4. Grammar’s Response
Adjectives are words that describe or modify another person or thing in the sentence. The Articles — a, an, and the — are adjectives.
the tall professor
the lugubrious lieutenant
a solid commitment
a month's pay
a six-year-old child
the unhappiest, richest man
If a group of words containing a subject and verb acts as an adjective, it is called an Adjective Clause. My sister, who is much older than I am, is an engineer. If an adjective clause is stripped of its subject and verb, the resulting modifier becomes an Adjective Phrase: He is the man
who is keeping my family in the poorhouse.
Before getting into other usage considerations, one general note about the use — or over-use — of adjectives: Adjectives are frail; don't ask them to do more work than they should. Let your broad-shouldered verbs and nouns do the hard work of description. Be particularly cautious in your use of adjectives that don't have much to say in the first place: interesting, beautiful, lovely, exciting. It is your job as a writer to create beauty and excitement and interest, and when you simply insist on its presence without showing it to your reader — well, you're convincing no one.
Consider the uses of modifiers in this adjectivally rich paragraph from Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. (Charles Scribner's, 1929, p. 69.) Adjectives are highlighted in this color; participles, verb forms acting as adjectives, are highlighted in this blue. Some people would argue that words that are part of a name — like "East India Tea House — are not really adjectival and that possessive nouns — father's, farmer's — are not technically adjectives, but we've included them in our analysis of Wolfe's text.
He remembered yet the East India Tea House at the Fair, the sandalwood, the turbans, and the robes, the cool interior and the smell of India tea; and he had felt now thenostalgic thrill of dew-wet mornings in Spring, the cherry scent, the cool clarion earth, the wet loaminess of the garden, the pungent breakfast smells and the floating snow of blossoms. He knew the inchoate sharp excitement of hot dandelions in young earth; in July, of watermelons bedded in sweet hay, inside a farmer's covered wagon; of cantaloupe and crated peaches; and the scent of orange rind, bitter-sweet, before a fire of coals. He knew the good male smell of his father's sitting-room; of the smooth wornleather sofa, with the gaping horse-hair rent; of the blistered varnished wood upon the hearth; of the heated calf-skin bindings; of the flat moist plug of apple tobacco, stuck with ared flag; of wood-smoke and burnt leaves in October; of the brown tired autumn earth; of honey-suckle at night; of warm nasturtiums, of a clean ruddy farmer who comes weekly with printed butter, eggs, and milk; of fat limp underdone bacon and of coffee; of a bakery-oven in the wind; of large deep-hued stringbeans smoking-hot and seasoned well with salt and butter; of a room of old pine boards in which books and carpets have been stored, long closed; of Concord grapes in their long white baskets.
An abundance of adjectives like this would be uncommon in contemporary prose. Whether we have lost something or not is left up to you.
Unlike Adverbs, which often seem capable of popping up almost anywhere in a sentence, adjectives nearly always appear immediately before the noun or noun phrase that they modify. Sometimes they appear in a string of adjectives, and when they do, they appear in a set order according to category. (See Below.) When indefinite pronouns — such as something, someone, anybody — are modified by an adjective, the adjective comes after the pronoun:
Anyone capable of doing something horrible to someone nice should be punished.
Something wicked this way comes.
And there are certain adjectives that, in combination with certain words, are always "postpositive" (coming after the thing they modify):
The president elect, heir apparent to the Glitzy fortune, lives in New York proper.
See, also, the note on a- adjectives, below, for the position of such words as "ablaze, aloof, aghast."
Adjectives can express degrees of modification:
Gladys is a rich woman, but Josie is richer than Gladys, and Sadie is the richest woman in town.
Certain adjectives have irregular forms in the comparative and superlative degrees:
Be careful not to form comparatives or superlatives of adjectives which already express an extreme of comparison — unique, for instance — although it probably is possible to form comparative forms of most adjectives: something can be more perfect, and someone can have a fuller figure. People who argue that one woman cannot be more pregnant than another have never been nine-months pregnant with twins.
The as — as construction is used to create a comparison expressing equality:
He is as foolish as he is large.
She is as bright as her mother.
