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Adjectives: Grammar Review Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Adjectives: Grammar Review Practice Exercises.

Adjectives and adverbs are like the vibrant paints on an artist's palette that she uses to create the picture she sees; likewise, a writer paints pictures with his words so his readers can not only understand his ideas, but enjoy reading about them, too. In other words, if you were hungry and went to the pantry or fridge to scope out a tasty snack, would you grab the box of plain, low-sodium crackers or opt for a helping of chips and salsa?

Not to knock crackers. Sometimes they are just what the doctor ordered. And, sometimes, a no-frills, get-to-the-point sentence or paragraph is what you have to write. Let's face it, not all creations have to be a masterpiece. But when the creative mood strikes, adjectives and adverbs add a spark to your writing.

Common Adjectives

Simply put, adjectives describe nouns and pronouns. They give more specific information about a person, place, or thing. Take the word house, for instance. Alone, the word is general. Add the words two-story and yellow, and you have a clearer picture of the house in your mind. Sometimes, you hear adjectives referred to as modifiers. Modify means "to change," and in truth, adjectives change a noun by making it more specific.

Adjectives answer three specific questions about nouns and pronouns.

What kind? long, short, heavy, red, excellent, difficult
Which one(s)? this, that, these, those
How many? some, few, many, eight, 4,000

To decide if a word is an adjective, simply ask yourself these three questions. Let's put it to the test.

The moldy, green bread made Josh lose his appetite for the milehigh turkey sub.

The words green and moldy seem to describe the noun bread (a thing), but just to make certain, let's ask ourselves whether they answer What kind? Which one? How many? Both words answer what kind of bread (moldy and green—yuck!), making them both adjectives. Now, do you see any other adjectives in the sentence? If you pointed to mile-high and turkey, you are correct. Both words answer what kind of sub (a thing). Excellent!

Let's try another one.

That striped shirt clashes with your plaid pants.

The noun shirt (a thing) is being described, or modified, by two words: that (which answers which shirt) and striped (which answers what kind of shirt). The other noun, pants (a thing), is being described by the adjectives your (which answers which pants) and plaid (which answers what kind of pants). Good job!

Fuel For Thought

Adjectives usually come before the noun they are modifying, but not always. Let's go back to the moldy sub for a moment.

The moldy, green bread made Josh lose his appetite for the milehigh turkey sub.

With a little tweak here and there, you can easily reword the sentence to make the adjectives come after the noun.

The bread, moldy and green, made Josh lose his appetite for the sub piled a mile high with turkey.
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