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The Adjective

Updated on June 29, 2014

Adjectives

What is an adjective?

An adjective is defined as any word that describes or qualifies a noun or pronoun. Adjectives tell us more about nouns or pronouns.

Example:

John is handsome.

In this sentence, the word “handsome” is an adjective simply because it is describing or qualifying the noun “John”.

Another example is:

I am sad.

In this sentence too, the word “sad” is an adjective simply because it is describing or qualifying the pronoun “I”.

This is basically what adjectives do – they describe or qualify nouns and pronouns.

In describing nouns or pronouns, adjectives usually ask the following questions: What kind? Which one? How many?

Examples of adjectives in sentences:

  • I like the short one. (Which one? The short one)
  • She is a beautiful girl. (What kind of girl? A beautiful one)
  • There were two books in his bag. (How many books? Two)

Simply put, any word or group of words that describes or qualifies a noun or pronoun is an adjective.

About 9 out of 10 times, an adjective describes the noun that it is attached to. Examples:

  • The fat boy.
  • The short woman.
  • An interesting movie.
  • An ugly dog.
  • A pretty lady.

Here, the words fat, short, interesting, ugly and pretty are all adjectives describing the nouns boy, woman, movie, dog, and lady.

Kinds of adjectives

There are several kinds of adjectives. In this article we are going to take a look at least 8 types of adjectives, namely Proper Adjective, Quantitative Adjective, Interrogative Adjective, Possessive Adjective, Demonstrative Adjective, Distributive Adjective, and Numeral Adjective.


What is a proper adjective?

A proper adjective is defined as any kind of adjective that is formed from a proper noun. We all know that proper nouns are nouns that name specific individuals, places and things. Proper nouns always begin with capital letters. An example of a proper noun is England. Proper adjectives are very similar to proper nouns; the only difference between the two is that while a proper noun refers to a specific person or thing without qualifying any other word, a proper adjective describes or qualifies a noun or pronoun. For example England is a proper noun whereas English is a proper adjective.

  • I shall travel to England next month. (England is a noun)
  • I met an English man last month. (English is a proper adjective because it is qualifying the noun “man”)

All proper adjectives are derived from proper nouns, which is why you have to begin writing them with capital letters.

Examples of proper adjectives:

  • The American singer will be coming to town next week.
  • The man has married a British woman.
  • I like the Russian language very much.
  • He has an Indian passport.
  • The Nigerian students have been deported.

What is a quantitative adjective?

A quantitative adjective is any adjective that shows how much of a thing is meant. Example: I have little water left. Here, the adjective “little” is showing how much water I have left.

Examples of quantitative adjectives:

  • Do you have any money for me?
  • They have very little knowledge about the issue.
  • John has much money.
  • Please add some water to the food on fire.

All the highlighted adjectives above are quantitative adjectives simply because they are showing how much of a noun is meant.


What is an interrogative adjective?

To interrogate means to ask questions. An interrogative adjective therefore refers to an adjective that is used to ask questions.

Examples of interrogative adjectives used in sentences:

  • Which boy did you say stole the money?
  • What book is the class reading?
  • What subject did you offer in school?
  • Whose money is on the floor?

From the sentences above, the highlighted words are all interrogative adjectives simply because they are asking questions and are also describing the nouns following them. Remember that interrogative adjectives always attach themselves to nouns.


What is a possessive adjective?

A possessive adjective is any adjective that shows possession. These adjectives are formed from possessive pronouns. Examples of possessive adjectives are: my, your, his, her, its, our, their, one’s etc.

Examples of possessive adjectives in sentences:

  • My book fell on the floor.
  • Your house is really beautiful.
  • Its tail is long.
  • His wife died last week.
  • Their country is not very stable.
  • Her landlord is asking for more money from her.

NOTE: Some possessive adjectives are very similar to possessive pronouns. The nouns that possessive pronouns qualify always come just after them. From the examples above, you can clearly see that happening.


What is a demonstrative adjective?

A demonstrative adjective is an adjective which shows what or which noun is meant. It will demonstrate or show the position of nouns in relation to the speaker. In English language we have only four demonstrative adjectives, namely this, that, those, these.

