Grammar Made Easy

Subtitle

Adjectives

What Is An Adjective?

An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun by describing, identifying, or quantifying words. An adjective usually precedes the noun or the pronoun which it modifies.

In the following examples, the highlighted words are adjectives:

The truck-shaped balloon floated over the treetops.

Mrs. Morrison papered her kitchen walls with hideous wall paper.

The small boat foundered on the wine dark sea.

The coal mines are dark and dank.

Many stores have already begun to play irritating Christmas music.

A battered music box sat on the mahogany sideboard.

The back room was filled with large, yellow rain boots.

An adjective can be modified by an adverb, or by a phrase or clause functioning as an adverb. In the sentence

My husband knits intricately patterned mittens.

for example, the adverb ``intricately'' modifies the adjective ``patterned.''

Some nouns, many pronouns, and many participle phrases can also act as adjectives. In the sentence

Eleanor listened to the muffled sounds of the radio hidden under her pillow.

for example, both highlighted adjectives are past participles.

Grammarians also consider articles (``the,'' ``a,'' ``an'') to be adjectives.

What are modifiers?

Modifiers limit, qualify, or make more exact other words or word groups by describing them.

Example:    the brown cow
 Brown "modifies" the word "cow" by naming a quality of it,
making its description more precise. Simply, the word "brown" is describing the cow.


Modifiers "depend on" the word they qualify; therefore, they are optional.

Modifiers which are placed before a noun are called pre-modifiers and those placed after a noun are called post-modifiers.

What are adjectives?

Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Two types of adjectives are

1. descriptive, describing a quality of the noun

2. limiting, limiting the noun being described

Examples:   descriptive:   tall tree, stellar performance
                      limiting:  my dog, the second try

1. Desriptive adjectives can be attributive adjectives or predicate adjectives.

Attributive Adjectives:
Adjectives which appear directly beside the noun, most commonly before, are called attributive, because they attribute a quality to the noun they modify. More than one adjective can modify the same noun.

 Examples:
He washed the empty cup.
"Empty" is an attributive adjective, as it is placed directly beside the noun "cup." 
                  It is describing the cup.
The chatter made the room noisy.
 This is an instance in which the attributive adjective appears directly behind 
the noun. "Noisy" is describing the "room."

Predicate Adjectives:
Adjectives which appear after a linking verb are called predicative, because they form part of the predicate. They modify the subject of the sentence or clause (a clause is a portion of a sentence which contains a subject and a predicate).

For information on subjects and predicates,

Examples:
       The painting was colourful.
          noun:         painting
          linking verb: was
          adjective:    colourful (describing the noun"painting")
       The wind remained strong.
          noun:         wind
          linking verb: remained
          adjective:    strong (describing the noun "wind")

2. Limiting adjectives do as their name suggests, they limit the noun being described. There are nine types of limiting adjectives.

The Nine Types of Limiting Adjectives:

1.      Definite & Indefinite Articles

2.      Possessive Adjectives

3.      Demonstrative Adjectives

4.      Indefinite Adjectives

5.      Interrogative Adjectives

6.      Cardinal Adjectives

7.      Ordinal Adjectives

8.      Proper Adjectives

9.      Nouns used as Adjectives

1. Definite & Indefinite Articles

There is only one definite article, the. When used before a noun, it specifies a particular noun as opposed to any one.

Examples:
     the dog  (a specific, identifiable dog)
     the walls (specific, identifiable walls)

There are two indefinite articles, a and an. These are used with a noun when a specific noun is not being pointed at.  

Examples:
     a dog  (any dog)
     an apple (any apple)

2. Possessive Adjectives:

The possessive adjectives my, your, his, her, its, our, and their modify nouns by showing possession or ownership.

Examples:
     my sweater
     their party

3. Demonstrative Adjectives

A demonstrative adjective is a demonstrative pronoun that appears before a noun and emphasizes it.

