Adjectives - English Grammar Notes

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  • An adjective is a word that describes or modifies a noun or a pronoun. To describe or modify means to provide additional information about nouns or pronouns. To modify further means to change something slightly.
  • Writers and speakers modify an idea or image by choosing certain describing words, which are called adjectives. Hence, these adjectives are also called modifiers.
  • Adjectives are like word cameras. They are words that describe colours, sizes and shapes. Adjectives help you capture how the world around you looks and feels.
  • Adjectives tell:
    • what kind?


      - The powerful gorilla knocked down the hunter.
      - The old man walked slowly.
    • how many?

      - Three zebras were resting.
      - He has few friends.
    • which one(s)?

      - This painting is attractive.
      - These farmers are clearing the field.
  • There are 4 main kinds of adjectives, namely:-
    • Descriptive adjectives
    • Definite and indefinite adjectives
    • Demonstrative adjectives
    • Interrogative adjectives
    • Articles and possessive adjectives

Descriptive Adjectives

  • Descriptive adjectives tell us the size, shape, age, colour, weight, height, make, nature and origin of the nouns they are describing.

    Examples of descriptive Adjectives:
    Size Shape Age Colour  Weight  Height  Make Nature Origin
  • Descriptive adjective are of two types.
    1. Common descriptive adjectives – these are adjectives that give general features of somebody or something. They are the adjectives of size, shape, age, colour, weight, height, make and nature. Refer to the examples in the diagram above.
    2. Proper adjectives – These ones are formed from proper nouns. They are always capitalized. They always appear last in a string of adjectives modifying the same noun, just before the noun itself.

      Examples of proper adjectives:
      The Japanese ambassador
      A Mexican carpet
      An Italian chef

      - Note that when a proper adjective comprises of two words, both are capitalized.

      A South African farmer
      A North American cowboy

Exercise 1

Find the adjectives in the following sentences and indicate what types they are.

  1. Alaska is the largest state in the USA.
  2. The Alaskan Senator is Lord John Mc Dougal.
  3. Mt. Kenya is the tallest mountain in Kenya.
  4. Alaska has a tiny population of one and a half million people.
  5. Northern Province has small, scattered towns.
  6. A trip to Northern Kenya will take you across vast wilderness.
  7. American tourists are fond of wild animals.
  8. There is a huge lake in the Rift Valley Province.
  9. I sent a letter to my Australian pen pal.
  10. I have a beautiful Egyptian robe.

Demonstrative Adjectives

  • A demonstrative adjective tells which one or which ones. They are used before nouns and other adjectives.
  • There are 4 demonstrative adjectives in English: This, that, these and those.
  • This and these are used to refer to nouns close to the speaker or writer. That and those refer to nouns farther away. This and that are used before singular nouns while these and those are used before plural nouns.

    This picture
    is very beautiful.
    Singular noun

    That one is not as beautiful
    Singular noun

    These drawings are very old.
    Plural noun

    Those ones were painted in Uganda.
    Plural noun.

Exercise 2

Choose the word in brackets that correctly completes each of the following sentences.

  1. My bus left the station before (that, those) matatus.
  2. (Those, These) chairs behind me were occupied.
  3. My seat has a better view than (this, that) one over there.
  4. (Those, That) man should fasten his seat belt.
  5. (This, That) car is old, but that one is new.
  6. (These, Those) clouds are far away.
  7. (This, That) window next to me has a broken pane.
  8. (That, This) chair near me is broken.
  9. My car is moving faster than (these, those) buses over there.
  10. (These, Those) goats grazing over there are my uncle’s.

Definite and Indefinite Adjectives

  • These are adjectives which tell how many or how much. They give the number or the quantity, either specific or approximate, of the noun in question. They are also referred to as numerals

    Three elephants were killed by the game rangers.
    He bought several houses in Kileleshwa.
    Don’t put much sugar in the tea!

    More examples of numerals
    Numbers  Amount  Approximate
  • Adjectives that are in form of numbers are used with countable nouns:

    Two calves were born yesterday.
    Five chimpanzees performed funny tricks.
    Many children like dinosaurs.
  • A definite or indefinite adjective may look like a pronoun, but it is used differently in a sentence. It is an adjective used to modify a noun.
  • Adjectives that are in form of quantity are used with uncountable nouns.


