Adjectives Formation in English Grammar

Introduction

Adjectives give us more information about people, places, animals and things. Some adjectives can be formed from nouns, verbs and even other adjectives by adding a prefix or a suffix.

Learn about adjective formation with Lingolia’s online lesson. In the exercises, you can practise forming adjectives from nouns and verbs.

Construction

We can use suffixes to change nouns and verbs into adjectives, or to change the meaning of an adjective. Some suffixes have a general meaning whilst others simply transform words into adjectives.

  • The suffix -less usually means without something whilst the suffix -ful usually means to have something.
    Example:
    (with hope) hopeful ← hope → hopeless (without hope)
  • Not all words can be made into adjectives pairs like this. It’s best to check your dictionary.
    Example:
    homeless (but not: homefull)
    beautiful (but not: beautyless)
  • The suffix -ish changes nouns and adjectives into adjectives that mean like something.
    Example:
    Don’t be childish. (like a child)
    The jacket is a bluish colour. (like blue)
  • For materials we can add -en to nouns to create adjectives that mean made of.
    Example:
    A wooden chair.
    A woolen jumper.
  • When added to a verb, -able creates adjectives that express ability.
    Example:
    Is the water drinkable?

Exceptions when adding a suffix

We don’t normally add or take away letters, we simply add the suffix to the end of the word. However, there are some exceptions:

  • We double the final consonant in words that have a short stressed vowel before the final consonant.
    Example:
    sun → sunny
  • A -y at the end of a word changes to to -i.
    Example:
    bounty → bountiful
  • An -e at the end of a word is dropped when the suffix begins with a vowel, but -ee, -oe, -ye remain unchanged.
    Example:
    fortune → fortunate
    agree → agreeable
  • An -l is dropped before adding the suffix -ful to words that end in –ll.
    Example:
    skill → skilful

There are many more suffixes that we can use to create adjectives. The tables below provide an overview of adjective formation using verbs and nouns. Unfortunately, there are no rules to follow but we can always use a dictionary.

Table: Adjectives from Nouns

This table shows a list suffixes or adjective endings that can be added to nouns to form adjectives.

suffixnounadjectiveexample
-able comfort comfortable This chair is so comfortable.
-al brute brutal He lifted the car off the ground with brutal strength.
-ate passion passionate Ms Smith is a passionate teacher.
-en gold golden She wears a golden bracelet.
-ful beauty beautiful Look at those beautiful flowers.
-ible response responsible Angela is very responsible.
-ic history historic This town has many historic sites.
-ical alphabet alphabetical The names are in alphabetical order.
-ish child childish Don’t be so childish.
-less home homeless If I don’t find a new flat soon, I’ll be homeless.
-ly day daily Anna goes for a daily run.
-some trouble troublesome She is experiencing a troublesome pregnancy.
-ous fame famous Who is the most famous person in the world?
-y wind windy A windy day.

Table: Adjectives from Verbs

This table shows a list suffixes or adjective endings that can be added to verbs to form adjectives.

suffixverbadjectiveexample
-able read readable The teacher’s handwriting was not very readable.
-ative inform informative The lecture was very informative.
-ed annoy annoyed an annoyed glance
-ing confusing confusing The question is confusing.
-tive produce productive Today has been very productive.

-ing or -ed?

Many adjectives for feelings can end in either -ing and -ed.

  • We use adjectives that end in -ing are to describe the effect of people, things or situations.
    Example:
    Erica’s job is boring.
    Michael thinks grammar is confusing.
    My mother is so embarrassing.
  • To describe how a person feels, we use adjectives that end in -ed.
    Example:
    Erica is bored with her job.
    Michael is confused by grammar.
    I was embarrassed about the hole in my trousers.

Country Adjectives

Adjectives that describe nationality are always written with capital letters.

  • We usually form country adjectives by adding -n to the end of the word.
    Example:
    America → American
  • But we can also use -ese, -i, -ian and -ish to build country adjectives.
    Example:
    Japan → Japanese

The table below provides an overview of country adjectives.

suffixcountryadjectiveexample
-ese

China

Portugal

Suda

Chinese

Portuguese

Sudanese

In China, we met a lot of Chinese people.

-i

Pakastan

Yemen

Qatar

Pakastani

Yemeni

Qatari

Pakastani cuisine is often served with rice or bread.

-ian

Canada

Italy

Palestine

Canadian

Italian

Palastinian

Canadian people are famous for being very polite.

-ish

Great Britain

Spain

Turkey

British

Spanish

Turkish

British weather is not the best.
-n

Austria

Jamaica

Russia

Austrian

Jamaican

Russian

Jamaican music is famous all of the world.
  • Some countries have irregular forms.
    Example:
    Germany → German
    France → French
    Greece → Greek
    Switzerland → Swiss
    Ireland → Irish

For a detailed list of countries, languages and adjectives see: List of Countries and Nationalities

Opposite Adjectives

dis-, in- and un-

Most adjectives in English have an opposite adjective: big/small, hot/cold, tall/short, good/bad etc. However, we can also use prefixes to form the opposites of many adjectives. The most common prefixes for forming opposite adjectives are un-, dis-, and in-. Some examples are listed in the table below.

prefixadjectiveopposite adjectiveexample
un- lucky unlucky Jerry is a very unlucky person.
comfortable uncomfortable This chair is uncomfortable.
dis- honest dishonest It’s dishonest to lie about something.
respectful disrespectful Janice was disrespectful to the teacher.
in- correct incorrect The answer is incorrect.
humane inhumane Torture is inhumane.

il-, im- and ir-

The prefixes il-, im- and ir- are only used before particular letters. il- comes before words that start with an -l, im- comes before words that start with an -m or a -p and ir- comes before words that start with an -r.

prefixadjectiveopposite adjectiveexample
il- legal illegal It’s illegal to bring fruit into this country.
logical illogical His thought process was illogical.
im- patient impatient Matthew is an impatient man.
mature immature My little sister is so immature.
ir- regular irregular The verbs be, do and have are irregular.
responisble irresponsible It’s irresponsible to drive if you have been drinking.