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Ken Ward's Writing Pages
Writing: Grammar: Parts of Speech

Main Page: Parts of Speech
Page Contents

  1. Adjectives
      1. Descriptive Adjectives
      2. Proper Adjectives
      3. Possessive Adjectives
      4. Numerical Adjectives
      5. Demonstrative Adjectives
      6. Relative Adjectives
      7. Interrogative and Exclamatory Adjectives
      8. Indefinite Adjectives
      9. Comparison of Adjectives
      10. Attributive and Predicative Use


An adjective is a word that modifies or describes a noun. Sometimes adjectives precede the noun they modify. Sometimes they follow a linking verb. For instance:
The red book was on the table. (Precedes its noun.)
The book on the table was red. (Follows the linking verb was.)
In the following sentences the adjectives modify the noun in the sense they describes it, or say what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, etc:
The balloon is green.
The adjective green tells us what the balloon looks like.
The cloth felt rough.
The adjective rough tells us what the cloth felt like.
The whining noise stopped.
The adjective whining tells us what the noise sounded like.

The following adjectives modify the nouns, but they do not tell us how they appear to the senses. 
The best computer
We cannot tell the computer is the best by using our senses directly. We need to compare this computer with the others and make our own judgement or rely on what we have been told. The adjective best modified the noun computer by telling us it is the one that comes out top on some evaluation of all the computers considered. In future we might recognize it by its shape or colour, but the adjective best allows us to distinguish this computer from the others based on an evaluation.
This is my friend
The adjective my does not describe friend by saying what the person looks like, etc. You know that person is my friend because I said so, or for some other reason.
The last chocolate
The adjective last does not tell us what the chocolate looks like or tastes like. The chocolate looks like all the others. We deduce it is the last one, because it is the only one remaining in the box.

Descriptive Adjectives

These modify a noun and tell us what it is like, but not necessarily how it appears to the senses. Here 'descriptive' is used in the widest sense of the word.
  The following descriptive adjectives describe the noun:
The flowery dress. The long train. The hairy pig. The smelly dog. The noteworthy example. The spacious garden. The rough surface. The insipid drink. The crazy idea.
They tell us what the noun, or thing, looks like, sounds like, tastes like, feels like or smells like.

These adjectives might look a bit like adverbs!
The moor is lonely. It feels tacky. The bush is prickly.

The following are also descriptive adjectives:
The last dance. The new computer. The top man. The late train. 
They describe the noun, but they do not tell us what it looks like, smells like or sounds like.

Proper Adjectives

These are derived from proper names. For instance:
John's car
Australian English
Ford car

Possessive Adjectives

These show ownership:
my car, your cat, our house, their ideas
In traditional grammar, these are considered adjectives; nowadays, they are usually considered pronouns or determiners. They define the nouns, but do not describe them (Or describe them in the widest sense of describe, whatever that means). Because they do this, we can think of them as adjectives. Also they stand for a noun. The word my stands for mine (of me). So my is also a pronoun. 

Numerical Adjectives

The ordinal numbers: first, second, third, etc., are usually adjectives:
The first one. The second train. The third man.
Also, the adjectives of quality: few, many, several are adjectives.

Demonstrative Adjectives

These point something out:
this book that pencil, these boxes, those cats,
Like possessive adjectives, nowadays, these are considered pronouns. In traditional grammar, they are demonstrative adjectives. But when used like this:
He gave me this. That is the pencil he gave me. These are her cats.
current grammar, like traditional grammar, calls them pronouns.

Relative Adjectives

Having faith is what matters most. This is the dog whose collar we found. 

Interrogative and Exclamatory Adjectives

The following are examples of interrogative adjectives:
Which bottle contains the medicine? What shape is the new building?

And these are exclamatory adjectives:
What foolishness! What big eyes you have!

Indefinite Adjectives

The words in bold are indefinite adjectives:
any person, each difficulty, another twinge

Comparison of Adjectives

Some adjectives can be compared:
Descriptive Comparative Superlative
Describing Comparing 2 things Comparing More Than 2 Things
good better the best
bad worse the worst
little less the least
few fewer the fewest
important more important the most important

Some adjectives cannot be compared. They are in the absolute degree. Here are some of them:
absolute impossible principal
ideal whole  stationary
chief perpetual sufficient
complete main unanimous
dead enough unavoidable
devoid manifest unbroken
entire minor unique
fatal paramount universal
For instance, is someone or something is dead, they cannot be deader, or the deadest! Such words cannot be compared because it is illogical to do so. paramount means of the highest rank or importance. If it is the highest, nothing can be higher. So we cannot say something is more paramount (more higher!). Similarly, it doesn't make sense to say something is more unique. As unique means "the only one of its kind", something cannot be more unique (If something is rarer than something else, then the first thing isn't unique, but rare).

It is not the real world that determines whether an adjective is absolute or not, it is our knowledge of language. For instance, engineers might make a rod which is one metre long. Every known measure shows the length is accurate. We can say it is a perfect metre. However, later, scientists discover better ways of measuring things and, after all, the perfect metre is not exactly one metre long. They make another rod which is exactly one metre long according to every known measure. We do not say the new metre is more perfect than the old one: we say the old one wasn't really perfect.

Attributive and Predicative Use

When an adjective is placed before its noun, it is used attributively. When it follows a linking verb, it is used predicatively.We can say:
The green bush (is over there). [Attributive]
The bush is green. [Predicative]

We can move some adjectives around, putting them before the noun or after a linking verb, such as the verb to be.

I feel good. I am thirsty. It is late. They seem happy.

The following adjectives cannot be used predicatively:
It is sheer madness.tick The madness is sheer.x
He is the only one.tick The one is only.x
It is the utter truth.tick The truth is utter. x
Mathematics is his main interest.tick His interest is mainx
The following cannot be used attributively:
He was ashamed.tick The ashamed man.x
The ship was afloat.tick The afloat ship. x

Ken Ward's Writing Pages

The Last Place in Space
- by Ken Ward

When pilot Philip Turner is accidentally transported by an anomaly and marooned on an unknown planet, he discovers the planet is threatened by a group of ruthless aliens similarly marooned. With the help of a group of young women with superpowers, and a powerful being called a god, he reluctantly uses his advanced knowledge and technology to help the planet's inhabitants, but will he succeed when outnumbered by aliens, opposed by greedy and squabbling kings, and limited by his gentle nature and moral beliefs? Paperback and Kindle:
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The Last Place in Space