Adjectives

Definition

Adjectives are words that describe or modify another person or thing in the sentence.

  • the tall professor
  • the unhappiest, richest man
  • a month’s pay
  • a six-year-old child

If a group of words containing a subject and verb acts as an adjective, it is called an adjective clause:

  • My sister, who is much older than I am, is an engineer.

If an adjective clause is stripped of its subject and verb, the resulting modifier becomes an adjective phrase:

  • He is the man keeping my family in the poorhouse.

One general note about the use — or over-use — of adjectives: don’t ask them to do more work than they should. Let your verbs and nouns do the hard work of description. Be particularly cautious in your use of adjectives that don’t have much to say in the first place, such as interesting, beautiful, lovely, exciting.

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Position of Adjectives

Unlike adverbs, which are capable of popping up almost anywhere in a sentence, adjectives nearly always appear immediately before the noun or noun phrase that they modify. When indefinite pronouns — such as something, someone, anybody — are modified by an adjective, the adjective comes after the pronoun:

  • Anyone capable of doing something horrible to someone nice should be punished.

However, there are certain adjectives that, in combination with certain words, always stand after the thing they modify:

  • Before involving himself with politics and moving to Ottawa proper, the governor general was professor emeritus at a prestigious university.

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Degrees of Adjectives

Adjectives can express degrees of modification:

  • Gladys is a rich woman, but Josie is richer than Gladys, and Sadie is the richest woman in town.

The degrees of comparison are known as the positive, the comparative, and the superlative. (Actually, only the comparative and superlative show degrees.) We use the comparative for comparing two things and the superlative for comparing three or more things. Notice that the word than frequently accompanies the comparative and the word the precedes the superlative. The inflected suffixes -er and -est form most comparatives and superlatives, although we need -ier and -iest when a two-syllable adjective ends in y (happier and happiest); otherwise we use more and most when an adjective has more than one syllable.

Positive

Comparative

Superlative

  • rich
  • lovely
  • beautiful
  • richer
  • lovelier
  • more beautiful
  • richest
  • loveliest
  • most beautiful

Certain adjectives have irregular forms in the comparative and superlative degrees:

Positive

Comparative

Superlative

  • good
  • bad
  • far
  • little
  • better
  • worse
  • farther/further
  • less
  • best
  • worst
  • farthest/furthest
  • least

Be careful not to form comparatives or superlatives of adjectives which already express an extreme of comparison — unique, for instance — although it probably is possible to form comparative forms of most adjectives: something can be more perfect, and someone can have a fuller figure.

Be careful, also, not to use more along with a comparative adjective formed with -er, nor to use most along with a superlative adjective formed with -est (e.g., do not write that something is more heavier or most heaviest).

The as — as construction is used to create a comparison expressing equality:

  • He is as kind as he is caring.
  • She is as bright as her mother.

Less vs. Fewer

When making a comparison between quantities, we often have to make a choice between the words fewer and less. Generally, when we’re talking about countable things, we use the word fewer; when we’re talking about measurable quantities that we cannot count, we use the word less. “She had fewer chores, but she also had less energy.” We do, however, definitely use less when referring to statistical or numerical expressions:
 

  • Your essay should be a thousand words or less.
  • We spent less than forty dollars on our trip.
  • The town spent less than four percent of its budget on snow removal.

 

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Collective Adjectives

When the definite article, the, is combined with an adjective describing a class or group of people, the resulting phrase can act as a noun: the poor, the rich, the oppressed, the homeless, the lonely. The difference between a collective noun (which is usually regarded as singular but which can be plural in certain contexts) and a collective adjective is that the latter is always plural and requires a plural verb:

  • The homeless have been ignored by the media.
  • The elderly are beginning to demand their rights.
  • The young at heart are always a joy to be around.

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Exercises

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