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Any learner being introduced to adjectives for the first time will hear that,

‘An Adjective is a describing word'. To explain further, an adjective gives information about a noun or a pronoun. It tells us what a noun or pronoun is like, or the quantity of the noun.

For example, ‘An ugly bug contaminated the whole river.’

Shall we identify a noun in the sentence above: One is ‘bug’ and it has a word (Ugly) before it, which tells how the bug looks like. ‘Ugly’ is then an adjective.

Adjectives can also come after a noun or pronoun.

For example, ‘The river is dry and desolate.’ In this sentence the adjectives are ‘dry’ and ‘desolate’ because they are telling more about how the river (the noun) looked like.

You can notice that they appear after the noun and they are connected to ‘river’ by the linking verb ‘is’ (from the verb ‘to be’).

There are two types of adjectives in English: The Determiners and the Descriptive Adjectives. The latter are the main describing words which include big, long, short, grey, blue and happy.

The determiners are words that introduce nouns; they act as adjectives. Examples include: the articles a, an and the; every, this, those, my, our, your, which, what and whose. In the sentence,

‘Please give me your calculator.’ The word ‘your’ shows that I’m talking about one particular calculator (your calculator) and not any other one. So the word ‘your’ is acting as an adjective because it is saying something about the noun, ‘calculator’.

The question words; which, what, and whose also act as determiners. A sentence with an example is: ‘What subjects are studying?

The word ‘what’ asks information about the noun, ‘subjects’. So in this case,’what’ is an adjective.

Quantity words like numbers and quantity expressions like a few, some and many are also determiners. Even though determiners are adjectives, the different types play unique roles in sentences, So we will treat them in separate lessons.

For this lesson, we will focus on the strong adjectives (the descriptives): how to

use them correctly by identifying the ‘-ed’ and ‘-ing’ adjectives; comparative and superlative adjectives; and the order of adjectives.

There are lots of adjectives: some are formed from nouns as well as verbs. Forming adjectives with the ending ‘-ed’ and ‘-ing’ can be quite confusing.

Let’s have a look at this chart.

Please try and fill in the blank spaces in the sentences below with the right forms of adjectives in the brackets.

1. The concert was so (a) _________ that everyone was (b)__________. (amuse)

2. You can feel (a)_________ when going on a canopy walk, because it is a

(b)___________ experience.(frighten)

3. It is a very (a) _________ news to hear of and you will feel

(b) ________ all through. (shock

To help fill in with the correct forms of adjectives, we must learn that adjectives ending in ‘-ing’ describe the causes or reasons of feelings whiles the ones ending in ‘-ed’ describe feelings. They tell us how people feel about something and that is the effect of it.

In 1(a) the missing word is ‘amusing’ because that is the cause of watching the concert. 1(b) is ‘amused’ - implying that the effect or how everyone felt after watching it.

The adjective for 2(a) is ‘frightened’ meaning it is the effect / feeling as you go on the canopy walk. 2(b) is ‘frightening’ because the experience is frightening and that causes one to be frightened.

Number 3(a) is ‘shocking’ - it is the process of listening to the news or what happens whilst listening. 3(b) is ‘shocked’ because this is how one feels (the effect) after hearing the news.

So once again adjectives ending in ‘-ing’ express cause / process, whereas adjectives ending in ‘-ed’ express effect / feeling.

The next area in the correct use of adjectives are Comparative and Superlative Adjectives. They are used to compare nouns: People, places, animals and things are being compared using the adjectives. Comparative adjectives are used to compare differences between two nouns. They are found in the form as shown below.

Superlative adjectives are used to compare three or more nouns and they take the form as seen on the chart. To understand these, we are going to compare some donation made by four individuals.

We are using the adjective ‘generous’ to compare the amount each of them contributed.

Using comparative adjectives we can say

1) The amount Man 2 gave is more generous than the amount donated by Man 1.

2) The amount donated by Man 1 is less generous than that of Man 2.

3) The amount donated by Man 3 is more generous than Man 2.

4) The amount contributed by Man 2 is less generous than Man 3.

5) The amount given by Man 4 is as generous as Man 2.

For superlatives we compare all four men and conclude that:

1)The contribution Man 3 gave is the most generous of all four donations.

2) The amount contributed by Man 1 is the least generous of all four donations.