    Do you have any water in the house?
    How much flour did you buy?

Interrogative Adjectives

  • The interrogative adjectives are used with nouns to ask questions. Examples are whatwhich, and whose.

    - What movie do you want to see?
    - Which leaves turn colour first?
    - Whose son is he?
  • An interrogative adjective may look like an interrogative pronoun but it is used differently. It is an adjective, used to modify a noun.

Exercise 3

Underline the adjectives in the following sentences.

  1. Twenty bulls were slaughtered for wedding.
  2. Few people know the name of our president.
  3. They stole all the money in the safe.
  4. There isn’t much sugar in the dish.
  5. Numerous disasters have hit China this year.
  6. What game is playing on TV tonight?
  7. Whose car is that one over there?
  8. Which house was broken into?
  9. I don’t know what misfortune has faced him.
  10. Nobody knows which table was taken.

Articles and Possessive Pronouns

  • Two special kinds of adjectives are the articles and the possessive pronouns.


  • Articles are the words a, an and the. A and an are special adjectives called indefinite articles. They are used when the nouns they modify do not refer to any particular thing.


    A student rang the bells (no specific student)
    An orange is good for you health. (no specific orange)
  • A is used before a noun that begins with a consonant sound. An is used before a noun that begins with a vowel sound.
  • Note that it is the first sound of a noun, not the spelling, that determines whether to use a or an.

    An hour
    An heir
    A hall
  • The is a special adjective known as the definite article. It is used to refer to particular things.

    The tourist was robbed. (a particular tourist).
    The team began practising at 8 o’clock (a particular team).
  • All articles are adjectives. The is used with both singular and plural nouns, but a and an are used with singular nouns

    - The tourist, the tourists, a tourist
    - The adjective, the adjectives, an adjective

Exercise 4

Choose the correct article from the choices given in brackets in the following sentences.

  1. (A, An) mountain climber climbed Mt. Elgon.
  2. He went up a cliff and was stranded on (a, an) jagged rock.
  3. No one knew (a, the) route he had taken.
  4. (The, An) climber’s friend called the local police.
  5. The police began the search within (a, an) hour.
  6. A police dog followed (a, an) climber’s scent.
  7. A helicopter began (a, an) air search of the mountain.
  8. The dog followed the climber’s scent to (a, the) jagged edge of the cliff.
  9. A climber from (a, the) police team went down the jagged rock.
  10. (A, An) rope was tied to the climber and he was pulled to safety.

Possessive Pronouns

  • The words my, her, its, our and their are possessive pronouns, but they can also be used as adjectives. These modifiers tell which one, which ones or whose?

    - My brother likes Sean Paul, but his sister does not.
    - Of his songs, ever blazing is his favourite.
    - Our school produces heroes, its fame is widespread.

Exercise 5

Write the adjectives from the following sentences and the nouns they modify.

  1. In her lifetime, Brenda Fasie composed many songs.
  2. Her early songs entertained her fans all over the world.
  3. Our first performance was successful.
  4. Her coughing grew worse with time.
  5. They agreed that it was their best goal in ten years.

Position of Adjectives in Sentences

  1. Most adjectives appear immediately before the nouns they are modifying e.g.
    Descriptive: The beautiful house belongs to my uncle.
    Demonstrative: That house belongs to my uncle.
    Numerals: Two houses were burned down.
    Articles: The house on fire belongs to her sister.
    Possessive pronouns: Their house was burned down.
  2. Predicate Adjectives
    Some adjectives appear after the nouns that they are modifying. These adjectives are always used after linking verbs that separate them from the words they modify. An adjective that follows a linking verb and that modifies the subject is called a predicate adjective.

    Joyce seemed lonely.
    Her brother was upset.
    He became concerned.

Exercise 6

Identify the predicate adjectives in the following sentences.

  1. Her early songs were often quiet and serious.
  2. One of her songs, Vulindlela, is very popular.
  3. The dark city below the sky seems calm and peaceful.
  4. Her performance in K.C.S.E. was brilliant.
  5. The West African singer Kofi Olominde is extraordinary.

