Adjectives

Introduction

Adjectives are descriptive words that modify nouns or pronouns:

The blue ribbon
That black cat
A better me
An educational speech

In each case the adjective tells you something about the noun. The adjective answers one of the following questions:

What kind of?

Which? Whose?

How many? How much?

The best way to ask these questions is to combine them with the noun in the sentence:

Twenty-two mice danced in the circus.

Question: how many mice?

Adjective: twenty-two.

As you can see, adjectives usually come before the noun or pronoun. The most common exception is with a linking verb:

The weather is sunny.

The days are long.

He became embittered.

In these cases the adjective comes after the subject it describes.

Tricky adjectives

There are quite few words that at first glance don’t look like adjectives. Often the function of a word depends on how it’s used in the sentence. Let’s review these tricky forms.

Articles

In English, we have two articles: the and a(n). Because they come before a noun, they are considered adjectives:

The soother
A tree
An ability

Pronouns

If a pronoun modifies a noun, then it functions like an adjective:

My friend
Any complaints
Those cousins
Which room

Nouns

At times nouns can take on the role of an adjective:

Student council
Coffee machine
Almond milk
Barber shop quartet

You can categorize these as nouns too, but it’s important to understand how they function.

Participles

Present and past participles can also act like adjectives:

Torn shirt
Ranked player
Captivating show
Streaming media

These examples demonstrate the versatility of language. Participles are derived from verbs, but they can describe nouns.

Clauses and Phrases

Even clauses and phrases can function like adjectives:

The tiger that escaped yesterday

The fountain in the front garden

However, don’t worry too much for now about these larger units. They will be explained in the section on sentence structure.

Comparison of Adjectives

Adjectives (and adverbs) come in three forms: positive, comparative, and superlative.

The positive is the basic form. The comparative, as the name implies, shows a greater or lesser degree. The superlative shows the greatest or least degree. Here are some examples:

Positive Comparative Superlative
blue bluer bluest
funny funnier funniest
remarkable more/less remarkable most/least remarkable

Clearly not all adjectives follow the same pattern. That’s why it’s helpful to know the basic rules.

1. If an adjective consists of a single syllable, add -er for the comparative and –est for the superlative.

2. If an adjective has three or more syllables, add most or least.

3. If an adjective has two syllables, you’ll have to choose between adding -er/-est and most/least. It depends on what sounds better:

Zealous, more zealous, most zealous.

Tiny, tinier, tiniest

If you’re not sure which form to use, consult a dictionary.

Let’s finish with a few exceptions and additional rules.

Irregular Adjectives

Some adjectives don’t follow the normal rules for showing comparison. These are considered irregular adjectives:

Positive Comparative Superlative
bad worse worst
good better best
little less least
much/many/some more most
far farther/further farthest/furthest

Adjectives Without a Comparative Form

Other adjectives simply don’t have a comparative form. These words describe an absolute condition, in which case comparison does not work:

final
impossible
perfect
unique
whole

It would be illogical to say that something is the most perfect or more unique since perfection and uniqueness do not allow for degrees of comparison.

Using the Comparative and Superlative

Grammar books will tell you that the comparative is used to compare two things, whereas the superlative is meant for three or more things:

Your grandmother is older than mine.

Which is the longest of the six Oksa Pollock books?

This is a somewhat tricky rule. Take the following example:

Her huskies are more resilient than his.

There are likely more than two huskies involved, but we still use the comparative. One way to make sense of this is to consider that a “thing” (e.g., huskies) might be plural. In other words, we are still comparing just two things (her huskies and his huskies).

Another approach is to understand what is really at issue with this rule. The main thing to watch out for is that you don’t use the superlative to compare two things:

Incorrect: Of these two brands of coffee, which do you like best?

Instead, use the comparative form (better).

Exercises




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