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An adjective is a word that describes or modifies a noun (e.g., tall man, open door, expensive ring, unthinking response). It is termed a modifier, because it modifies (changes) a noun. It clarifies the meaning of the noun or adds to the word picture. An adjective can also be used to modify groups of words, such as noun phrases (the astonishing turn of events) or noun clauses

There are two types of adjectives: descriptive adjectives and noun determiners. Descriptive adjectives tell the size (e.g., large), shape (e.g., square), age (e.g., old), color (e.g., red), origin (e.g., Spanish), writer's opinion of the noun (e.g., dirty), etc. Noun determiners identify and limit nouns. They include the definite and indefinite articles (the, a, an), numbers (twenty questions, twenty-first birthday), possessives (my book, her dress), demonstrative adjectives (that, this, these, those), and certain other words (each, either, another, enough, some, many, etc.)

Verbs may be used as adjectives (e.g., running bear, sleeping child). Similarly, nouns may serve as adjectives (e.g., cherry pie,) and participles (e.g., bored listener, ground beef).

A proper adjective is an adjective that has been derived from a proper noun. It should always be capitalized. (e.g., the American flag, the German navy).

You will note that adjectives usually come before the nouns that they describe. However, when the verb to be is used, adjectives often follow the noun, or pronoun, and verb (e.g., They were happy. She was beautiful.)

There are relatively few rules concerning the use of adjectives. However, here is one. If two or more adjectives are used to modify a noun, they should be used in the following order:

  • noun determiner (e.g., a, this, these, each, every)
  • adjective of number or quantity (e.g., three, dozen, tenth)
  • adjective of quality (e.g., rich, expensive, shabby)
  • adjective of size (e.g., large, immense)
  • shape, or texture (e.g., round, flat)
  • adjective of color (e.g., green, dark)
  • adjective of material (e.g., cotton, bark)
  • adjective of origin (e.g., American, Swahili)
  • noun.

For information on the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives, click on Comparatives.

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