The best authors know how to wield the different parts of speech in a way that makes their writing shine. Powerful adjectives are some of the most effective ways to make your narrative come alive.
Whether you’re a blogger, reporter, YouTuber, or a student preparing a school report, being able to choose the best words to describe scenes, characters, and events will make you a better communicator, no matter which medium you choose.
What Is an Adjective?
An adjective is a word that describes the state, quality, or quantity of a noun or pronoun in a sentence. It typically describes any one of the following:
For example, the nouns below may be qualified by the corresponding examples of adjectives:
|New York City||busy|
Remember that an adjective can only describe a noun or pronoun. If the word is used to describe a verb or another adjective, that refers to an adverb.
How to Identify an Adjective
The easiest way to identify an adjective is to find the word that is being described: if it’s a noun or pronoun, its qualifier is an adjective.
For example, check out the sentences below:
- The white cat walked daintily towards the gate.
- She jumped in the muddy puddles.
- There goes the naughty little boy!
In the first sentence, the subject is “cat,” and the word describing it is “white.” “White is the adjective. However, another qualifier is in this sentence: “daintily.” What does this word describe? It describes the verb, or action of walking, making it an adverb.
In the second sentence, the word “puddles” is described as “muddy.” “Muddy” is the adjective.
The third sentence has the word “boy” described as “naughty” and “little,” which are the adjectives in this sentence.
Different Types of Adjectives
Adjectives generally fall under the following categories, each with its own function:
1. Descriptive or Qualitative Adjectives
The most basic function of an adjective is to describe a noun or pronoun. You can do this by:
Adding the adjective before the noun
- The little yellow sunbird was perched on the branch.
- While it was raining, the boy saw a big fat frog swimming in the gutter.
- The baby pointed to the tiny green caterpillar on the page of her board book.
Linking the adjective to the noun with a linking verb
- Her newborn is tiny and wrinkly.
- The girl looks shy and withdrawn.
- The dog is furry and adorable.
2. Quantitative Adjectives
You can also use adjectives to describe how many or how much of a thing there is. Quantitative adjectives may also be indefinite when they are used to describe an unspecified amount of something (this includes words like few, much, many, any, either, and some).
- The debutante had eighteen roses in her bouquet.
- The book costs $10, but I got it for only $1 at the secondhand shop.
- Some children walk to school.
3. Proper Adjectives
Sometimes, proper nouns can be used to modify a noun or pronoun. These are called “proper adjectives.” Remember that if the proper nouns are capitalized, using them as proper adjectives will also require them to be capitalized.
- There’s nothing like a good old American burger to hit the spot!
- Chick-fil-A sauces are my favorite.
- He was amazed when he read about how Spartan children were trained from a young age to endure pain and suffering.
4. Demonstrative Adjectives
When you need a word to refer to someone or something in relation to where you are, demonstrative adjectives do the trick. These are the words this, these, that, and those.
Note that when these words are used alone, they function as demonstrative pronouns. But when it comes before a word, thus modifying it, it’s now considered a demonstrative adjective.
- I can’t wait to visit that park over by the river.
- This book is so compelling, I can’t put it down!
- Those puppies are cute.
5. Possessive Adjectives
Possessive adjectives show the ownership or possession of something. These include the words my, your, his, her, its, our, and their.
Unlike possessive pronouns, possessive adjectives come before a noun.
- That’s his car honking outside the door.
- It’s our responsibility to rear our children well.
- His books are inspiring.
Degrees of Adjectives
In addition to the different types of adjectives, they also come in three degrees: positive, comparative, and superlative.
Positive: describes something all by itself, without comparing it or relating it to something else.
- The man is tall.
- The meal you prepared was delicious.
- The car is fast.
Comparative: Comparative adjectives describe one object to another, using words like more or less, or by adding the suffix -er (or, for adjectives ending in –y, replacing the -y with –ier, and adding “than”).
- That man is taller than his wife.
- The meal you prepared was more delicious than the one we had at the restaurant last night.
- The car he just bought is faster than his last one.
Superlative: Superlative adjectives describe one object in relation to two or more other objects, using words like most or least, or by adding the suffix –est.
- He is the tallest in his family.
- The meal you prepared was the most delicious meal I’ve had in a long time.
- The car he bought is the fastest in his neighborhood.
What Is the Correct Order of Adjectives?
The good thing about adjectives is that you can easily use more than one of them to describe an object. For example:
- My mother will only allow me to have a dog that’s small and good-tempered. Can you help me find one?
- The book I picked was dry and boring. Can you suggest something more exciting and engaging?
- The tall, dark, and handsome cowboy made a dramatic leap over the fence.
- The sweet, creamy, chocolate birthday cake was gone in five seconds.
But you can’t just arrange them any old way! As a rule, adjectives should be arranged in the following order:
- Quantity or number
- Quality or opinion
- Proper adjective
- Qualifier or purpose
- Did you see that unusually bulky old green sofa in Aunt Clara’s living room?
- The family next door has eight charming blue-eyed girls.
- My friends urged me to pick the beautiful big white terrier.
When using two adjectives from the same group above, put the word “and” between them:
- The woman collects both old and new books.
- The cottage she bought is red and white.
- They walked out into the busy and crowded street.
When using three or more adjectives from the same group, separate the first two with commas and use “and” to join the last two adjectives.
- Anne ran to the white, green, and yellow house on top of the hill.
- The big, bulky, and heavy package arrived at our doorstep as a complete surprise.
- The wonderful, enchanting, and exciting theme park is the perfect venue for Lila’s birthday party.
Choose Strong Words
Although adjectives have rules in terms of how to order them, sometimes the best way to describe something is not really to slap on one adjective after another: instead, it’s often better to use a few strong words to describe them. This makes your writing more succinct, but possibly more powerful, too.
For example, if you don’t really need to spell out the colors of the house in the example above, you may opt for:
- Anne ran to the brightly-colored house on top of the hill.
Other options for the two examples above are:
- The massive package arrived at our doorstep as a complete surprise.
- The magical theme park is the perfect venue for Lila’s birthday party.
Adjectives are a great tool for making your writing come alive. Practice using the different types, and learn the correct order when using several of them to describe the same noun or pronoun.
You’ll see your writing make definite improvements and help readers imagine the vivid scenes you wish to convey.
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