Grammar: Adjectives

Posted December 13, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Adjectives make life colorful, painful, glorious, miserable. Adjectives make us feel, taste, hear, experience. It may lead you to believe that they’re essential in causing your reader to sink into the world you’re creating…and you’d be right.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle?

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Credit to:; Guide to Grammar and Writing; Bruckmyer, 35-40; Your Dictionary; University College London; One Stop English
Definition: Words that describe nouns and pronouns…the how many, what kind, which one, and how pretty something or someone is. Or they may have the suffixes -er (comparative) or -est (superlative).

General Placement Rules: Adjectives usually come before a noun — attributive; immediately after the noun — postpositive; or, if they come after the verb — predicate, set it off with commas; or, an adjective may follow a verb of being, an article, or a possessive pronoun.

Rule: Keep it near the noun it is modifying.

Three Types of Adjectives:

Clause & Phrases:

Kinds of Adjectives include:

Tyler bought the cottage across from the football field where I was born.

Well, either he was born in the football field or he was born in the cottage, but we can’t tell.

Silly or brilliant, I thought we needed to try his suggestion.

Either the speaker is silly or brilliant or it’s the suggestion.

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Adjective Types are:
Attributive Definition: Adjective comes before the noun and describes or expresses a characteristic of the noun.

CAUTION: Some adjectives can only occupy the attributive position.

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  1. Green indicates the adjective
  2. Blue indicates the noun being modified

That is one hunky man!

I hate my red hair!

Mary is such a pale girl.

She seems a capable person.

The red Aston Martin tore down the curvy roadway.

That big-breasted blonde was one bodacious babe.

Did you see that muscled hunk with the long, blond hair?

There was a black dog running with the pack.

It was a glorious, sunny day.

There was a grand opening for the new library.

The main reason we won was that our candidate was the better woman.

The reason main we won…

The terrified child was weeping uncontrollably.

The child terrified was… although terrified can be predicative

Postpositive Definition: Adjective which comes after the noun and modifies it.

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  1. Green indicates the postpositive adjective
  2. Blue indicates the noun

Behond the body beautiful.

The Governor General announced a state of emergency today.

The Princess Royal is due at eight.

The judges present awarded the blue ribbon to Marjie Cunningham.

In times past, we would bake all kinds of cookies for Christmas.

Rule: Commonly found together with superlative adjectives in the attributive position.

  1. Green indicates the postpositive adjective
  2. Blue indicates the superlative (and attributive) adjective
  3. Orange indicates the noun

See if you can find the shortest route possible.

These are the worst conditions imaginable.

Honey, this is the best hotel available.

Rule: Postposition is obligatory when the adjective modifies a pronoun.

  1. Green indicates the postpositive adjective
  2. Orange indicates the pronoun

Hmmm, this could be something useful.

Is everyone present?

Those responsible will be held to the highest possible standards.

Predicative Definition: Adjective which comes after the verb, modifying it, and either connects via a linking verb, follows an intransitive verb, OR is set off as parenthetical text with commas.

CAUTION: Some adjectives can only occupy the predicative position.

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A.k.a., subject complement, adjective complement, predicative complement, predicate adjective, predicator

Rule: Follows a verb of being, linking, or intransitive.


  1. Green indicates the predicate adjective
  2. White-on-Green indicates the subject
  3. Blue indicates the being verb
  4. Purple indicates the linking verb
  5. White-on-Blue indicates the intransitive verb

The child was terrified.

We are broke.

The steak smells great.

He is a hunk.

That birds are wild today.

The Aston Martin is red and sporty.

The road is curvy and dangerous.

The dress she is wearing is red.

My friends are Australian.

The book was error-ridden.

The beaches were sunny, breezy, and warm.

That book looks fabulous.

This chocolate cake tastes rich, sinful, and luscious.

During the day, the kids became rambunctious.

Rule: Set the adjectives off with commas.
The Aston Martin, red and sporty, tore down the roadway.
Kinds of Adjectives include:
Comparative Definition: To compare is to imply that at least two objects are involved, meaning that it will always be bigger, prettier, closer, whatever than something else or as something as something else.

Always balance your comparisons by comparing two things that match each other. The adjectives may be irregular and sometimes use adverbs (Bruckmyer, 36-37).

Superlative Definition: Compares three or more nouns and allows the highest degree of comparison.

One Stop English has an excellent post on comparatives and superlatives.

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Rules of Conversion to
Create Comparative or Superlative
Rule: The number of syllables in a word determine how an adjective is converted into a comparative adjective.
# of Syllables Rule:
1 Add -er Add -est warm → warmer → warmest

high → higher → highest

safe → safer → safest
1 Ends consonant – vowel – consonant, double the last letter Add -est fat → fatter → fattest

sad → sadder → saddest

glad → gladder → gladdest

hot → hotter → hottest
1 Ends with an e, add an r Add -est fine → finer → finest

cute → cuter → cutest
2 OR 3 Use more or less in front of the word Add most or least difficult → more difficult → most difficult

boring → less boring → least boring

interesting → more interesting → most interesting

dangerous → less dangerous → least dangerous
2 Ends with y,
change y to i, and add -er
Add -est gloomy → gloomier → gloomiest

early → earlier → earliest

skinny → skinnier → skinniest
Irregular Comparatives:
bad worse worst
far farther
fore former foremost
good better best
hind hinder hindermost
ill more ill most ill
late later
little less least
more most
near nearer nearest
My biology report is much bigger than my lab partner’s.

