Adjectives

Adjectives modify (describe) nouns. Adjectives are divided into categories based on class.

Number: twelve, several, few
Opinion: beautiful, ugly, worthwhile
Size: large, short, tall
Condition: rough, smooth, fuzzy
Shape: round, square, triangular
Age: old, young, middle-aged
Color: red, green, plaid
Origin: French, Western, terrestrial
Material: metal, stone, wool
Purpose: (usually nouns or –ing verbs used as adjectives)

Why does it matter?
Word order. Adjectives follow the particular pattern above. You would never say “the square, green, ugly box” it will always be “the ugly, square, green box.”

Qualitative versus Classifying
Qualitative adjectives give information about the trait(s) of the noun: size, condition, shape, age, and color adjectives are qualitative.

Classifying adjectives show what class(es) a noun belongs to: number, origin, material, and purpose are classifying.

Why does it matter?
Classifying adjectives can’t take an adverb. While we can say “very tall” and “very red,” we can’t say “very twelve” or “very electronic.”

Positive, Comparative, and Superlative
Adjectives can be also be grouped by degree.

Positive adjectives modify one noun or group of nouns: the trees are tall; the trees and bushes are green.

Comparative adjectives compare one noun or group of nouns to another: the trees are taller than the bushes; the trees and bushes are greener than the grass.

Superlative adjectives compare one noun or group of nouns to everything else in the group: this is the tallest tree; these are the greenest trees and bushes.

Most adjectives follow the same pattern for creating the comparative and superlative forms: adjective + -er = comparative; adjective + -est = superlative: green, greener, greenest; tall, taller, tallest.

Some adjectives use “more” and “most” to form the comparative and superlative: fun, more fun, most fun; bizarre, more bizarre, most bizarre; difficult, more difficult, most difficult.

Some adjectives have irregular forms for the comparative and superlative: good, better, best; bad, worse, worst; much, more, most; far, further/farther, furthest/farthest.

Little is another special one. When it refers to size, little follows the normal pattern (little, littler, littlest), but when it refers to number, little has an irregular pattern: little, less, least.

If you’re not sure whether an adjective uses more/most or –er/–est, your best bet is to check the dictionary. While there are guidelines (the longer a word, the more likely it is to use more/most), there are exceptions to these rules.

Why does it matter?
Since most native speakers use the correct forms naturally, knowing the names might not make a difference. However, your beta readers, critique partner, or editor might use the terms, so it’s good to know them.

Attributive, Postpositive, and Predicative
These categories describe the placement of adjectives. If the adjective is right before the noun it modifies, like “the guilty man” it’s attributive. If it is placed after the noun it modifies, “the jury found the man guilty,” it’s postpositive. If it appears after a linking verb, as in “the man is guilty,” it’s predicative.

Why does it matter?
While many adjectives can be placed in any of the three positions, some can’t.

You couldn’t say “the alive plant,” but “I’m keeping the plant alive” and “the plant is alive” are both fine.

Likewise, “The main idea” is fine, but you can’t say “the idea is main” or “the idea main” without getting some funny looks.

Substantive Adjectives
These are adjectives that act like nouns. Think about one of Clint Eastwood’s most famous roles: Blondie in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Native English speakers know good, bad, and ugly are adjectives, and we understand them to mean “good people,” “bad people,” and “ugly people.”

If you’re familiar with the New Testament, there’s a similar occurrence in the Beatitudes: “blessed are the meek” and “blessed are the merciful.” Again, meek and merciful are adjectives, but readers easily understand that they mean “meek people” and “merciful people.”

This also happens in in sentences like, “I don’t like milk chocolate, but I love dark.” Here too, most readers will know that “dark” also modifies “chocolate.”

NB: Unless stated otherwise, as in the chocolate example, substantive nouns refer to “people” or “things.”

Why does it matter?
If you’re familiar with substantive adjectives, you can use them to change up sentences and reduce repetition.

Any Questions?

See more from my grammar guide.

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