The most common grammatical mistakes made by students, when doing comparisons occur in the -er, -est and irregular forms of adjectives. With some adjectives, instead of using more and most we add the ending ‘-er’ and ‘-est’.

comparative and superlative

From the examples above, we can learn that, when comparing the thickness of two things, we can’t say one is more thicker but rather thicker and its superlative form is thickest and not the most thickest. Also easy is easier and easiest. Note that the ‘y’ in easy and happy changes to ‘i’ and it is the same for most adjectives ending in ‘y’. 1-syllable adjectives ending in a consonant with a single vowel preceding it (as in big and sad) have their consonant doubled in the comparative and superlative forms.

There are some comparative and superlative adjectives that are irregular because their comparative and superlative forms change completely from their root words. Examples are: good, which is better as its comparative and best for superlative; Far is further / farther and furthest / farthest; and Much is more and most.

The following sentences have mistakes in them. Do have a look, identify and correct the errors.

1. Josh is more shorter than his sister.

2. Going to the town center is farer than to the train station.

3. What is the most shortest way of walking to the library?

4. The torch was the usefulest tool we could use to find our way out.

In the first sentence the word shorter (the comparative adjective for ‘short) is used with ‘more’. More shorter becomes more more short. This is not used in English communication (even though we can say more and more or shorter).

So the right answer is shorter. Whenever we use the ‘-er’ or ‘-est’ forms we don't bring more or most before them.

In sentence 2, farer is not the comparative adjective of ‘far’. It is rather

further / farther.

The third sentence has the superlative form of short is wrongly used with most. So the correct answer is shortest.

Sentence 4 has used the word usefullest which is not a word in the English language.The right superlative form is most useful. Words ending in the suffix “-ful” have their comparative form as more and superlative form as most.

We can therefore learn that:

1) -er and -est forms of adjectives are used for one - syllable words and two - syllable words that do not end in -ful.

E.g.: narrow - narrower - narrowest

2) Adjectives ending in -ing added use more and most in their comparative and superlative forms respectively.

3) Words like much, a lot, even etc. Can be used with comparative adjectives to emphasise them.

E.g.: The town is a lot more crowded than the village.

Continuous practice with comparative and superlative forms of adjectives will help to figure out which form matches with which word.

The charts below give a summary of all rules to guide in finding the forms of both degrees of adjectives.

The next area of confusion in the use of adjectives is the order in which adjectives are placed. In English when there is more than one adjective describing a noun,they are normally arranged in a particular order. This can turn out rather confusing.

However we can note down that usually adjectives describing attitudes come first,before more neutral,factual ones follow afterwards. For example we can describe a woman with the following adjectives:

Scottish, beautiful, thin, tall, young and black-haired.

Knowing the right order of adjectives takes practice. The table below shows the order in which adjectives (by what they relate to) are placed in a sentence.


Studying the table we can realise that from the adjective was given to describe the woman in question, beautiful (which is one's opinion of her) follows the determiner a. The next is her size which is tall and is followed by her physical quality which is thin. We then look out for her age because there is no description for shape; so that is young and there’s colour, which is black haired. The last of her description is Scottish, and that is the origin. There is no description about her material and purpose so the order of adjectives to describe the woman is;

‘She is a beautiful, tall, thin, young, black haired, Scottish woman.’

We should however be mindful of the fact that it is not common and is not advised to have so many adjectives in one sentence. It will be too much information for the reader to absorb. Two or more adjectives used to describe a

noun in a sentence is called an adjectival phrase. Can you try putting the adjective in the following sentences in the correct order.

3 1 4 2

1. What an old, amazing, Chinese, little cup and saucer!

2 1 3 4

2 Panettone is a bread like, round, Italian, Christmas cake.

To have a recap we have been learning about the various ways of using adjectives. We have learnt the two types of adjectives:

  • The determiners and descriptive adjectives which include articles and main words that describe;

  • The ‘-ing’ (cause) and ‘-ed’ (effect) adjectives

  • Comparatives and superlative: Comparative adjectives using -er or more to compare two nouns Superlative adjectives use -est or most to compare three nouns or more.

  • Order of adjectives which shows how individual opinions come before factual adjectives in a group of adjective describing a noun.

Below are some links to worksheets on adjectives for you to practise.

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