Example: (note the difference)
     demonstrative pronoun:   These are wonderful.
     demonstrative adjective: These apples are wonderful.

4. Indefinite Adjectives:

Indefinite adjectives are indefinite pronouns used before a noun.

Example: (note the difference)
     pronoun:   Several witnessed the event.
     adjective: Several pedestrians witnessed the event.

5. Interrogative Adjectives

The interrogative adjectives what, which, and whose modify nouns and pronouns to indicate a question about them.

Example: (note the difference)
     pronoun:   Which fell?
     adjective: Which trapeze artist fell?

6. Cardinal Adjectives

Adjectives that modify the noun by numbering it (stating how many) are cardinal adjectives.

Examples:
     five books
     two fish

7. Ordinal Adjectives

An ordinal adjective indicates the position of a noun in a series.

Examples:
     the first date
     the fourth day

8. Proper Adjectives

Adjectives derived from proper names are called proper adjectives. They are easily recognizable in that they are always capitalized.

Examples:
     French bread
     Shakespearean sonnet

9. Nouns used as Adjectives

Sometimes nouns can be used as adjectives to define or describe another noun.

Examples:
     the porch light
     a house fly

 

Possessive Adjectives

A possessive adjective (``my,'' ``your,'' ``his,'' ``her,'' ``its,'' ``our,'' ``their'') is similar or identical to a possessive pronoun; however, it is used as an adjective and modifies a noun or a noun phrase, as in the following sentences:

I can't complete my assignment because I don't have the textbook.

In this sentence, the possessive adjective ``my'' modifies ``assignment'' and the noun phrase ``my assignment'' functions as an object. Note that the possessive pronoun form ``mine'' is not used to modify a noun or noun phrase.

What is your phone number.

Here the possessive adjective ``your'' is used to modify the noun phrase ``phone number''; the entire noun phrase ``your phone number'' is a subject complement. Note that the possessive pronoun form ``yours'' is not used to modify a noun or a noun phrase.

The bakery sold his favourite type of bread.

In this example, the possessive adjective ``his'' modifies the noun phrase ``favourite type of bread'' and the entire noun phrase ``his favourite type of bread'' is the direct object of the verb ``sold.''

After many years, she returned to her homeland.

Here the possessive adjective ``her'' modifies the noun ``homeland'' and the noun phrase ``her homeland'' is the object of the preposition ``to.'' Note also that the form ``hers'' is not used to modify nouns or noun phrases.

We have lost our way in this wood.

In this sentence, the possessive adjective ``our'' modifies ``way'' and the noun phrase ``our way'' is the direct object of the compound verb ``have lost''. Note that the possessive pronoun form ``ours'' is not used to modify nouns or noun phrases.

In many fairy tales, children are neglected by their parents.

Here the possessive adjective ``their'' modifies ``parents'' and the noun phrase ``their parents'' is the object of the preposition ``by.'' Note that the possessive pronoun form ``theirs'' is not used to modify nouns or noun phrases.

The cat chased its ball down the stairs and into the backyard.

In this sentence, the possessive adjective ``its'' modifies ``ball'' and the noun phrase ``its ball'' is the object of the verb ``chased.'' Note that ``its'' is the possessive adjective and ``it's'' is a contraction for ``it is.''

 Demonstrative Adjectives

The demonstrative adjectives ``this,'' ``these,'' ``that,'' ``those,'' and ``what'' are identical to the demonstrative pronouns, but are used as adjectives to modify nouns or noun phrases, as in the following sentences:

When the librarian tripped over that cord, she dropped a pile of books.

In this sentence, the demonstrative adjective ``that'' modifies the noun ``cord'' and the noun phrase ``that cord'' is the object of the preposition ``over.''

This apartment needs to be fumigated.

Here ``this'' modifies ``apartment'' and the noun phrase ``this apartment'' is the subject of the sentence.

Even though my friend preferred those plates, I bought these.

