Adjectives give a listener or reader more specific information about a noun or pronoun. For instance, if a group of people were asked to think of the word car, each person might have a different mental image. That's because the word car by itself is too general. But if the words red and convertible were added, the visual images would be more similar because the car has been described more specifically. An adjective is what we call a modifier; it answers any of three specific questions about the noun(s) or pronoun(s) it is modifying: what kind? (friendly, robust, spiky), which one(s)? (this, that, these, those), or how many? (nine, few, many, some).
While adjectives typically come before the noun(s) they are modifying, they may come afterward, too.
Tip: Remember, adjectives paint pictures for a reader or listener. So use colorful adjectives to describe how something or someone looks (scarlet, tall), sounds (noisy, melodic), feels (humid, gloomy), tastes (bitter, chewy), or smells (acrid, pungent).
Three words we use in our everyday language—a, an, and the—are special adjectives called articles. There are two types of articles: the definite article (the), which implies something specific (not just any roadmap but this particular roadmap) and the indefinite article (a or an), which is nonspecific (pick a roadmap; any one will do).
Tip: Sometimes deciding whether to use a or an can be tricky. The best way to decide is to use your ears. The word igloo, for instance, begins with an initial vowel sound (short i ), so it takes the indefinite article an. The word ferocious, on the other hand, begins with an initial consonant sound (f ), so it takes the indefinite article a. But do not let the beginning letter fool you. For instance, although the word one begins with a vowel, it has an initial consonant sound (w), so it takes a, not an.
Proper adjectives look like proper nouns because they are capitalized, but they are modifying nouns, and therefore, are adjectives. The phrases English tea, Wilson family, and Chinese yo-yo begin with a proper adjective, each answering the question what kind? or which one? about the noun it is modifying:
|What kind of tea?||English|
|What kind of yo-yo?||Chinese|
Pronouns as Adjectives
A pronoun such as he, she, or it takes the place of a noun. If a noun can play the role of an adjective, so, too, can a pronoun. Some personal pronouns fall into the category of possessive adjectives: my, your, his, her, its, our, their. Take care not to confuse possessive adjectives with the possessive pronouns mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs. (You can review pronouns in Lesson 3.) While possessive pronouns can stand alone, a noun must follow a possessive adjective, which answers which one? about that noun.
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