I was more embarrassed than Carol about the test scores.
My biology report is much bigger than my lab partner.

Either her lab partner is really, really skinny or that report can be weighed by the pound. Lots and lots of pounds.

I was more embarrassed about the test scores than Carol.

She’s embarrassed about Carol, but she’s more embarrassed about those scores.

Bi-Ending Adjectives:
More Exceptions: Some adjectives can go either way.

common commoner
more common
most common
narrow narrower
more narrow
most narrow
pleasant pleasanter
more pleasant
most pleasant
simple simpler
more simple
most simple
quiet quieter
more quiet
most quiet
unfriendly unfriendlier unfriendliest
most unfriendly
unhappy unhappier unhappiest
most unhappy
as…as Rule: Never use as…if, but as…as.

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I think my work is as good as if not better than Beth’s.

Denton Fuller is the quarterback, and the coach thinks he is as fast as if not faster than Morris Abel, who graduated last year.
I think my work is as good as if not better than Beth’s.

Denton Fuller is the quarterback, and the coach thinks he is as fast as if not faster than Morris Abel, who graduated last year.


  1. Green indicates the as…as phrase
  2. Bold indicates what’s missing
Compound Definition: More than one adjective that is joined and reduces confusion as to what is being described.

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Whichever route you choose, be consistent in how you apply it. Do not alternate between, for example, start-up and start up.

There are four types of compound adjectives:

  1. Open
  2. Closed
  3. Hyphenated
  4. Super-Strong

A.k.a., phrasal adjective and a type of compound modifier.

Quick Look at the Four Types
Type Example
Open greenish blue blouse
Closed longtime friends
Hyphenated well-intentioned advice
Super-Strong Adjective unique
Open Compound Adjective Definition: There is a space between two adjectives.

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apple pie
attorney general
coffee mug
full moon
greenish blue
yellow green
Rule: Exceptions can occur for some adjectives depending on if they come before or after the noun being modified:

  1. Hyphenate before the noun being modified
  2. Leave the adjective as an open compound after that same noun, although Chicago (7.86) states that keeping the hyphen is also acceptable
Before a Noun After a Noun
It’s a nicotine-free cigarette. It’s a cigarette, nicotine free.
He’s a well-known figure. He’s a figure who’s well known.
Closed Compound Adjective Definition: There is no hyphen or space between two adjectives.

Rule: Using -like to create a adjective from a noun is always closed.

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  1. Green indicates the closed compound

The baseball season was almost over.

Moonlight becomes you.

Jim has to be elsewhere tonight.

We should get Jamie a skateboard for his birthday.

Grandparents are usually more tolerant than parents.

Rule: When the noun ends in two Ls, include a hyphen.
Closed Hyphenated
Hyphenated Compound Adjective Rule: Always hyphenate before a noun; never hyphenate after a noun.

Never hyphenate an adverb modifying an adjective, for example, brightly colored. For more Examples:, visit Hyphen.

C.S. Lakin at Live Write Thrive has a post on this as well. has a list of words that should be hyphenated.

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Before After
Now there’s a well-dressed woman! She’s always so well dressed.
As an under-staffed office, we cannot take on any more work. I told you, the office is under staffed.
Super-Strong Rule: Super-strong adjectives should never be modified:

  • You can’t be a little bit pregnant.
  • It’s either unique or its not.
  • If it’s immovable, then it just ain’t gonna move.
  • If it’s almost utter chaos, find a better word, as utter already means complete, absolute, etc.
  • How can something by slightly ghastly?

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Partial List of Super-Strong Adjectives
Coordinate Rule: Equal and reversible adjectives

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The irritable, fidgety crowd waited impatiently for the theatre to open.

And in reverse: The fidgety, irritable crowd waited impatiently for the theatre to open.

Her blonde, curly hair was blowing in the wind.

And in reverse: Her curly, blonde hair was blowing in the wind.

Rule: Multiple adjectives use a comma, if:

  1. Two or more adjectives precede a noun (they’re nonessential)
  2. and they could be joined by and or but without changing the meaning of the noun

  1. Green indicates where a comma can replace the and
  2. Coral indicates where and doesn’t belong and no comma can be used

I live in a little purple house.

I live in a little and purple house.

The little old lady.

The little and old lady.

She wore a red, leather dress.

She wore a red and leather dress.

The gay, bespectacled, celebrated British artist David Hockney is a master of color.