In the subordinate clause, ``those'' modifies ``plates'' and the noun phrase ``those plates'' is the object of the verb ``preferred.'' In the independent clause, ``these'' is the direct object of the verb ``bought.''

Note that the relationship between a demonstrative adjective and a demonstrative pronoun is similar to the relationship between a possessive adjective and a possessive pronoun, or to that between a interrogative adjective and an interrogative pronoun.

Interrogative Adjectives

An interrogative adjective (``which'' or ``what'') is like an interrogative pronoun, except that it modifies a noun or noun phrase rather than standing on its own (see also demonstrative adjectives and possessive adjectives):

Which plants should be watered twice a week?

Like other adjectives, ``which'' can be used to modify a noun or a noun phrase. In this example, ``which'' modifies ``plants'' and the noun phrase ``which paints'' is the subject of the compound verb ``should be watered'':

What book are you reading?

In this sentence, ``what'' modifies ``book'' and the noun phrase ``what book'' is the direct object of the compound verb ``are reading.''

Indefinite Adjectives

An indefinite adjective is similar to an indefinite pronoun, except that it modifies a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase, as in the following sentences:

Many people believe that corporations are under-taxed.

The indefinite adjective ``many'' modifies the noun ``people'' and the noun phrase ``many people'' is the subject of the sentence.

I will send you any mail that arrives after you have moved to Sudbury.

The indefinite adjective ``any'' modifies the noun ``mail'' and the noun phrase ``any mail'' is the direct object of the compound verb ``will send.''

They found a few goldfish floating belly up in the swan pound.

In this example the indefinite adjective modifies the noun ``goldfish'' and the noun phrase is the direct object of the verb ``found'':

The title of Kelly's favourite game is ``All dogs go to heaven.''

Here the indefinite pronoun ``all'' modifies ``dogs'' and the full title is a subject complement.

How to Use Adjectives

An adjective describes how something 'is'. For this reason, we usually use the verb 'to be' when using adjectives. Adjectives are used to describe nouns.

Example: He is a good doctor. Rule: Adjectives describe nouns. The adjective is always invariable.

Example: beautiful trees, they are happy

Be careful!

Adjectives don't have a singular and plural form OR a masculine, femine and neuter form.

Adjectives are always the same! Never add a final -s to an adjective.

Adjectives can also be placed at the end of a sentence if they describe the subject of a sentence. Example: My doctor is excellent.

NOT!!: difficults books

Rule: Adjectives are placed before the noun.

Example: a wonderful book, very interesting people

Be careful!

  • Don't place an adjective after the noun

              NOT!!: an apple red

 Adjective Placement

When using more than one adjective to describe a noun place the adjectives in the following order before the noun.

NOTE: We usually use no more than three adjectives preceding a noun.

 

Opinion

An opinion adjective explains what you think about something (other people may not agree with you). Examples:
silly, beautiful, horrible, difficult

Size

A size adjective, of course, tells you how big or small something is. Examples:
large, tiny, enormous, little

Age

An age adjective tells you how young or old something or someone is. Examples:
ancient, new, young, old

Shape

A shape adjective describes the shape of something. Examples:
square, round, flat, rectangular

Colour

A colour adjective, of course, describes the colour of something. Examples:
blue, pink, reddish, grey

Origin

An origin adjective describes where something comes from. Examples:
French, lunar, American, eastern, Greek

Material

A material adjective describes what something is made from. Examples:
wooden, metal, cotton, paper

Purpose

A purpose adjective describes what something is used for. These adjectives often end with "-ing". Examples:
sleeping (as in "sleeping bag"), roasting (as in "roasting tin")

 

Here are some examples of nouns modified with three adjectives in the correct order based on the list above. Notice that the adjectives are not separated by commas.

·         A wonderful old Italian clock. (opinion - age - origin)

·         A big square blue box. (dimension - shape - color)

·         A disgusting pink plastic ornament. (opinion - color - material)

·         Some slim new French trousers. (dimension - age - origin)

Some examples of adjective order

 

Opinion

Size

Age

Shape

Colour

Origin

Material

Purpose

a

silly

young

English

man

a

huge

round

metal

bowl

a

small

red

sleeping

bag

 

Adjective Clauses

First, let’s remember that adjectives modify (or describe) nouns and pronouns.

