either adjectives or pronouns depending on how they're acting in the sentence. How are you going to tell the difference?

Well, what is an adjective? It's a word that describes a noun or pronoun, right? So, if a word describes a noun or pronoun, it's an adjective. If a word takes the place of a noun instead of describing it, then it is a pronoun.

Adjective Why?
Both pens fell on the floor. Both describes the noun pens, and it answers the adjective question, Which ones?
Gee, Martha, this pie is delicious! This describes the noun pie, and answers the adjective question, Which pie?

Pronoun Why?
Both of us are going to the movie. Both is not describing a noun.
Is this my piece? This does not describe a noun.

What are predicate adjectives?

Predicate adjectives are a bit tricky because they involve linking verbs. Go ahead and read about them, but don't lose any sleep over memorizing this stuff right now. Focus on memorizing the answer to the question, What is an adjective? and the adjective questions. Predicate adjectives come after linking verbs and describe the subject of the sentence.

I feel happy.

Happy describes the subject I, and it comes after the linking verb feel.

This banana is ripe!

Ripe describes the subject banana, and it comes after the linking verb is.

"A man's character may be learned from the adjective which he habitually uses in conversation." - Mark Twain

Elizabeth O'Brien from Grammar Revolution

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My students love diagramming and are learning so much. Thank you for your inspiration and instruction. 

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Do you know your stuff? Click here to learn how to diagram adjectives.

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Other Helpful Resources

  • Identify the adjectives with this PDF worksheet. Psst! This worksheet gives you a good introduction to identifying adjectives, but it doesn't include all of the adjectives in each sentence. When looking over your answers, include the articles (the, a, and an) as well as possessive pronouns functioning as adjectives (her, his, etc.).

I hope this lesson helped you learn about adjectives. Thanks for being here!

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