  • This – is in its singular form and is used to point at singular nouns that are close to the speaker
  • That – is used to refer to singular nouns that are far away from the speaker
  • These – is used to refer to plural nouns that are close to the speaker
  • Those – is used to refer to plural nouns that are far away from the speaker

Examples of demonstrative adjectives used in sentences:

  • This book is very interesting.
  • That boy is a liar.
  • These girls know how to play football.
  • Those children are from my hometown.

NOTE: A lot of people tend to confuse demonstrative pronouns with demonstrative adjectives because they are very similar. The words: this, that, these, and those can function as demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative adjectives at the same time depending on how they are used in a sentence.

The difference between a demonstrative adjective and a demonstrative pronoun is this:

A demonstrative adjective will have the noun it is qualifying come just after it whereas a demonstrative pronoun will have a verb separating it and the noun. Examples:

  • That teacher is good. (Demonstrative adjective)
  • That is the teacher. (Demonstrative pronoun)

In another lesson we shall take a detailed look at the difference between a demonstrative adjective and a demonstrative pronoun.


What is a distributive adjective?

A distributive adjective is an adjective that is used to separate nouns from a group. They show that the noun mentioned is taken in a separate lot.

Examples of distributive adjectives are: each, both, either, every, neither, etc.

  • Each child should be given some food.
  • Both boys are my friends.
  • I go to church every Sunday.
  • You are at liberty to take either side.
  • I jog every morning.
  • Neither food tastes good.

What is a numeral adjective?

Numeral adjectives basically deal with numbers. Numeral adjectives show how many things are meant or in what order a thing stands.

Examples of numeral adjectives are:

  • I have four brothers and one sister.
  • This is the second match today.
  • She is the fourth child of her parents.
  • It took me five hours to get to London.
  • She has won nine awards so far.

NOTE:

Adjectives that show “how many things are meant” are called cardinals. For example: John has five brothers.

Adjectives showing “in what order things stand” are called ordinals. For example: This is the fourth day of the week.


What is the function of an adjective?

The grammatical function of an adjective is simply to qualify or describe a noun or a pronoun. This is the only function of an adjective. If your word is describing a noun or pronoun then it automatically is an adjective.


Position of adjectives in sentences

The adjective can appear anywhere in the sentence. It can begin the sentence, it can be found in the middle of the sentence, and it can also end the sentence. Regardless of where it is found in the sentence, it will be qualifying a noun or pronoun.

This issue of the position of an adjective in a sentence brings us to a very important subtopic on adjectives, which is “The Attributive and Predicative Adjectives”.

Many people sometimes find it difficult knowing the difference between an attributive and a predicative adjective.

What is the difference between an attributive and a predicative adjective?

An attributive adjective is simply an adjective that is used before the noun or pronoun it is describing.

Examples:

  • The man has a nice house.
  • The old man has died.
  • John sat under a short tree.
  • A good girl will listen to her parents’ advice.

All the adjectives in the sentences above have been used attributively because they come before the nouns that they are qualifying.

A predicative adjective is the opposite of an attributive adjective because it comes after the noun or pronoun that it is describing.

Examples of predicative adjectives are:

  • Janet is beautiful.
  • The flowers are lovely.
  • The country appears stable.
  • The food tastes good.
  • You are very handsome.
  • He is sad.

The adjectives above have been used predicatively because they are coming after the nouns and pronouns they are qualifying.

Bottom line: When an adjective comes before the noun that it is describing it is said to be an attributive adjective and when it comes after the noun or pronoun it is describing it is said to be a predicative adjective.

Many adjectives can be used both attributively and predicatively. For example: sad, happy, ugly, beautiful, bad, etc.

  • The ugly man
  • The man is ugly
  • The sad man is here.
  • The man is sad.
  • You are beautiful.
  • The beautiful girl is looking for you.

There are however, some adjectives that can be used only attributively and others that can be used only predicatively.

Adjectives that can be used only attributively include the following: olden, inner, outer, out-and-out, outermost, innermost, outdoor etc

Examples:

  • In the olden days things were different.
  • In olden times women were punished for arguing with men.
  • The inner part of the city has been taken over by the rebels.
  • The outermost part of the village.
  • He is an out-and-out thief.
  • I like outdoor recreational activities.

The adjectives above can only be used before nouns.

Adjectives that can be used only predicatively include the following: well, afraid, alright, unafraid etc.

Examples:

  • I am well tonight.
  • He is afraid.
  • Are you well?
  • The mice were unafraid of the cat.
  • I am alright.

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