Adjectives: The basics

Adjectives are one of the eight parts of speech. Just as a reminder, the others are the verb, the noun, the pronoun, the adverb, the preposition, the conjunction, and the interjection.

The primary purpose of an adjective is to modify a noun. They typically answer one of these three questions about the noun: What kind? How many? Which one?

For example:

  • the 44th president
  • a green product
  • a responsible investment
  • an economist’s analysis
  • the dumbest, worst leader

Now that you have a general sense of an adjective, let’s pause for a moment to consider the adjective in writing.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say that writing is the literary equivalent of cooking, and adjectives are one of the spices you bring to the kitchen. Like spices added to a soup, a few adjectives go a long way. Don’t overdo it. Let the more substantial ingredients (strong verbs!) be the stars.

Pay particular attention to adjectives that have lost their pizzazz, words that no longer register in the reader’s palate: interesting, beautiful, fun, exciting, cool. The key to excellence in writing is showing, not telling. In other words, don’t simply tell your readers the snow on the field is beautiful, show them.

Okay, back to examples.

While it may be easier to identify the parts of speech when we are faced with only a few words (as in the examples above), most reading and writing involves full sentences. Consider the following sentences containing particular types of nouns and their accompanying adjectives:

  • A subject:
  • The volatile Bobby Knight has been accused of choking a player.
  • A direct object:
  • Tom threw the slimy ball for his dog, Rover.
  • An indirect object:
  • After the last out, David Justice tossed the excited child the game ball.
  • A gerund
  • Cecilia enjoys distance running.
  • A predicate nominative:
  • They didn’t know that Caroline was a decorated officer.


Adjectives are used to indicate levels, degrees of intensity or comparison

  1. high   ____ base
  2. higher ____ comparative
  3. highest ____ superlative

When comparing two things always use the comparative. For example in a comparison between two people the correct usage would be: Bill is taller. Bill is the tallest would require that there be more than two people.

Adjectives are divided into categories as a way of understanding their purpose. Read more about the types of adjectives:

1) Limiting

2) Descriptive

3)Predicate Adjective

4) A list of Adjectives

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