Adjectives are words that describe, evaluate or define the meaning or qualities of a noun. Groups of words that describe the noun are also known as describers, classifiers, adjectivals or adjectival phrases. Classifiers can also take the form of nouns, numerals, and nouns or verbs that have -ed or -ing added. Such as pleated (noun plus -ed), or washing (verb plus ending –ing)

The form of an adjective remains the same, regardless of whether the noun it is modifying is singular or plural. Likewise, the form remains the same whether the noun is the subject of a sentence or an object elsewhere in the sentence. While a noun group can contain any number of adjectives the use of many can make the writing sound clumsy. When there is more than one adjective before a noun, there is a conventional order starting from the general moving to the specific. For example: The big red steam train rather than The red big steam train.

Adjectives order

Adjectives are usually more effective if they are listed according to the following conventional order which has the general moving to the specific.

A more complex use of language includes adjectives in noun groups with a relative pronoun, for example, who (for the subject), whom (used for the object), that, whose and which. This type of noun group, which is embedded, is more advanced and should be encouraged for older students. The previous sentence is an example of a noun group with an embedded clause. Other examples are:

  • Her dress, which was old and tattered, has been mended.
  • The book, that was the most exciting, was read by every child in the class.
  • The boy, who was tired and dirty, returned to an empty house.
  • The girl, for whom singing was so difficult and embarrassing, managed to finish the song.
  • Long lists of adjectives, rather than a cluster of words, should be discouraged as they are rarely effective except in specific contexts such as intentional exaggeration for humorous effects.

Effective adjectives build imagery in writing and play an important part in descriptive devices: The lonely city was lit by dull grey streetlights dotted randomly along the icy gutters.

Students should be able to choose and identify effective adjectives which add detail to the characters, mood, setting and imagery in what they read and write. They develop these skills by learning about adjectives and learning to use adjectives in contextual activities. The main types of adjectives are:

  • possessive adjectives, for example, my, his, her (possessive adjective lists
  • numbering adjectives, for example, two, many, lots of, five, ten, one, first, last, few, some
  • describing adjectives, for example, big, old, yellow, beautiful (includes factual adjectives such as
  • colour, size, shape, age, abstract or technical and classifying adjectives
  • comparing/superlative adjectives, for example, more delicate, best, bigger. Irregular Adjective list:
  • classifying adjectives, for example, Persian cat, air transport. These are particularly important in scientific texts where they may classify phenomena.
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