Comparing with Adjectives

  • We have seen that adjectives describe nouns. One way in which they describe nouns is by comparing people, places or things.
  • To compare two people, places or things, we use the comparative form of an adjective. To compare more than two, we use the superlative form of the adjective.

    ONE PERSON: Kimenju is tall.
    TWO PERSONS: Kimenju is taller than James.
    THREE OR MORE: Kimenju is the tallest of all.

The Comparative Form

  • The comparative form of the adjective is used to compare one thing, person or place with another one. It is formed in two ways.
    1. For short adjectives, add -er.
      great + er = greater           sweet + er = sweeter
      light + er = lighter.             
      big + er = bigger
    2. For longer adjectives, the comparative is formed by using the word more before them.
      More handsome               more remarkable
      More attractive                more hardworking

      - Most adjectives ending in -ful and -ous also form the comparative using more.
      More successful       more curious       more ferocious
      More beautiful         more generous     more prosperous

The Superlative Form

  • The superlative form of the adjective is used to compare a person, a place or a thing with more than one other of its kind.

    - Elephants are the largest animals in the jungle.
    - However, they are the most emotional animals.
  • The superlative form of an adjective is formed in two ways.
    1. By adding -est to the short adjective
      great + est = greatest           sweet + est = sweetest
      light + est = light                  big + est = biggest
    2. For longer adjectives, use most before them.
      most mysterious               most awkward
      most attractive                 most successful

      The ending -er in the comparative becomes -est in the superlative while more becomes most.
      Adjective Comparative Superlative
      more adventurous 
      more co-operative
      most adventurous
      most co-operative

Summary of Rules Comparing with Adjectives:

  Rule Examples
1. For most short adjectives:
Add -er or -est to the adjective
bright      dark        smart
brighter    darker    smarter
brightest   darkest  smartest
2. For adjectives ending with e:
Drop the e and add -er or -est
safe          nice       wide
safer         nicer      wider
safest        nicest    widest
3. For adjectives ending with a consonant and y:
Change the y to i and add -er or -est
busy         crazy      happy
busier       crazier    happier
busiest      craziest  happiest
4. For single-syllable adjectives ending with a single vowel and a consonant:
Double the last consonant and add -er or -est
flat           slim          fat
flatter       slimmer    fatter
flattest      slimmest  fattest
5. For most adjectives with two or more syllables: Use more or most careful generous
more careful more generous
most careful most generous

Points to Note about Adjectives:

  1. A comparative is used to compare two persons, or things or two groups of persons or things.

    - A rat is smaller than a mouse.
    - Buffaloes are larger than domestic cows
  2. A superlative is used to compare a thing or a person to more than one other of its kind.

    - Lions are the bravest of all animals.
    - Elephants are the largest of all herbivores.
  3. You must use the word other when comparing something with everything else of its kind.

    Leopards are more ferocious than any other cat.
  4. Do not use both -er and more or -est and most.
    Incorrect: Men die more earlier than women.
    Correct: Men die earlier than women.

    Incorrect: My father is the most oldest of the three brothers.
    CorrIect: My father is the oldest of the three brothers.

Exercise 7

Write the adjectives in brackets in the following sentences correctly.

  1. My next sculpture will be even ___________________ (beautiful).
  2. That was the ________________ cartoon I have ever watched (funny).
  3. English is my ____________ subject of all (enjoyable).
  4. Job is the ______________ person in his family. (energetic)
  5. She is the ______________ of the three nurses. (helpful)
  6. That story sounds ____________ than fiction. (strange)
  7. He is _______________ than a cat. (curious)
  8. Her school grades are ______________ than mine. (high)
  9. You are _______________ than Maria. (creative)
  10. My next test will be _______________ than this one. (simple)

Irregular Comparisons

  • Some adjectives have special forms for making comparisons. i.e. they do not form their comparatives by use of -er or more, or their superlatives by use of -est or most. Instead, these adjectives change the words completely to form comparatives and superlatives.

    Adjectives Comparative Superlative
    less or lesser 

Example of use in sentences:

The presentation of our play was good.
- Our second performance was better.
- But our last performance was the best.

