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An Introduction to Adjectives

Do you ever feel like you’re not using the right word to describe something, but you can’t put your finger on what that word should be? If so, don’t worry. This happens to native and non-native English speakers alike. You could be in need of an adjective, the part of speech specifically created to describe things. 

This page will teach you what an adjective is, how adjectives function in a sentence, and explain when and how to use them. You’ll also learn some additional adjective definitions and examples that can help improve your writing skills. 

If you’re looking for a deeper dive, or just need a refresher on the definition of an adjective in general, you’ve come to the right place. Get ready to learn everything you need to know about the meaning of adjectives.

Here’s a break down of the sections in this article:

  • How to define an adjective
  • What is the function of an adjective?
  • What is an adjective clause?
  • How do you define an adjective phrase?
  • How do you define other types of adjectives?
  • What is the definition of a descriptive adjective?
  • What is a quantity or number adjective?
  • What is a possessive adjective?
  • What is a demonstrative adjective?
  • What’s the definition of an interrogative adjective?
  • What is a ‘scale’ adjective?
  • What’s the definition of an adjective in the absolute form?
  • What is an adjective in the comparative form?
  • What is an adjective in the superlative form?
  • What is adjective order all about?
  •  Summary                                           

How to Define an Adjective

So what is the meaning of an adjective? To help you understand what an adjective is, the simplest definition is as follows: Adjectives describe nouns.

In other words, they describe people, places, and things. If you’re like most people, you probably use nouns and pronouns all the time in conversation. By adding an adjective, you qualify or add to the meaning of a noun. Each individual adjective definition differs from word to word.

You can use adjectives to provide more information about that person, place, or thing. With the right modifying word, you also can change how the subject or object is understood or perceived.

What Is the Function of an Adjective?

Next, we’ll go over what an adjective is in more detail, especially the different types of adjectives and when to use which for your sentence.

To help you better understand the function of an adjective, let’s take this sentence for example:

  • The bunny hopped through the forest.

You can probably imagine the large trees surrounding a bunny as it hops around.

Now, let’s use adjectives to modify the sentence:

  • The chubby bunny hopped through the mysterious forest.

This example draws a different mental image, doesn’t it? By adding adjectives to modify the nouns, you arrive at a totally new scene.

So what is the meaning of an adjective again? The definition of an adjective is a word that describes nouns and pronouns. Some examples include words like cold, quiet, clever, and strange. Of course, these words themselves have adjective definitions.

Click here for more examples of what the function of an adjective is, or keep reading to learn about the next topic about the adjective clause definition. 

What Is an Adjective Clause?

Now that you know what the meaning of an adjective is, as well as the function of an adjective, we’ll explore adjective clauses.

The definition of an adjective clause is as follows:

An adjective clause is a group of words that must contain at least two parts:

  1. a subject
  2. a verb.

This group of words should also express something about the subject of the sentence.

An adjective clause, by definition, is more than one word. The whole statement modifies a noun or pronoun. An adjective clause’s definition is a group of words that begins with relative adverbs or relative pronouns such as who, where, when, which, whom, whose, or that.

Still wondering about the definition of an adjective clause?

Here are some helpful examples to show what an adjective clause is:

  • Strawberries, which are grown in California, are the sweetest.
  • The students who study the most earn the best grades.
  • I always have fun when I travel to the beach.

As you can see, an adjective clause is what gives us more information about the subject, without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Now that you understand the definition of an adjective clause, we’ll explore how to define adjective phrases.

In addition to proper grammar, good research papers also need proper citations. Want to know how to cite sources for your next paper? Here’s some info about MLA format and APA format.

How Do You Define an Adjective Phrase?

An adjective phrase, like an adjective clause, is a group of words. However, an adjective phrase does not include a verb.

An adjective phrase includes an adjective and other words that modify nouns, so that’s the definition of an adjective phrase compared to the definition of an adjective clause. 

In these examples, the main descriptive word is in bold and the whole phrase is in italics:

  • The baby was perfectly quiet at the movie theater.
  • My bike was recklessly damaged after I jumped off the ramp.
  • Jake is incredibly gifted at playing the air guitar.

Want more information about phrases? Check this out! 

To summarize, adjective clauses and adjective phrases are basically defined as groups of words that modify nouns. The key difference is that adjective clauses include a verb, and adjective phrases do not.

How Do You Define Other Types of Adjectives?

So now that you understand the function of adjective clauses and phrases, let’s go over some additional types of adjectives.

What is the function of different types of adjectives like articles? There are many types of adjectives that all play unique roles in a sentence.

The most common are articles, which include the words a, an, and the. Both a and an speak on general things, while the discusses specific things. Articles are also commonly defined as indefinite and definite articles if you hear that terminology and are wondering about the meaning. So, in other words, a and an are indefinite, and the is definite.

Here are a few examples:

  • Jessie went on a walk (general). Perhaps she’s going to the store (specific).
  • Thomas wants a stuffed animal (general). He likes the one with green eyes best (specific).

In addition, there are many more categories. Let’s discuss several.

What is the Definition of a Descriptive Adjective?

Want a descriptive adjective definition? These words are your “normal” describing words. They simply give a description of nouns and pronouns. Going back to the overall function of an adjective we discussed earlier in this article, adjectives basically are defined as describing words.

True, there are many types of these describing words, but if at any point you’re wondering again about what the function of an adjective is, you can always come back to that basic definition.