It would take a linguistic philosopher to explain why we say "little brown house" and not "brown little house" or why we say "red Italian sports car" and not "Italian red sports car." The order in which adjectives in a series sort themselves out is perplexing for people learning English as a second language. Most other languages dictate a similar order, but not necessarily the same order. It takes a lot of practice with a language before this order becomes instinctive, because the order often seems quite arbitrary (if not downright capricious). There is, however, a pattern. You will find many exceptions to the pattern in the table below, but it is definitely important to learn the pattern of adjective order if it is not part of what you naturally bring to the language.
The categories in the following table can be described as follows:
Determiners — articles and other limiters. See Determiners
Observation — postdeterminers and limiter adjectives (e.g., a real hero, a perfect idiot) and adjectives subject to subjective measure (e.g., beautiful, interesting)
Size and Shape — adjectives subject to objective measure (e.g., wealthy, large, round)
Age — adjectives denoting age (e.g., young, old, new, ancient)
Color — adjectives denoting color (e.g., red, black, pale)
Origin — denominal adjectives denoting source of noun (e.g., French, American, Canadian)
Material — denominal adjectives denoting what something is made of (e.g., woolen, metallic, wooden)
Qualifier — final limiter, often regarded as part of the noun (e.g., rocking chair, hunting cabin, passenger car, book cover)
It would be folly, of course, to run more than two or three (at the most) adjectives together. Furthermore, when adjectives belong to the same class, they become what we call coordinated adjectives, and you will want to put a comma between them: the inexpensive, comfortable shoes. The rule for inserting the comma works this way: if you could have inserted a conjunction — and or but — between the two adjectives, use a comma. We could say these are "inexpensive but comfortable shoes," so we would use a comma between them (when the "but" isn't there). When you have three coordinated adjectives, separate them all with commas, but don't insert a comma between the last adjective and the noun (in spite of the temptation to do so because you often pause there):
a popular, respected, and good looking student
See the section on Commas for additional help in punctuating coordinated adjectives.
When an adjective owes its origins to a proper noun, it should probably be capitalized. Thus we write about Christian music, French fries, the English Parliament, the Ming Dynasty, a Faulknerian style, Jeffersonian democracy. Some periods of time have taken on the status of proper adjectives: the Nixon era, a Renaissance/Romantic/Victorian poet (but a contemporary novelist and medieval writer). Directional and seasonal adjectives are not capitalized unless they're part of a title:
We took the northwest route during the spring thaw. We stayed there until the town's annual Fall Festival of Small Appliances.
See the section on Capitalization for further help on this matter.
When the definite article, the, is combined with an adjective describing a class or group of people, the resulting phrase can act as a noun: the poor, the rich, the oppressed, the homeless, the lonely, the unlettered, the unwashed, the gathered, the dear departed. The difference between a Collective Noun (which is usually regarded as singular but which can be plural in certain contexts) and a collective adjective is that the latter is always plural and requires a plural verb:
The rural poor have been ignored by the media.
The rich of Connecticut are responsible.
The elderly are beginning to demand their rights.
The young at heart are always a joy to be around.
The opposite or the negative aspect of an adjective can be formed in a number of ways. One way, of course, is to find an adjective to mean the opposite — an antonym. The opposite of beautiful isugly, the opposite of tall is short. A thesaurus can help you find an appropriate opposite. Another way to form the opposite of an adjective is with a number of prefixes. The opposite of fortunate isunfortunate, the opposite of prudent is imprudent, the opposite of considerate is inconsiderate, the opposite of honorable is dishonorable, the opposite of alcoholic is nonalcoholic, the opposite of being properly filed is misfiled. If you are not sure of the spelling of adjectives modified in this way by prefixes (or which is the appropriate prefix), you will have to consult a dictionary, as the rules for the selection of a prefix are complex and too shifty to be trusted. The meaning itself can be tricky; for instance, flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.
A third means for creating the opposite of an adjective is to combine it with less or least to create a comparison which points in the opposite direction. Interesting shades of meaning and tone become available with this usage. It is kinder to say that "This is the least beautiful city in the state." than it is to say that "This is the ugliest city in the state." (It also has a slightly different meaning.) A candidate for a job can still be worthy and yet be "less worthy of consideration" than another candidate. It's probably not a good idea to use this construction with an adjective that is already a negative: "He is less unlucky than his brother," although that is not the same thing as saying he is luckier than his brother. Use the comparative less when the comparison is between two things or people; use the superlative least when the comparison is among many things or people.
