Adjectives

Introduction

An adjective is one of the eight parts of speech. An adjective is a word that describes a noun or pronoun and answers one of the following three questions:

  1. Which?
  2. What kind of?
  3. How many?

Types of Adjectives

Descriptive Adjectives

Descriptive adjectives comprise the bulk of the adjectives. These adjectives include words like tall, red, angry, and incredible, which describe characteristics of a noun or pronoun.

Determiners

Determiners are a subset (small group within a larger group) of adjectives that tell if the noun is specific or nonspecific. A determiner indicates how many, whose, which one, or some other information about the noun that follows it. Many singular nouns cannot be used with a determiner of some type in front of them. The list below classifies adjectives into several groups based on the type of determiner.

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Compound Adjectives

Another type of adjective is called a compound adjective (or a multi-word adjective). When several words are used together to form a single adjective, all words are hyphenated. These adjectives are always singular in form (e.g., a 30-minute break, NOT a 30-minutes break). Here are some examples of compound adjectives:

  • Four-legged animal (four-legged acts as a single adjective; what kind of animal?)
  • Dragon flies are a four-winged insect.
  • He is not your run-of-the-mill (ordinary) worker. (run-of-the-mill acts as a single adjective)
  • He gave me a what-in-the-world-are-you-talking-about look.
  • We took a 30-minute coffee break.

Ordering Multiple Adjectives Describing the Same Noun

Americans rarely use more than about three adjectives to describe a noun. When multiple adjectives are used, there is a preferred order of the adjectives based on the types of adjectives. There is an acronym called OSASCOMP that attempts to define this preferred order, but this is overly complex and is not worth a student’s effort to study and learn.OSASCOMP is covered in another Edutainment post if you wish to read about it, but it is beyond the scope of this lesson. What you should know about in this lesson is the “P” in OSASCOMP. The “P” means that adjectives that express the “purpose” of the noun (or most closely define the type of noun) should go closest to the noun. Here are two examples:

  1. Should we say “public, common schools” or “common, public schools”? Which adjective is the “P” adjective in OSASCOMP? Which adjective MOST CLOSELY DESCRIBES the type of noun?Are these “public schools” that are common?
    Are these “common schools” that are public?Answer: They are public schools that are common. So “public” is the “P” adjective and must go closest to the noun, so we should say: common, public schools.
  2. Should we say “tall, French student” or “French, tall student”?
    Is he a “French student” who is tall?
    Is he a “tall student” who is French?Answer: “French student” best describes what type of noun (the “P”),
    so he is a tall, French student.

When to Use A versus An

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Self-Assessment

Identify the adjectives in the sentences below and indicate what type of determiner they are by number (e.g., 4 = demonstrative adjective). Use 9 for descriptive or compound adjectives.

  1. The angry young man walked quickly to the double-door exit.
  2. That animal looks like an elephant.
  3. Are there any volunteers who wish to participate in our first project?
  4. Those five animals are thoroughbred horses.
  5. Whose house is that? Oh, that’s Peter’s house.
  6. We have several types of candy. Pick whichever ones you want.

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