Here are a few examples of descriptive adjectives:

  • Terry disliked the bitter tea. (Adjective’s definition: bitter means to have a sharp taste or smell)
  • But she loved the tart taste of the tapioca. (Adjective’s definition: tart means to have a sharp, acidic quality of taste or smell)
  • Henry, however, wanted a heavier meal. (Adjective’s definition: heavier means substantial)

As you can see from these examples, the function of descriptive adjectives is basically to add more specific detail to the noun it’s describing.

What is a Quantity or Number Adjective?

Next, let’s define the quantity and number adjectives. A simple definition of these types of adjectives: They describe how much or how many of something there are.

For example:

  • Steve has a large family of three girls and two boys.
  • He wants as many children as he can have.
  • Have you ever eaten a full pint of ice cream in one night? I have!

If you’re looking for a quick way to identify the function of quantity or number adjectives, think of them as words that answer these questions: How many? How much?

What Is a Possessive Adjective?

So what is the meaning of an adjective in possessive form? Here’s a possessive adjective definition. You use them to describe whether something belongs to someone.

Words that show possession include theirs, yours, and hers.

Here are a few examples:

  • That’s her photo. It was taken at her favorite theme park.
  • You heard right; it’s my photo. You can’t take it because it’s mine, not yours.
  • This watermelon is for us! My mom grew it in our backyard.

What Is a Demonstrative Adjective?

So what is the demonstrative adjective definition? A demonstrative word helps you point out a specific noun or pronoun.

You use these, those, that, and this to refer to nouns or pronouns. Which one you use depends on whether something is close in proximity to you, far away, singular, or plural.

Examples:

  • Do you need this key in my hand? (Singular and close to you)
  • Or are you looking for that key sitting by the bed? (Singular and far away from you)
  • Are these the keys you’re looking for? (Plural and close to you)
  • Or did you find those keys downstairs near the front door? (Plural and far away)

What’s the Definition of an Interrogative Adjective?

So, what is the meaning of an interrogative adjective? You can use interrogative adjectives to ask for the information you need. If the word precedes a noun, then it’s an interrogative adjective. 

You use certain words like what, whose, and which to ask questions or interrogate. 

Examples:

  • What television show is your favorite?
  • Whose baseball cap is this?
  • Which video game do you recommend playing?

Another way to spot an interrogative adjective is by noticing if the sentence is a question, so that’s one easy tip for remembering the definition of interrogative adjectives.

Are you sure you’re following all the grammar rules? If not, look at this helpful grammar check. Struggling with citations? Citation Machine can help you make citations in MLA, APA, and more styles.

What Is a ‘Scale’ Adjective?

So, what is the meaning of an adjective for scale? The function of some adjectives is to express the relative scale of what you’re discussing. For example, small, smaller, and smallest.

These three words tell us about different scales of comparison using the same base adjective presented in absolute, comparative, and superlative form.

These describe a word’s position on the scale. Smallest is smaller than small. Small is larger than something smaller. That’s the adjective scale definition.

Here are some examples:

  • Fred is younger than Jake, who is the youngest in his family.
  • Laurie’s painting is the most beautiful one I’ve seen. It’s much more beautiful than mine.

What’s the Definition of an Adjective in the Absolute Form?

What is the function of an adjective in the absolute form? The absolute form is basically defined as an adjective that describes the lowest point or baseline on the scale of comparison.

Examples:

  • The weather in Phoenix is hot.
  • A tiger is a large animal. 

What Is an Adjective in the Comparative Form?

What’s the function of an adjective in comparative form? An adjective in comparative form compares two things. Basically, the comparative form represents the middle point. 

Examples:

  • Yet the weather in Timbuktu is hotter.
  • A giraffe is a larger animal. 

As you can see from these examples, the comparative adjectives are defined as words to use when you’re comparing two things. An easy way to remember the definition of a comparative adjective: They end in -er.

What Is an Adjective in the Superlative Form?

What is the definition of an adjective in the superlative form? The definition of superlative adjectives means they’re about the top point on the scale. Most importantly, superlative adjectives always refer to three or more things. 

Examples:

  • But let’s not forget that El Azizia, Libya, has the hottest recorded temperature in history.
  • Out of all land mammals, an elephant is the largest.

Pro tip if you’re ever forgetting the definition of superlative adjectives: They end in –est.

To recap the definition of adjectives in the comparative and superlative form, they explain the levels on a scale, so think good, better, best as a simple way to remember their definition.

What is Adjective Order All About?

By now, you should be able to answer the question of what an adjective is and list the different types of adjectives. You already know there are a lot of rules when it comes to adjectives, so here’s one more to keep in mind. 

The order of adjectives matters. Yes, there’s even a specific order that describing words go in.

So, what is the proper adjective order? First, you have a size word, next comes an age word, and then comes a color word.

Example:

  • The large, old, blue lunchbox belongs to my great-great-grandfather.

Neat, huh? Another helpful way to know whether you’re listing the order of adjectives properly is to read the sentence aloud. If it sounds strange, then chances are, the order of the adjectives is off. See if you can come up with an example of your own using three or more describing words.

Summary

Hopefully, after reading this, you feel like the adjective expert, and you can answer the question: What is an adjective? Now that you know the definition of adjectives, understand their function and see how they can be used to enhance a sentence, you’re well on your way to improving your writing skills.

And, if you ever get tripped up and need a reminder about the definition of an adjective, you can always come back to this guide for a refresher.


Published March 5, 2019. Updated May 14, 2020.

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