Adjectives for English Grammar

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Aug 12, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Adjectives Practice Exercises for English Grammar

Types of Adjectives

There are three types of adjectives: descriptive, limiting, and proper.

Descriptive adjectives name a quality or condition of the element modified: a perfect marriage, a red dress, an honest attorney, running water, a broken axle.

Limiting adjectives identify or enumerate the element modified: that table, present company, many illnesses, his love, seven days, fifth stanza.

Proper adjectives are descriptive adjectives that are derived from proper names: Indian customs, French perfume, Austrian cuisine, Chinese checkers, African violets.

Limiting Adjectives

Limiting adjectives are classified according to their functions as demonstrative, indefinite, interrogative, numerical, possessive, or relative.

A demonstrative adjective indicates or specifies the noun or pronoun it modifies: this one, that one, these men, those women.

An indefinite adjective indicates more broadly the noun or pronoun it modifies: all people, any person, each one, most people, many pennies, no book, some support, several others. There are many other indefinite adjectives.

An interrogative adjective asks a question as it modifies a noun or pronoun: Whose hat is missing? What time is it? Which one will you take?

A numerical adjective specifies a number as it modifies a noun or pronoun. Numerical adjectives may be either cardinal or ordinal. Cardinal: six robins, twenty-four ounces. Ordinal: third horse, first violin, thirty-sixth President of the United States.

A possessive adjective denotes ownership as it modifies a noun or pronoun: my mistake, one's tennis serve, his elbow, her prerogative, its aroma, our company, their pride.

A relative adjective introduces a subordinate clause that modifies a noun or pronoun. Whose is the only relative adjective. Its function is illustrated in the following sentence:

The lad whose mother died has left school. (The subordinatae clause whose mother died modifies lad. The clause is introduced by the relative adjective whose, which is part of the modifier.)

Predicate Adjectives

Predicate adjectives complete copulative, or linking, verbs: act, be, become, feel, prove, seem, etc.

Copulative verbs are also completed by predicate nouns. Together, predicate adjectives and predicate nouns are referred to as predicate complements. (See page 22.)

The following sentences illustrate both types of predicate complements:

She acts sick whenever Monday arrives. (The copulative verb acts has as its complement sick; sick is an adjective, so sick is a predicate adjective.)

Anne is a radiologist. (Because radiologist is a noun, radiologist is a predicate noun.)

Harry is happy. (Because happy is an adjective, happy is a predicate adjective.)

Position of Adjectives

Except for predicate adjectives, adjectives are usually placed next to the nouns or pronouns they modify, and the most common position of all is immediately before the element modified:

    beautiful shoes, happy child, old woman (descriptive adjectives)
    this book, many poems, six months (limiting adjectives)
    Greek grammar, Italian cooking, Russian music (proper adjectives)

In some constructions, adjectives can also be placed immediately after the element modified:

    a poemshort and beautiful (The writer has chosen this construction for its pleasing rhythm.)
    attorney general, court-martial (These terms were expressed this way in French and are accepted as English expressions.)
    a tale so sad that all who heard it cried (Because the adjective sad is itself modified by the clause that follows, its normal position is changed.)

Except in rare constructions, predicate adjectives follow the verbs they complete:

    Jack looked doubtful.
    Barbara seemed angry.
    John felt hopeless.
    Innocent was the Child. (This type of construction is reserved for special stylistic effect.)
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