Melanie Spiller & Coloratura Consulting
A Tonic for Ramshackle Wordsmiths
Copyright Melanie Spiller 2012. Do not copy without permission.

Adjectives are lovely little words that describe, identify, or quantify nouns or pronouns. Adjectives make your sentences have color and verve. Typically, you’ll find an adjective just before the word it modifies.


Adjectives can take many forms. They can be colors or sizes (purple, large), identify a quality (dark, empty) or describe a general quantity (few, all). An adjective can define an otherwise vague noun (the frog-shaped toy) and provide a sense of place or shape to your prose.


You can certainly write sentences without adjectives. That last sentence had an adverb (certainly) that could have been left out, but there weren’t any adjectives in it. Let’s compare a few sentences with and without adjectives and see what kind of flavor they add.

The boats floated over the bridge during the flood.

The mangled boats floated over the underwater bridge during the horrific flood.

           Four frogs swam toward the food.

            Four fat frogs swam toward thebuoyant food.


You can see that the same basic meaning is in both versions, but you have plenty of descriptive information to climb more visually into the meaning of the sentences with adjectives. A sentence with adjectives is not only more descriptive, it’s more intriguing. Beware, though, because it’s easy to go over the top. I think the mangled boat sentence is a little over the top, for instance, and would probably edit out at least one adjective.


An adjective can be modified by an adverb (an “ly” word, in short), a participle, or a phrase or clause that functions as an adverb.

           The prices were severely reduced.

            The mottled brown spots looked nice between the frog’s toes.

            The aforementioned egregious penalty was reduced in court.


A possessive adjective is a possessive pronoun that acts like an adjective when it modifies a noun or noun phrase.

            He couldn’t catch his hat in the wind.

           What is your password?


Demonstrative adjectives are those that direct your attention to a specific noun. Examples are this, these, that, those, and what. (These words have other functions as well, so don’t assume that they’re always adjectives just because you see them here.)

            When the Purple People Plotter plotted that page, it crashed.

            Those apples look ripe.


Interrogative adjectives modify nouns or noun phrases. They can’t be left to their own devices, though, and they ask questions. Once again, these words have other functions, so don’t assume that they’re interrogative adjectives without analyzing the sentence.

           Which program do I use to open this file?

            What book are you reading?


Anindefinite adjective modifies a noun or noun phrase by giving a general number to something.

           Many people came to the party.

            The box contained few cookies.

           There weren’t any bugs in his application.


An adjective can function like a noun if you place it after a form of “to be.”

           The movie was good.

            This cake is excellent with the tea.


Adjectives are never plural or singular. They are often short words that focus the attention a little bit on the specific noun in the sentence, and they’re very useful for adding a little color to your sentences.

Adjective Agitation