Example:

Intelligent students understand adjectives.

(The word "intelligent" is an adjective because it describes the noun "students.")

But adjectives are not always single words. Sometimes they are clauses:

Example:

Students who are intelligent understand adjectives.

(The adjective clause is underlined. It is an "adjective" clause because it describes the noun "students.")

Remember

A clause is a group of related words with a subject and verb.

Remember

Adjective clauses are always dependent clauses.

Adjective clauses, like adverb clauses, are introduced by dependent signals.

If you want to be considered cool and impress members of the opposite sex, remember this:

 Subordinating conjunctions introduce adverb clauses and relative pronouns introduce adjective clauses.

OK, OK, so that won’t impress most members of the opposite sex—only English majors.

If you happen to be in love with a botanist, a cocktail waitress or a rock singer, it will be OK just to remember this:

Adverb and adjective clauses are both introduced by dependent signals, but those signals are different.

And now the good news (finally!). . .

There are only five words which introduce adjective clauses.

They are called relative pronouns because they relate the clause to something in the sentence.

 

If you find yourself not caring a hoot in a far country about that, just remember that there are only five dependent signals which introduce adjective clauses. They are:

Who

Whom

Whose

Which

That

A Word of Caution:

Sometimes these words function as dependent signals, but sometimes they don’t

Example:

How did you come up with that?

("That" doesn’t introduce a clause. It identifies something. If you really want to know, it is a demonstrative pronoun. But don’t worry your noggin about that now. Just be aware that these dependent signals can sometimes do other things.)

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

I love sentences which extol the virtues of English teachers.

(The adjective clause is underlined. It modifies the object "sentences.")

Students whom I admire want to become English teachers.

(Again, the adjective clause is underlined and modifies the subject "students.")

Remember

A noun is a subject or an object, so adjectives will always modify subjects or objects.

Let’s look at these sentences a little more closely.

I love sentences which extol the virtues of English teachers.

(The verb of this clause is "extol." The subject is "which" because it stands for "sentences.")

Students whom I admire want to become English teachers.

(The verb of this clause is "admire." The subject of the clause is "whom" because it stands for "students.")

If you are well fed, well rested, and psychologically at peace with yourself, you have no doubt come to an astonishing realization.

Dependent signals which introduce adjective clauses perform a double duty. They introduce the clause and they also function inside the clause as a subject or object.

Therefore, I call these little devils (sorry, I mean these relative pronouns), double duty dependent signals.

Again, the double duty dependent signals which introduce adjective clauses are:

Who

Whom

Whose

Which

That

But what about these examples?

The grade I received was a shock.

(We don’t see any dependent signal do we? But we know we have two clauses because we have two subject-verb combinations—"grade/was," "I/received.")

The book I borrowed was full of grammatical wisdom.

(No dependent signal here either. But we have two subject verb combinations—"book/was" and "I/borrowed"—so we know we have two clauses.)

Look at them now:

The grade [that] I received was a shock.

The book [that] I borrowed was full of grammatical wisdom.

(Here’s the point. Sometimes the dependent signal [usually "that"] is implied. Mentally insert it, and the sentence will be easier to analyze.)

There’s only one more thing about adjective clauses that you need to know. It’s something you’ve never, ever understood, and I’m going to explain it so that you’ll never, ever forget it. (So try to contain your joy!)

Some adjective clauses need to be set off by commas and others don’t.

 

Now here’s the part you’ve never understood—non-restrictive clauses need commas and restrictive clauses don’t.

"What in the Sam Hill is the difference?" you say.

It is this:

Some adjective clauses are like gossip, they provide additional detail about someone (or something) whose identity we already know. Put commas around those.

