English in Use/Adjectives

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English in Use
General ContentsIntroduction
Parts of speech ArticlesNounsVerbsGerunds and participlesPronounsAdjectivesAdverbsPrepositions, Conjunctions and Interjections
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An adjective is a word added to a noun or pronoun, and generally expresses quality: as, A wise man; a new book; you two are diligent. Adjectives may be divided into six classes; namely, common, proper, numeral, pronominal, participial, and compound.

A common adjective is any ordinary epithet, or adjective denoting quality or situation: as, good, bad, peaceful, warlike, eastern, western, outer, inner.

A proper adjective is an adjective formed from a proper name: as, American, English, Platonic, Genoese.

A numeral adjective is an adjective that expresses a definite number: as, one, two, three, four, five, six, etc.

A pronominal adjective is a definitive word which may either accompany its noun, or represent it understood: as,

  • "All join to guard what each desires to gain."—Pope.

That is,

  • "All men join to guard what each man desires to gain."

A participial adjective is one that has the form of a participle, but differs from it by rejecting the idea of time: as,

  • "An amusing story,"
  • "A lying divination."

A compound adjective is one that consists of two or more words joined together, either by the hyphen or solidly: as, nut-brown, laughter-loving, four-footed; threefold, lordlike, lovesick.

Cardinal: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, etc.

Ordinal: first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth, twenty-first, twenty-second, etc.

Multiplicative: single or alone, double or twofold, triple or threefold, quadruple or fourfold, quintuple or fivefold, sextuple or sixfold, septuple or sevenfold, octuple or eightfold, etc.

All that occur above decuple or tenfold, are written with a hyphen, and are usually of round numbers only: as, thirty-fold, sixty-fold, hundred-fold.

Adjectives ending in ing and ed

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Adjectives word order

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In English, multiple adjectives should follow a certain pattern as follows:

  1. opinion (e.g. lovely, fantastic)
  2. size (e.g. tiny, large)
  3. most other qualities (e.g. warm, tight)
  4. age (e.g. new, young)
  5. colour (e.g. red, beige)
  6. pattern (e.g. stripy, plain)
  7. nationality (e.g. Spanish, foreign)
  8. material (e.g. silk, cotton)

Although you generally shouldn't use more than 2 or 3 adjectives together it is possible to make a sentence like this:

  • "I just bought a lovely, large, warm, new, red, stripey, foreign, cotton sweater."


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Adjectives have, commonly, no modifications but the forms of comparison. Comparison is a variation of the adjective, to express quality in different degrees: as, hard, harder, hardest; soft, softer, softest.

There are three degrees of comparison; the positive, the comparative, and the superlative.

The 'positive degree is that which is expressed by the adjective in its simple form: as,

  • "An elephant is large; a mouse, small; a lion, fierce, active, bold, and strong."

The comparative degree is that which is more or less than something contrasted with it: as,

  • "A whale is larger than an elephant; a mouse is a much smaller animal than a rat."

The superlative degree is that which is most or least of all included with it: as,

  • "The whale is the largest of the animals that inhabit this globe; the mouse is the smallest of all beasts."—Dr. Johnson.

Those adjectives whose signification does not admit of different degrees, cannot be compared: as, two, second, all, every, immortal, infinite.

Those adjectives which may be varied in sense, but not in form, are compared by means of adverbs: as, fruitful, more fruitful, most fruitful; fruitful, less fruitful, least fruitful.

Regular comparison

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Adjectives are regularly compared, when the comparative degree is expressed by adding er, and the superlative, by adding est to them: as, great, greater, greatest; mild, milder, mildest.

In the variation of adjectives, final consonants are doubled, final e is omitted, and final y is changed to i, agreeably to the rules for spelling: as, hot, hotter, hottest; wide, wider, widest; happy, happier, happiest.

The regular method of comparison belongs almost exclusively to monosyllables, with dissyllables ending in w or y, and such others as receive it and still have but one syllable after the accent: as, fierce, fiercer, fiercest; narrow, narrower, narrowest; gloomy, gloomier, gloomiest; serene, serener, serenest; noble, nobler, noblest; gentle, gentler, gentlest.

Comparison by adverbs

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The two degrees of superiority may also be expressed with precisely the same import as above, by prefixing to the adjective the adverbs more and most: as, wise, more wise, most wise; famous, more famous, most famous; amiable, more amiable, most amiable.

The degrees of inferiority are expressed, in like manner, by the adverbs less and least: as, wise, less wise, least wise; famous, less famous, least famous; amiable, less amiable, least amiable. The regular method of comparison has, properly speaking, no degrees of this kind.

Nearly all adjectives that admit of different degrees, may be compared by means of the adverbs; but, for short words, the regular method is generally preferable: as, quick, quicker, quickest; rather than, quick, more quick, most quick.

Irregular comparison

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The following adjectives are compared irregularly: good, better, best; bad, evil, or ill, worse, worst; little, less, least; much, more, most; many, more, most.

A short syntax

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Adjectives relate to nouns or pronouns, as "Worldly enjoyments," except the following cases: an intervening verb, as "To err is human," arithmetical numbers, as "Four hundred and fifty-six men," an abstract adjective, as "Being sublime," and an adjective as abstract noun, as "Sensations of sublime."

An adjective is placed immediately before noun, as "Vain man," except the following cases: pronouns, as "They left me weary," other words, as "A mind conscious of right," an action, as "Virtue renders life happy," admiration, as "Goodness infinite," a verb, as "Truth stands independent," a prefix a, as afraid, the nature of a participle, as "The time then present," poetry, as "Isles atlantic," technical usage, as "Notary public," an adjective, as "A being infinitely wise," several adjectives, as "A woman, modest, sensible, and virtuous," empathy, as "Weighty is the anger," an adjective in predicate, as "We call the boy good," and an adjective as adverb, as "Particularly".


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See also

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