Adjectives – how to use them

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Adjectives – definition

adjectives Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns. They can be placed before the noun, or refer back to it.

redbtn In most sentences in English, adjectives precede the noun.


big – brown – long – heavy – bright

  • This is a long brown pencil box.
  • He was wearing a heavy black overcoat.
  • It turned out to be a bright sunny day.


redbtn Most adjectives are words which describe the object to which they are attached.

redbtn Inexperienced writers often pile up adjectives, believing they will be more effective [‘the fierce and ugly old black shepherd dog’]. Experienced writers use fewer, with care.

redbtn NB! Adjectives are describing words.

redbtn Adjectives can also be made from verbs:

He was the driving force in a prosperous company.

redbtn These adjectives are formed from the verbs to dive and to prosper.

redbtn Adjectives can also be made from nouns:

Let’s sit on that grass verge, not in the car park.

redbtn Adjectives can either be used in a single form, as in ‘the red ball’ or, in multiple form, as in ‘a big shiny yellow beach ball’.

redbtn There is a rule of sequence here which requires the following order:

Size — texture — colour — type

redbtn The next version of this statement is not a normal English sentence, because it does not follow the descriptive rule of word-order:

The yellow big beach shiny ball.

redbtn However, both poetry and advertising deliberately break the rules to make an impact on the reader or listener.

redbtn Placing an adjective after the noun it describes often has a poetic effect:

these roses, heavy with dew

redbtn When an adjective is formed out of proper noun, it retains the capital letter:

He became a British subject.
It happened during the Victorian period.

redbtn If the adjective is formed from a common noun, then no capital is required:

She bought a table cover.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003

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