My mother is less patient than my father.
Of all the new sitcoms, this is my least favorite show.
Review the section on Compound Nouns and Modifiers for the formation of modifiers created when words are connected: a four-year-old child, a nineteenth-century novel, an empty-headed fool.
Review the section on Possessives for a distinction between possessive forms and "adjectival labels." (Do you belong to a Writers Club or a Writers' Club?)
Adjectives that are really Participles, verb forms with -ing and -ed endings, can be troublesome for some students. It is one thing to be a frightened child; it is an altogether different matter to be afrightening child. Do you want to go up to your professor after class and say that you are confused or that you are confusing? Generally, the -ed ending means that the noun so described ("you") has apassive relationship with something — something (the subject matter, the presentation) has bewildered you and you are confused. The -ing ending means that the noun described has a more active role — you are not making any sense so you are confusing (to others, including your professor).
The -ed ending modifiers are often accompanied by prepositions (these are not the only choices):
We were amazed at all the circus animals.
We were amused by the clowns.
We were annoyed by the elephants.
We were bored by the ringmaster.
We were confused by the noise.
We were disappointed by the motorcycle daredevils.
We were disappointed in their performance.
We were embarrassed by my brother.
We were exhausted from all the excitement.
We were excited by the lion-tamer.
We were excited about the high-wire act, too.
We were frightened by the lions.
We were introduced to the ringmaster.
We were interested in the tent.
We were irritated by the heat.
We were opposed to leaving early.
We were satisfied with the circus.
We were shocked at the level of noise under the big tent.
We were surprised by the fans' response.
We were surprised at their indifference.
We were tired of all the lights after a while.
Adverbs tell us in what way someone does something. Adverbs can modify verbs (here: drive), adjectives or other adverbs.
Adjectives tell us something about a person or a thing. Adjectives can modify nouns (here: girl)or pronouns (here: she).Mandy is a careful driver. This sentence is about Mandy, the driver, so use the adjective.
Mandy drives carefully. This sentence is about her way of driving, so use the adverb.
Adjective + -lyIf the adjective ends in -y, change -y to -i. Then add -ly.
If the adjective ends in -le, the adverb ends in -ly.
Example: terrible - terribly
If the adjective ends in -e, then add -ly.
Example: safe - safely
Tip: Not all words ending in -ly are adverbs.
adjectives ending in -ly: friendly, silly, lonely, ugly
nouns, ending in -ly: ally, bully, Italy, melancholy
verbs, ending in -ly: apply, rely, supply
There is no adverb for an adjective ending in -ly.
to modify verbs:
The soccer team played badly last Saturday.
to modify adjectives:
It was an extemely bad match.
to modify adverbs:
The soccer team played extremely badly last Wednesday.
to modify quantities:
There are quite a lot of people here.
to modify sentences:
Unfortunately, the flight to Dallas had been cancelled.
1) Adverbs of manner
2) Adverbs of degree
3) Adverbs of frequency
4) Adverbs of time
5) Adverbs of place
How do know whether to use an adjective or an adverb?
John is a careful driver. -> In this sentences we say how John is - careful.
If we want to say that the careful John did not drive the usual way yesterday - we have to use theadverb: John did not drive carefully yesterday.
Here is another example:
I am a slow walker. (How am I? -> slow -> adjective)
I walk slowly. (Ho do I walk? -> slowly -> adverb)
Adjective or Adverb after special verbs
Both adjectives and adverbs may be used after look, smell and taste. Mind the change in meaning.
Here are two examples:Do not get confused with good/well.
Linda looks good.
(What type of person is she?)
Linda looks well.
(How is Linda? -> She may have been ill, but now she is fit again.)
How are you? - I'm well, thank you.
One can assume that in the second/third sentence the adverb well is used, but this is wrong.
well can be an adjective (meaning fit/healthy), or an adverb of the adjective good.
Use the adjective when you say something about the person itself.
Use the adverb, when you want to say about the action.