An adjective is a word that describes or gives more information about nouns or pronouns. An adjective is said to qualify a noun or pronoun because it limits the word it describes in some way by making it more specific.
Adjectives usually tell us something about the color, size, quantity, quality or classification of a noun or pronoun. In the following sentences the bolded words are adjectives:
- She wore a white dress.
- It was a tiny dog.
- They had five children.
- They were sad people.
- It was a Victorian house.
Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives: Most adjectives are gradable adjectives. Such adjectives refer to qualities that can vary in degree. Such adjectives can take a comparative and a superlative form or can be accompanied by an adverb of degree such as very.
Adjectives which do not take a comparative and superlative form and cannot be modified by an adverb of degree are called non-gradable adjectives.
In the following sentences the bolded words are gradable adjectives:
- He drove a small car.
- It was a bright shade of red.
- We were happy.
In the following sentences the bolded words are non-gradable adjectives:
- There was a wooden fence round the garden.
- It was a plastic toy.
- It was a unique experience.
Position of Adjectives: Adjectives can be placed immediately before nouns or they can be joined to their relevant nouns by a verb. A few adjectives go directly after the noun. Adjectives are classified as follows in this respect.
Types of Adjective with Example
Attributive adjectives are placed immediately before the nouns which they qualify. In the following sentences the bolded words are attributive adjectives:
- The blue dress suited her very well.
- They lived in a huge house.
- They built a wooden hut in the garden.
Some adjectives are found only in the attributive position. The bolded words in the following list are examples of these:
- my former boss
- her chief reason for being here
Predicative adjectives are joined to their relevant nouns by a verb. They are so called because they help to form the predicate of a sentence.
- The curtains in the bedroom were blue.
- The dog was huge.
- We were hungry.
- The result is still uncertain.
Some adjectives are followed by a preposition such as to, of or with. In the following sentences the bolded words form a predicative adjective plus preposition:
- The bug was resistant to the antibiotics.
- She is allergic to eggs.
- He is afraid of his boss.
- The house is devoid of charm.
- The behavior is characteristic of a recovering alcoholic.
- Is he capable of murder?
- The task was fraught with danger.
Adjectives which are post-modifiers go immediately after the noun which they qualify. In the following sentences the bolded words are post-modifiers:
- The president-elect takes over the presidency at the beginning of the year.
- The soldier is to appear before a court martial.
There are various types of adjective. The two main groups are qualitative adjectives and classifying adjectives.
Qualitative adjectives tell you something about a quality that someone or someone has, as in: sad, happy, wealthy, foolish, intelligent. In the following sentences the bolded words are qualitative adjectives:
- He is a violent man.
- It was an effective remedy.
- Please give a brief description.
- You did some useful work.
Qualitative adjectives include adjectives relating to size, such as tiny and massive.
Classifying adjectives identify the particular class that something belongs to. For example, if you take the noun pain, there are various kinds or classes of pain such as mental pain, physical pain and emotional pain. The adjectives mental, physical and emotional are all examples of classifying adjectives. In the following sentences the bolded words are classifying adjectives:
- It is not a democratic government.
- They need a financial system.
- The country has an agricultural economy.
- This is not a medical problem.
Color adjectives identify the color of something, as in black, red, yellow, purple and brown. In order to give a more precise description of a color you can precede the color adjective with a word such as dark, pale, bright, light, deep. The bolded words in the following sentences are examples of this:
- She has light brown hair.
- He wore a dark blue shirt.
- It was a bright green hat.
- She wants a deep purple dress.
If you wish to be less precise about the color of something you can add the suffix –ish to the relevant color, as in greenish, yellowish.
When numbers are used before a noun are sometimes classified as adjectives and sometimes as determiners.
Emphatic adjectives are adjectives which you place in front of a noun to emphasize your feelings about something or to emphasize the degree of something, as in absolute, pure. In the following sentences the bolded words are emphatic adjectives:
- The play was an utter disaster.
- It was pure magic.
- He is an utter idiot.
- She is a complete fool.
- The campaign was a total failure.
The adjectives which? and what? are known as interrogative adjectives. They are used to ask questions about the nouns which they qualify. In the following sentences the bolded words are interrogative adjectives:
- Which book would you like to borrow?
- Which bus goes to the centre of town?
- What school did you go to?
- What plans have you made for the wedding?
Compound adjectives are made up of two or more words, usually separated by a hyphen. In the following list the bolded words are compound adjectives:
- a black-and-white cat
- an air-conditioned office
- a kind-hearted woman
Adjectives Used as Nouns
Sometimes adjectives can be used as nouns, especially when they are preceded by the definite article. In the following sentences the bolded words are adjectives used as nouns.
- There are few opportunities for the unemployed around here.
- The poor seem to keep getting poorer.
- The old are often lonely.
Sometimes color adjectives function as nouns without the definite or indefinite article:
- He always wears black.
Adjective or Adverb?
Some words can be used both as adjectives and adverbs. Which part of speech they are is obvious from the context in which they appear.
The word early is an adjective in the first of the following sentences and an adverb in the second.
- We caught the early train.
- The train left early and we missed it.
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