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Adjectives describe a feature or quality of a noun. Adjectives fall into a number of broad groups, according to their meaning: dimension (for example, square, long), age (for example, old), value or quality (for example, bad, precious), colour (for example, orange), physical property (for example, smooth, heavy), human propensity (for example, generous), and speed (for example, slow).

Many words can be in more than one word class, for example, some nouns and verbs can also be adjectives:

the delicious chocolate (noun) — the chocolate cake (adjective)

that shade of red (noun) — the red car (adjective)

She twisted the pastry (verb) — the twisted rope (adjective)

The birds are flying (verb) — a flying machine (adjective)


1. Function and distribution

2. Derivation

3. Inflection

Related pages

Parts of speech

Function and distribution

If they occur before the noun they describe, adjectives are called attributive adjectives. In the attributive use, they function as modifiers within the noun phrase, giving additional information about the head noun (for example, the happy child).

If they follow the noun and a tensed form of the verb be (for example, the child is happy), they are called predicative adjectives. Predicative adjectives can also occur as predicative complements in clauses with a restricted number of other verbs, for example, Nina became suspicious, Otis considers Gregory unreliable.

Most adjectives can occur in both attributive and predicative position. Some exceptions are:

Some adjectives can also occur as post-head modifiers in the NP, i.e. they follow the noun, for example, He wanted to go somewhere exciting.


Adjectives can be derived from verbs, nouns or adjectives by adding a suffix, or from adjectives by adding a prefix. Some examples are given below:

a- for example, amoral

un- for example, unhappy

-able for example, lovable

-ful for example, regretful

-ish for example, greenish

-like for example, birdlike


Adjectives can have inflectional suffixes; comparative -er and superlative -est. These are called gradable adjectives. The suffixes add the element of degree to the meaning, for example, fast, faster, fastest. With some adjectives, the forms are irregular, for example, good, better, best and bad, worse, worst.

Degree can also be expressed using a modifying adverb (for example, mostly harmless, more beautiful), although the majority of gradable adjectives can only occur with either a suffix or an adverb (for example, *beautifuller, *more bad).

Occasionally an adjective can have both a gradable and a non-gradable sense, for example:

a very private matter (gradable) — a private school (non-gradable)

a really Australian attitude (gradable) — an Australian passport (non-gradable).

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