• An adjective is a word which provides additional information about a noun or pronoun; it is said to modify the noun. An adjective can either precede the noun/pronoun (the red book) or follow the noun (the book is red).

  • An adjective can be compared: tall/taller/tallest.

  • Although the majority of adjectives can precede or follow a noun/pronoun, there are small number which do not function like this, such as utter (you can say 'utter rubbish' but not 'the rubbish is utter'). These adjectives are known as peripheral adjectives.

  • One confusion caused when exploring adjectives is that it is very common for a noun to modify another noun, especially in bureaucratic writing or advertising.

    Wild mushroom risotto      (adjective - noun - noun)
    Aluminium suspension forks      (noun - noun - noun)

    In these cases, the noun is acting like an adjective in some respects because it is giving more information about another noun but it cannot follow the noun and it cannot be compared. You cannot say The forks are suspension or mushroomest. But on the other hand the adjectival noun is not behaving like a noun either because in its adjectival position it cannot take a plural (wild mushrooms risotto; aluminium suspensions forks). Sometimes nouns performing this function are called nominalised adjectives.

Adjectival suffixes:

  • There are some common suffixes in English which create adjectives from other word classes.

    Suffix Example of suffix in use
    -al eg comical; brutal
    -ic eg phobic; anarchic
    -able eg comfortable; likeable
    -ive eg compulsive; attractive
    -y eg bloody; muddy

Comparison of adjectives:

  • The adding of endings to adjectives to show degrees of comparison is one of the few remaining inflections in English (along with such things as forming plurals, the past tense and present participles). The base form of an adjective is called the absolute, with the comparative being formed by the addition of -er and the superlative by the addition of -est.

  • It is also possible to compare adjectives without using inflection by preceding the adjective with more or most. This is known as periphrastic comparison. Monosyllabic words almost always use the inflectional forms whilst long polysyllabic words (three syllables or more) tend to use the periphrastic forms.

    Absolute Comparative Superlative
    big bigger biggest
    rich richer richest
    safe safer safest
    delicious* more delicious most delicious

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