Adjective Formation in English Grammar
Forming English adjectives
- child → childish (noun + suffix)
- inform → informative (verb + suffix)
- possible → impossible (prefix + adjective)
Although there are many common prefixes and suffixes, there are no fixed rules that tell us when to use which one. The best way to learn is through repetition and practice – which is why Lingolia offers plenty of online exercises to help you master English adjectives.
Making adjectives with suffixes
Many suffixes only fulfil a grammatical role and simply indicate that the word is now an adjective, but there are some suffixes that carry their own meaning:
- The suffix -less means without something, whereas the suffix -ful usually means to have something.
- hopeful ≠ hopeless
- However, only few adjectives can be made into opposite pairs like this.
- but not:
- but not:
- We can add the suffix -ish to nouns and adjectives to change their meaning to like something.
- Don’t be childish.
- = like a child
- The jacket is a bluish colour.
- = like blue
- For some materials, we can add the suffix -en to create adjectives that mean made of.
- A wooden chair.
- A woollen jumper.
- When added to a verb, the suffix -able creates adjectives that express ability.
- Is the water drinkable?
- = can you drink it?
Usually, we just add the suffix to the end of the verb or noun.
- drink → drinkable
- success → successful
However, sometimes we must add, remove or change letters before adding a suffix.
- We double the final consonant after a short stressed vowel.
- sun → sunny
- A -y at the end of a word becomes -i.
- beauty → beautiful
- We remove the final -e if the suffix begins with a vowel, but -ee, -oe and -ye stay the same.
- fortune → fortunate
- but: agree → agreeable
Table: Adjectives from nouns
The table below shows a list of common suffixes we can add to nouns to form adjectives:
|-able||comfort||comfortable||accountable, memorable …|
|-al||nature||natural||brutal, foundational, magical, logical, normal …|
|-ate||passion||passionate||accurate, corporate, fortunate …|
|-en||gold||golden||silken, wooden, woollen …|
|-etic||energy||energetic||genetic, magnetic …|
|-ful||colour||colourful||beautiful, painful, peaceful, thoughtful, successful …|
|-ible||response||responsible||accessible, horrible, sensible, terrible …|
|-ic||history||historic||athletic, catastrophic, heroic, poetic, scientific …|
|-ical||alphabet||alphabetical||economical, historical …|
|-ish||child||childish||foolish, selfish, greenish …|
|-less||home||homeless||careless, doubtless, jobless, motionless …|
|-ly||day||daily||friendly, lovely, monthly …|
|-ous||fame||famous||advantageous, disastrous, religious, suspicious …|
|-y||wind||windy||bloody, chilly, dirty, easy, rainy, sunny, wealthy …|
Adjective or Adverb?
As shown in the table, the suffix -ly can be used to make adjectives from nouns.
- friend → friendly
But wait! I hear you ask, I thought -ly is the ending for adverbs and not adjectives?
Actually, it’s both!
- Some words ending in -ly are purely adjectives:
- That’s a lovely dress.
- He’s a friendly guy.
- Some words ending in -ly are solely adverbs:
- He ran quickly.
- The teacher speaks slowly.
- And some words ending in -ly are both:
- A weekly meeting. (adjective)
- We update the website weekly. (adverb)
The difference depends on how they are used in a sentence. Head over to our page all about adjectives vs. adverbs in English grammar to learn more!
Table: Adjectives from verbs
The table below shows some of the most common suffixes we can add to verbs to form adjectives:
|-able||read||readable||adaptable, believable, forgettable, reliable …|
|-ative||talk||talkative||conservative, informative …|
|-ive||attract||attractive||active, creative, negative, relative …|
|-ed*||annoy||annoyed||confused, embarrassed, excited …|
|-ing*||annoy||annoying||confusing, embarrassing, exciting …|
|-ful||help||helpful||harmful, hopeful, playful, useful …|
*-ed or -ing?
Some adjectives formed from verbs can have two possible endings: -ed or -ing.
- confuse – confused/confusing
- bore – bored/boring
The difference between -ed and -ing adjectives is as follows:
- -ed adjectives describe a person’s feelings.
- Erica is bored at work.
- = she feels bored
- -ing adjectives describe the effect of a noun. Adjectives ending in -ing describe the thing or person that causes a feeling.
- Erica’s job is boring.
- = the job bores Erica
Be careful! Confusing the -ed and -ing endings can completely change the meaning of a sentence.
- I was terrified on Halloween.
- I felt scared
- I was terrifying on Halloween.
- I was scary and caused everyone else to feel scared
Adjectives that describe nationality are always written with capital letters.
- We usually form country adjectives by adding -n to the end of the word.
- America → American
- Russia → Russian
- Australia → Australian
- But we can also use -ese, -i, -ian and -ish to build country adjectives.
- Japan → Japanese
- Iraq → Iraqi
- Ukraine → Ukrainian
The table below provides an overview of country adjectives.
|In China, we met a lot of Chinese people.|
Pakistani cuisine is often served with rice or bread.
Canadian people are famous for being very polite.
|British weather is not the best.|
|Jamaican music is famous all of the world.|
- Some countries have irregular forms.
- 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
Adjectives with prefixes
Most adjectives in English have an opposite. Often, these word pairs are completely different to one another:
- big ≠ small
- hot ≠ cold
- tall ≠ short
However, we can also use prefixes to form opposite adjectives.
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
- legal → illegal
- im- comes before words that start with an -m or a -p
- patient → impatient
- ir- comes before words that start with an -r
- responsible → irresponsible
The table below shows the most common adjectives that form their opposites with the prefixes il-, im- and ir-:
|Prefix||Adjective||Opposite Adjective||More Examples|
|il-||legal||illegal||illiterate, illegible, illegitimate …|
|im-||patient||impatient||immobile, immoral, impartial, impersonal, impolite, impossible, improper …|
|ir-||regular||irregular||irrational, irrelevant, irreparable, irreplaceable …|
dis-, in- and un-
The most common prefixes for forming opposite adjectives are un-, dis-, and in-.
Unlike the prefixes above, there are no fixed rules as to which letters can follow the prefixes un-, dis- and in-. The table below shows some typical examples:
|Prefix||Adjective||Opposite Adjective||More Examples|
|un-||lucky||unlucky||unable, unapologetic, uncertain, unclear, unimportant, unprepared, unsure …|
|dis-||honest||dishonest||disagreeable, disheartened, disgraceful, disobedient …|
|in-||correct||incorrect||inefficient, inexplicable, infamous, informal, inhumane …|