Exercise 8

Write the correct forms of the adjectives in brackets in the following sentences.

  1. The comedy was the ________________ show of the three. (good)
  2. Mary had a _________________ cold yesterday. (bad)
  3. It was her ____________ performance this year. (good)
  4. Her illness is getting _____________ every day. (bad)
  5. The old woman received the _____________ amount of money from the MP. (little)
  6. Smoke your cigarette _______________ away from the children. (far)
  7. There was ______________ noise in the classroom than yesterday. (little)
  8. The musician said that that was a very ______________ year for him. (good)
  9. This year’s songs were much ______________ than last year’s. (good)
  10. He has the _____________ pairs of shoes in the school. (many)

Special Problems with Adjectives

  1. Those and Them
    • Those is an adjective if it followed by a noun. It is a pronoun if it is used alone.

      - Those thieves are daring! (adjective modifying thieves)
      - Those are thieves! (pronoun)
    • Them is always a pronoun. It is used only as the object of a verb or as the object of a preposition. It is never used as an adjective.

      - We followed them. (object of a verb)
      - They caught one of them. (object of a preposition)
      - We heard them thieves breaking the door. (incorrect)
  2. The extra Here and There with demonstrative adjectives
    • It is incorrect to use the demonstrative adjectives this, that, those, and these with here and there before the nouns they modify.

      “This here job”
      “That there house”
      “These here books”
      “Those there carpets”
    • The adjectives this and these include the meaning of here whereas the adjectives that and those include the meaning of there. Saying this here is like repeating oneself.
  3. Kind and sort with demonstrative adjectives
    • Kind and sort are singular and hence should be used with singular demonstrative adjectives this and that.

      - I like this kind of story.
      - She likes that sort of food.
    • Kinds and sorts are plural and should be used with plural demonstrative adjectives these and those.

      - Those sorts of horror movies scare me.
      - These kinds of sports are for strong people.

Exercise 9

Choose the correct adjectives from the ones given in brackets in the following sentences.

  1. A robot is one of (those, them) machines that looks and acts human.
  2. (These, This) sorts of machines are very strange.
  3. (This, This here) church was built in 1921.
  4. (Them, Those) mushrooms are very delicious.
  5. (Them, Those) soldiers won the battle.
  6. People call (these, this) kinds of songs Soul.
  7. John needed a name for (them, those) songs.
  8. (This, this here) play is called Aminata.
  9. Human beings have a fascination with (those, that) kind of machine.
  10. (These, This) sort of a car is meant for ministers.


Exercise 1

  1. largest 
  2. Alaskan 
  3. tallest 
  4. tiny 
  5. small, scattered
  6. vast
  7. American, wild
  8. huge
  9. Australian
  10. beautiful, Egyptian

Exercise 2

  1. those 
  2. Those 
  3. that 
  4. That 
  5. This
  6. Those
  7. This
  8. This
  9. those
  10. Those

Exercise 3

  1. Twenty 
  2. Few, our 
  3. all 
  4. much 
  5. Numerous, this
  6. What
  7. Whose
  8. Which
  9. what
  10. which

Exercise 4

  1. the 
  2. The 
  3. an
  4. the
  5. an
  6. the
  7. the
  8. A

Exercise 5

  1. many – songs
  2. Her, early – songs, her – fans
  3. Our, first – performance
  4. Her – coughing
  5. their, best – goal, ten – years

Exercise 6

  1. quiet, serious
  2. popular
  3. calm, peaceful
  4. brilliant
  5. extraordinary

Exercise 7

  1. more beautiful 
  2. funniest 
  3. most enjoyable 
  4. most energetic 
  5. most helpful
  6. stranger
  7. more curious
  8. higher
  9. more creative
  10. simpler

Exercise 8

  1. Best 
  2. Bad 
  3. Best 
  4. Worse 
  5. Least
  6. Farther
  7. Less or lesser 
  8. Good
  9. Better
  10. Most

Exercise 9

  1. those 
  2. These 
  3. This 
  4. Those 
  5. Those
  6. these
  7. those
  8. This
  9. that
  10. This
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