Adjectives in English Grammar

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What is an adjective?

Adjectives are describing words. They modify nouns or pronouns and give us more information about a person, place or thing.

Adjectives not only make your writing more interesting, but they also help you to be specific.

—I like that house.
—Which one?
—The small green house with the colourful door.

Learn all about adjectives, their placement and their comparative forms with Lingolia, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Placement of adjectives

We place adjectives:

I live in a small village.
The town hall is a historical building.
The local market sells fresh produce.
  • after linking verbs (appear, be, look, seem, smell, taste …). Linking verbs connect a noun with an adjective.
The neighbours seem friendly.
The village is famous for its apple juice.
The juice tastes great.

Order of adjectives

In general, we place a maximum of 2-3 adjectives before a noun.

A nice wooden chair.

There are two general rules that help us to decide on the order of these adjectives:

  • Rule 1: opinion adjectives (nice, good, bad, pretty …) come before fact adjectives (new, old, big, round, metal, red …)
A nice wooden chair.
nice = my opinion; wooden = factual information
  • Rule 2: general adjectives (old, hot, small …) come before more specific or identifying adjectives (wooden, Italian, striped …)
An expensive local cheese.
there are many expensive cheeses, but only a few that are local to my area

If the adjectives come after a linking verb, we connect the final two with and.

This cheese is delicious, fresh and local.

If two adjectives of the same type come before the noun, they are also connected with and.

A pretty woollen blanket.
one opinion adjective (pretty); one fact adjective (woollen)
but: A pink and yellow blanket.
two colour adjectives

Note: the order of the adjectives black and white is fixed.

A black and white photo.
not: A white and black photo.

Complete rule for adjective placement in English

Although we rarely need it, the complete rule for the order of English adjectives is as follows:

Order Type Example
1 opinion beautiful, funny, interesting, unusual …
2 size big, small, tall, long …
3 physical quality bald, blond, thin, muscular …
4 shape round, square, triangular …
5 age young, old, middle-aged …
6 colour blue, green, pink, yellow
7 origin Canadian, European, Turkish …
8 material cotton, wool, metal, paper …

Non-gradable adjectives

We can classify adjectives into gradable and non-gradable.

Most adjectives are gradable. This means that they can be modified with adverbs like quite, a bit, really …

Dan is quite tall.
This hotel is a bit expensive.

They also have comparative and superlative forms.

tall – taller – the tallest
expensive – more expensive – the most expensive

There are some adjectives that are non-gradable:

  • Absolute adjectives express an absolute value (dead, pregnant, finished …). They do not have comparative forms and we cannot modify them with adverbs.
My homework is finished.
not: My homework is a bit finished.
Shakespeare died long before Mozart.
not: Shakespeare is more dead than Mozart.
  • Strong adjectives, also known as extreme adjectives (hilarious = very funny, boiling = very hot …), already express the highest degree of something, meaning that they are almost never used in their comparative forms. We can only use the extreme adverb absolutely to modify strong adjectives.
The water was absolutely freezing!
not: The water was very freezing!

Strong adjectives can improve your writing style. They help you avoid overusing adverbs like very. Compare the sentences below:

The weather was very hot so the pool was very busy. The water was very cold but felt very good on such a hot day.
→ The weather was boiling so the pool was packed. The water was freezing but felt amazing on such a hot day.

The table below shows some of the most common strong adjectives in English:

Normal Adjective Strong Adjective
angry furious, livid …
bad terrible, awful, horrific …
big enormous, giant, massive …
cold freezing
crowded/busy packed
dirty filthy
funny hilarious
good amazing, awesome, brilliant, fantastic …
hot boiling
hungry starving
old ancient
pleased delighted
scary terrifying
small tiny
tasty delicious
tired exhausted
ugly hideous
valuable priceless