Examples:

My English teacher, who wears old fashioned ties, is laughed at by the students.

(The adjective clause is underlined. It doesn’t identify the English teacher; it just provides a gossipy sort of detail about him. Set these off with commas.)

My English book, which is a monument of boredom, is used mainly as a door stop.

(Once again, the adjective clause is underlined. It doesn’t identify the English book, it just provides a gossipy, editorial comment about it. Set this clause off with a comma.)

Now take a look at these:

The English teachers that I like best forget to go to class.

(This isn’t pure gossip any longer. The writer doesn’t like all English teachers equally well. The adjective clause identifies which ones he likes best. Because it helps identify, don’t set if off with commas. )

Anyone who reads all of this will go away happier and wiser.

(Once again, this clause identifies who will go away happier and wiser. It’s not gossip, it’s essential information, so don’t put commas around it.)

Adjective Clauses -- Overview

ADJECTIVE (RELATIVE) CLAUSE BASICS

 

that ........\
who ........} can be
which .... /
reduced
whose+N

+ V

N/pn (+PP)

<----------

WH

S

V+

that ..............\
who (informal) ... } can be
whom .........../
omitted
which ........../
whose+N

+ S

+ V

(+P)

(Q/N + ) P +

whom
which
whose+N

+ S

+ V

when
where
(why)

+ S

+ V

 

 

ESSENTIAL/RESTRICTIVE vs NON-ESSENTIAL/NON-RESTRICTIVE ADJECTIVE CLAUSES or PHRASES

  • Meaning: An essential or restrictive clause answers the question "Which __(noun)__?" If the noun is singular, it points to one particular person or thing when there is more than one possibility. If the noun is plural or generic, it identifies a particular sub-group of the larger group (SOME). A non-essential clause or phrase adds additional, probably important, information, about an already specified person or thing, or about an entire class of people or things (ALL).
  • Punctuation: A non-essential or non-restrictive clause is separated from the noun it modifies and from the rest of the sentence by commas, dashes, or parentheses.
  • That: only for RESTRICTIVE clauses
  • Omitting the relative pronoun: the relative pronoun can be omitted in restrictive clauses only:

That's the man whom/that I love. = That's the man I love.
That's my father, whom I love.
(the whom cannot be omitted)

  • Reducing clauses to phrases: both restrictive and non-restrictive clauses can be reduced to phrases:

The chair that is made out of wood is new. = The chair made out of wood is new.
(There's at least one other chair, which is not made out of wood. It's probably not new.)
My chair, which is made out of wood, is new. = My chair, made out of wood, is new.
(I only have one chair. It's made out of wood, and new.)

  • position: a non-restrictive phrase (reduced from a clause) can be moved in front of the subject of a sentence, if it modifies the subject. If the subject is a personal pronoun, this is the only possible position for an adjective phrase. (The result may look like and mean about the same thing as a reduced adverb clause.)
  • Which: can be used in a NON-restrictive clause to modify an entire proposition

1. Clauses with NO relative pronoun!

In RESTRICTIVE clauses, these relative pronouns can be omitted IF THEY ARE NOT THE SUBJECT OF THE CLAUSE. (The clause must still have a subject and a verb):

that ........... all (that) he and Marianne could say
who(m) ...... a man (whom) I can really love
which ........ complaints (which) politeness had hitherto restrained

2. Clauses reduced to phrases

Clauses (restrictive or nonrestrictive) in which who, which, or that is the SUBJECT can be reduced to phrases by omitting the relative pronoun and the part of the verb that agrees with the subject:

a. if the verb phrase begins with a form of the verb be, omit it along with the relative pronoun
b. if the verb phrase does not begin with be , change the verb to the present participle (-ing) and omit the relative pronoun
* in either case, you will be left with a phrase beginning with something that can follow be:

a noun (non-restrictive phrases only) -- often called an "appositive"

Bill Clinton, (who is) the President of the US, is from Arkansas.

an adjective (less common; usually only phrases, not single adjectives)

Clothes (which are) wet from the rain can be hung here.

a preposition

People (who are) from Iowa are especially nice.

a present participle (-ing)

The money (which/that was) lying on the table ... or
The money which/that lay on the table ...
= The money lying on the table was mine.

a past participle ( -ed, -en, etc.)