The gay and bespectacled and celebrated and British artist David Hockney is a master of color.

He is a tall, distinguished fellow.

He is a tall and distinguished fellow.

I live in a very old, run-down house.

I live in a very old and run-down house.

Her shiny, curly, shoulder-length hair trailed across his chest.

Her shiny and curly and shoulder-length hair trailed across his chest.

Demonstrative Definition: Show whether the noun they refer to is singular or plural and whether it is located near to or far from the speaker or writer (Using English).

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You may want to have a look at pronominal adjectives as well.

A.k.a.: Definitive

List of Demonstrative Adjectives:

  1. Green indicates the demonstrative pronoun

Bring me this hat.
Find those now!

Descriptive Definition: There are two types: common and proper.

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Common Proper
Indefinite Definition: Modifies a substantive.

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List of Interrogative Adjectives:
both each
so on
each man
either package
such nonsense
Interrogative Definition: An interrogative pronoun used as an adjective and are used to modify a noun or noun phrases.

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Rule: Can’t be used on its own.
List of Interrogative Adjectives:
what which
What software program are you using?

Which hammer did you want?


  1. Green indicates the what / which
Limiting A.k.a., Articles

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a an the
Numeral Definition: Expresses the quantity of persons or things.

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one, two, three, ten, fifty-five all, few, most
first, tenth, hundredth
quadruple, fourfold, tenfold
one screw
For the hundredth time…
a tenfold problem
Possessive Definition: Modifies a noun by attributing possession (or other sense of belonging) to someone or something.

A.k.a., possessive determiner

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Rule: Used before a noun to indicate possession.
List of Possessive Adjectives
These words are also possessive pronouns.

That’s my hat.
Is this your notebook?
Yeah, they’re bringing their daughter.
Pronominal Definition: Uses pronouns that are demonstrative, indefinite, interrogative, possessive, or relative which affect a noun in some way.

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Demonstrative this, that, these,those
Indefinite any, both, each, every, neither, other, some
Interrogative what, which, whose
Possessive mine, my, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, one’s, our, ours, their, theirs, whose
Relative which, whose introduces dependent clause while modifying the noun in the clause

  1. Green indicates the pronominal

These jeans are worn out.

What time did you get here?

I dunno, choose whatever you like.

Which one of those do you need?

Each one looks so good!

It’s my hairbrush!

Whose toys are scattered all over the living room?

Do we have any cinnamon?

I hate this class.

Nah, neither one appeals to me.

Relative Rule: You can tell it’s a relative adjective if a noun follows (usually!) what or which. See Relative Clause for an example of the difference between a relative adjective and a relative pronoun.

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List of Relative Adjectives
what which
He didn’t tell me what suit he was going to wear (English Forums).


  1. Green indicates the what / which
Adjective Clause:
Credit to: Magoosh GMAT Blog
Definition: A dependent (a.k.a., subordinate) clause that modifies a noun.

A.k.a., adjectival clause

An adjective clause can also be a relative clause if it answers the questions of what, who, how many, etc.


  1. Green indicates the adjective
  2. Blue indicates the adjective clause
  3. White-on-Blue indicates another adjective phrase
  4. Orange indicates the noun
  5. Coral-on-White indicates the dependent clause

“Any man who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad.” – W.C. Fields

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character .” – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is the song that hurts the most.

The game, which attracted 100,000 people, lasted more than five hours.

He who laughs last laughs best.

Adjective Phrase:
Credit to: Grammar Monster; English Grammar
Definition: A group of words with an adjective as its principal (head) word and tells us something about the noun it is modifying.

It can be used before or after the noun or noun or noun phrases it is modifying.

Adjective phrases can be further divided into attributive and predicative.

Rule: The head adjective can begin the adjective phrase or end it.

A.k.a., adjectival phrase


  1. Green indicates the head word (adjective)
  2. Blue indicates the adjective phrase
  3. Orange indicates the noun phrase

The nearby motel offers cheap but comfortable rooms.

These are unbelievably expensive shoes.

Sarah was fairly bored with you.

The dog covered in mud looked pleased with himself.

The extremely tired lioness is losing patience with her overly enthusiastic cub.

Churchill was an eminent man.

Churchill was a man of eminence.

I have the cutest, little daughter.

Attributive Adjective Phrase Rule: Sits inside the noun phrase of the noun it modifies and may come before or after the noun.

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  1. Green indicates the adjective
  2. Blue indicates the attributive adjective phrase
  3. Orange indicates the noun phrase

The beautifully carved frames are worth more than the painting.

The frames beautifully carved by monks are worth more than the painting.

Predicative Adjective Phrase Rule: Generally uses a linking verb AND sits outside and after the noun phrase it modifies.

  1. Green indicates the adjective
  2. Blue indicates the predicative adjective phrase
  3. Orange indicates the noun phrase of the noun being modified
  4. Purple indicates the linking verb

The curtains look far too long.

The frames were beautifully carved by monks.

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