Adjectives are descriptive words that modify other words, usually nouns. Because adjectives modify or describe other words, they usually come before the noun, pronoun or verb they modify. Adjectives breathe life into your writing – our sentences would be rather dull without them.
Words like small, red, and dull are all examples of adjectives. Take a look at the sentences below and notice how much adjectives can make a difference.
Note: All the adjectives are bolded.
- They live in a small quiet town.
They live in a town.
- The red car was covered in sparkling snow.
The car was covered in snow.
- She received a beautiful vase that was filled with fragrant red roses.
She received a vase that was filled with roses.
See how much livelier the sentences with the adjectives are? Although adjectives aren’t always necessary in a sentence – sentences function just fine without them – they add life! You can visualize what the sentences are saying. Adjectives add a “back story” to your writing, without actually writing a history behind a noun. For example, when you read the first sentence you probably envisioned a farming town hidden in the country with a very small population. What did you think of when you read, “they lived in a town”? Probably not much more than those stated words.
However, descriptive words are not the only kind of adjectives we see in the English language. You’ll find that it’s easier to find and use adjectives when you see all the different kinds. Here’s a list of adjectives, and when we use them.
As you know, a and an are indefinite articles because they are used to identify non-specific nouns. The is a definite article because it identifies a specific noun.
- I’d like to get a car.
- I’d like an apple.
- I’d like to get the car.
- I’d like the apple.
In the first two examples, there is no specific car or apple – any car or apple will do! But in the last two examples, the writer is talking about a specific car or apple.
2. Possessive Adjectives
Possessive adjectives are used to indicate possession. They also function as possessive pronouns.
3. Demonstrative Adjectives
Demonstrative adjectives, much like the definite adjective the, indicate specific nouns. This and that modify singular nouns. Here’s an example:
This pot is very hot. Can you put that pot on the stove?
These and those modify plural nouns. Take a look below:
Those teacups are in my China cabinet. Have you seen these ones before?
4. Indefinite Adjectives
Indefinite adjectives are very similar to indefinite articles because they identify non-specific things. They also act as indefinite pronouns. Here are some examples:
- no one
5. Attributive & Predicative Adjectives
Almost all adjectives fit into two categories: attributive or predicative. When an adjective is attributive, it usually comes before the noun it modifies. When an adjective is predicative, it comes after the noun.
- He’s a funny boy. [attributive]
- He is funny. [predicative]
- She’s a famous actress. [attributive]
- That actress is famous. [predicative]
6. Interrogative Adjectives
A synonym for interrogation is questioning, and that’s exactly what interrogative adjectives are. Interrogative adjectives are words like what, which and whose, used to ask questions along with nouns.
- Which movie should we watch?
- What time should we go?
- Whose bringing the snacks?
7. Number Adjectives
Basically, adjectives of numbers answer the question, “how many?” If you’re ever unsure if a number is an adjective or not, ask yourself “how many?” and then read the sentence. If it answers that question, then it’s an adjective. Here are some examples:
The spider has eight legs.
How many legs?
She had five cups of coffee.
How many cups of coffee?
There were three lion cubs at the zoo.
How many lion cubs?
As I mentioned before, adjectives are not necessary to a sentence. A lot of famous writers will argue that quality writing doesn’t need to use adjectives at all. And there is a danger to overusing adjectives – it can cause your writing to become overbearing to the reader.
However, an adjective perfectly placed can make all the difference in your writing. A good quote to keep in mind about when and where to use an adjective is by Mark Twain when he said, “They [adjectives] weaken when they’re close together. They give strength when they are far apart”.