The money (that had been) placed on the table was mine.

c. if the verb is the main verb have, replace it with the preposition with (instead of changing the verb to having):

A man who has a lot of money isn't necessarily happy.
= A man with a lot of money isn't necessarily happy.

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN reduce a clause to a phrase DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD!: Notice that when you reduce a clause to a phrase, you LOSE the verb or the part of the verb that indicates the TIME. (Present participles are NOT "present"; past parciples are not "past.") If the time referred to will not be obvious from the rest of the sentence, it would not be a good idea to reduce the clause to a phrase!

Think about how strange this sentences would be if you reduced the adjective clause to an adjective phrase!:

The man who built the bridge is dead.

3. Special things about that

That is used only in RESTRICTIVE adjective clauses (never in NONRESTRICTIVE clauses)

Of course, that is also used in OTHER ways in English, not only in adjective clauses!:

-- as a demonstrative adjective or pronoun (That is not my book. That book is yours.)
-- to introduce a noun clause or indirect statement: (The idea that men could fly was new.)
-- in adverb clauses: (It was such a hot day that we closed the office.)

 

4. Expressions of quantity or nouns BEFORE the relative pronoun

NON-RESTRICTIVE clauses only:

Q = "quantifier" (... some children, 3 of whom were crying, came ...)
N = "noun" (... my house, a picture of which I have here, is located ... )

REDUCING TO PHRASES: [if the relative pronoun (actually, the quantifier or noun before the relative pronoun) is the subject of the adjective clause]:

In the first sentence above, 3 is the subject of were crying. The nonrestrictive adjective clause can be reduced to an adjective phrase by either:
... changing the relative pronoun to a personal pronoun (whom to them) and omitting the form of be

some children, 3 of them crying, came ...

... or omitting the of along with the relative pronoun and the form of be) :

some children, 3 crying, came ...

In the second sentence, picture is NOT the subject of the adjective clause. This one cannot be reduced to a phrase.

 

5. Other uses of who, which, and other "WH-words":

"WH-words" are also used:

-- in questions (Where are they?)
-- to introduce noun clauses or indirect questions (I don't know where they are.)

When do we use adjective clauses?

Adjective clauses are often used to make clear which person or thing we are writing or talking about. For example, you have a picture of three dinosaurs. Adjective clauses can help the reader or listener know which one you are referring to when you give their names.

 

The dinosaur that is on the left is a brontosaurus.

The dinosaur that is in the middle is a tyranosaurus rex.

The dinosaur that is on the right is a stegasaurus.

When an adjective clause is used to tell the reader or listener "which one" or "which ones," no commas are used. All of the examples we have seen so far are this type of adjective clause.

Here is another example. We are discussing different groups of students. The adjective clauses explain which group we are referring to.

 

The students who eat a good breakfast do better in class.

The students who skip breakfast cannot concentrate in class.

All the rules we have learned about adjective clauses so far are for this type of adjective clause.

 

 

The different kinds of adjective clauses

Before we can talk about how to make adjective clauses, let me give you some examples of the different kinds of adjective clauses. Click on the green question mark to understand the different types better.

 Subject Adjective Clauses

The people who came to my party had a good time.

 Object Adjective Clauses

The turkey that my father cooked was delicious.

 Possessive Adjective Clauses

The woman whose baby cried during dinner was my sister, Karen.

 Location Adjective Clauses

The house where we had the party belongs to my Uncle Kenneth.

 

Now try these exercises:

 http://web2.uvic.ca/courses/elc/studyzone/410/grammar/adj2.htm

http://web2.uvic.ca/elc/studyzone/410/grammat/adjord2.htm