An adjective is a word, a phrase, or a clause that modifies (describes) a noun or a noun equivalent. Its main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase and more information about the object signified.
An adjective can be a word, a phrase, or a clause.
Kirby is an ambitious writer. [word]
Kirby bought a new book about editing and self-publishing. [phrase]
Kirby bought a new book that’s worth several dollars. [clause]
The most common phrases used as adjectives are participial phrases and prepositional phrases.
The man walking behind me looks like a psycho. [participial phrase]
The bird caged near the window is a canary. [participial phrase]
The man behind me looks like a murderer. [prepositional phrases]
The adjective clause is also called the relative clause because they are introduce by the relative pronoun [who, whom, whose, that, or which] or a relative adverb [when, where, or why]. To learn more about adjective clauses and how to form and identify them, click here.
The occurrence of an adjective in a sentence can be classified into five classes.
- Attributive. An attributive adjective appears before the noun it modifies.
Kirby is an ambitious writer.
I was tempted to buy a very expensive book.
- Predicative. A predicative adjective is linked by a verb to the object it modifies, either by a linking verb or a transitive verb. It acts as a subjective predicate or an objective predicate.
The book I was tempted to buy was very expensive.
His words made me happy.
- Postpositive. A postpositive adjective appears after the noun it modifies. However, many claim that this use of adjective is already archaic. It is also interesting to note that this use of adjective is quite rare in the English language.
That is the worst choice imaginable.
This is the best room available.
Men have been in war with one another since time immemorial.
Commonly now, these expressions that use postpositive adjectives are classified as established collocations.
- Absolute. Absolute adjectives do not belong to a larger construction (aside from a larger adjective phrase), and typically modify either the subject of a sentence or whatever noun or pronoun they are closest to.
Kirby, distressed and lonely, did not look where he was going.
NOTE: There is another definition appended to absolute adjective—that is, an adjective that is not subject to gradation or do not take any comparative and superlative forms (e.i., dead, complete, pregnant, unique).
- Nominal. Nominal adjectives act almost as nouns. One way this can happen is if a noun is elided and an attributive adjective is left behind. In such cases, the adjective functions either as a mass noun or as a plural count noun.
The meek [people] shall inherit the earth.
I read two books to them; he preferred the sad book, but she preferred the happy [book].
Back in the old [times], people did not have any portable phones.
Another kind of adjective commonly used is what they call the proper adjective. They are actually proper nouns that are used to modify another noun.
Royal Order of Adjectives
When the adjectives used are cumulative, they follow a certain order and are not separated by a comma [to learn the specific order of adjectives, click here]. When the adjectives used are coordinate (i.e., belonging to one classification), they need not follow a certain order and are separated by a comma. Note that cumulative and coordinate adjectives might be used together to modify a noun.
Shelly was driving a beautiful old Italian touring car.
On her way to the conference, he met several enormous young American basketball players.
She was given four gorgeous, expensive long-stemmed red roses.
To get to our house, just follow the long, winding road.
When an adjective describes one of two nouns, it should be morphed to its comparative form, usually by adding –er (for shorter adjectives) or adding the word more before it (for longer adjectives). The superlative form is used when an adjective describes one of three or more nouns (by adding –est [for shorter adjectives] or using the word most before it [longer adjectives]). However, there are exceptions: we have what we call the irregular adjectives. The word changes completely to form the comparative and superlative form.
For a comprehensive discussion of comparative and superlative form, click here.