Adjectives are words that describe or modify another person or thing in the sentence. The Articles a, an. and the are adjectives.
- the tall professor
- the lugubrious lieutenant
- a solid commitment
- a month's pay
- a six-year-old child
- the unhappiest, richest man
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
who is keeping my family in the poorhouse.
Before getting into other usage considerations, one general note about the use or over-use of adjectives: Adjectives are frail; don't ask them to do more work than they should. Let your broad-shouldered 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: interesting, beautiful, lovely, exciting. It is your job as a writer to create beauty and excitement and interest, and when you simply insist on its presence without showing it to your reader well, you're convincing no one.
Consider the uses of modifiers in this adjectivally rich paragraph from Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. (Charles Scribner's, 1929, p. 69.) Adjectives are highlighted in this color ; participles. verb forms acting as adjectives, are highlighted in this blue. Some people would argue that words that are part of a name like "East India Tea House are not really adjectival and that possessive nouns father's. farmer's are not technically adjectives, but we've included them in our analysis of Wolfe's text.
He remembered yet the East India Tea House at the Fair, the sandalwood, the turbans, and the robes, the cool interior and the smell of India tea; and he had felt now the nostalgic thrill of dew-wet mornings in Spring, the cherry scent, the cool clarion earth, the wet loaminess of the garden, the pungent breakfast smells and the floating snow of blossoms. He knew the inchoate sharp excitement of hot dandelions in
young earth; in July, of watermelons bedded in sweet hay, inside a farmer's covered wagon; of cantaloupe and crated peaches; and the scent of orange rind, bitter-sweet. before a fire of coals. He knew the good male smell of his father's sitting-room; of the smooth worn leather sofa, with the gaping horse-hair rent; of the blistered varnished wood upon the hearth; of the heated calf-skin bindings; of the flat moist plug of apple tobacco, stuck with a red flag; of wood-smoke and burnt leaves in October; of the brown tired autumn earth; of honey-suckle at night; of warm nasturtiums, of a clean ruddy farmer who comes weekly with printed butter, eggs, and milk; of fat limp underdone bacon and of coffee; of a bakery-oven in the wind; of large deep-hued stringbeans smoking-hot and seasoned well with salt and butter; of a room of old pine boards in which books and carpets have been stored, long closed ; of Concord grapes in their long white baskets.
An abundance of adjectives like this would be uncommon in contemporary prose. Whether we have lost something or not is left up to you.
Position of Adjectives
Unlike Adverbs . which often seem capable of popping up almost anywhere in a sentence, adjectives nearly always appear immediately before the noun or noun phrase that they modify. Sometimes they appear in a string of adjectives, and when they do, they appear in a set order according to category. (See Below .) 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.
Something wicked this way comes.
And there are certain adjectives that, in combination with certain words, are always "postpositive" (coming after the thing they modify):
The president elect. heir apparent to the Glitzy fortune, lives in New York proper.
See, also, the note on a- adjectives . below, for the position of such words as "ablaze, aloof, aghast."
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.