Parts of Speech: Adjectives: Happy Little Clouds

Adjectives: Happy Little Clouds

Adjectives are words that describe nouns and pronouns. They're the color commentators of language, the words that give your writing and speech flavor. Adjectives answer the questions “What kind?” “How much?” “Which one?” and “How many?” For example:

  • What kind? red nose, gold ring
  • How much? more sugar, little effort
  • Which one? second wife, those nuts
  • How many? several wives, six husbands

Spice Up Your Sentences with Adjectives

There are five kinds of adjectives: common adjectives, proper adjectives, compound adjectives, articles, and indefinite adjectives.

You Could Look It Up

Adjectives are words that modify—describe or limit—nouns and pronouns.

  1. Common adjectives describe nouns or pronouns.
    • strong man
    • green plant
    • pretty child
  2. Proper adjectives are formed from proper nouns.
    • California vegetables
    • Mexican food
  3. Compound adjectives are made up of more than one word, like these two examples:
    • far-off country
    • teenage person
  4. Articles are a special type of adjective. There are three articles: a, an, and the.
    • The is called a “definite article” because it refers to a specific thing.
    • A and an are called “indefinite articles” because they refer to general things. Use a when the word that follows begins with a consonant sound; use an before words that begin with vowel sounds.
  5. Indefinite adjectives don't specify the amount of something. Instead, they describe general quantities. Most of the indefinite adjectives were pronouns in their first lives. For example:
    • all
    • either
    • another
    • few
    • any
    • many
    • both
    • more
    • each
    • most
    • neither
    • several
    • other
    • some

A Note on Adjectives for Non-Native Speakers

The indefinite articles a and an are grammatically the same. They both mean “one of many.” They are used only with singular nouns. As you learned earlier, use a when the word that follows begins with a consonant sound; use an before words that begin with vowel sounds. Here are some additional guidelines:

  1. A is sometimes used with the words “little” and “few.” The meaning is slightly different, depending on whether you use the article a before the words “little” and “few.” Study these examples:
    • a little, a few = a small amount of something
    • little, few = less than expected
    • a few carrots, few carrots
    • a little sugar, little sugar
  2. A and an are rarely used with proper nouns.

Have Fun with Adjectives

Now that you know what adjectives are, it's time to learn how to use them. Follow these easy-as-pie guidelines:

  1. Use an adjective to describe a noun or a pronoun.
  2. Use vivid adjectives to make your writing more specific and descriptive.
  3. Use an adjective after a linking verb. A linking verb connects a subject with a descriptive word. Here are the most common linking verbs: be (is, am, are, was, were, and so on), seem, appear, look, feel, smell, sound, taste, become, grow, remain, stay, and turn.
    • Chicken made this way tastes more delicious (not deliciously).

And in This Corner …

Identify the adjective or adjectives in each of the following sentences. (They are all winners in a contest in which contestants were asked to take a well-known expression in a foreign language, change a single letter, and provide a definition for the new expression. So ignore the foreign expressions.)

  1. ¿HARLEZ-VOUS FRANCAIS?—Can you drive a French motorcycle?
  2. ¡IDIOS AMIGOS!—We're wild and crazy guys!
  3. PRO BOZO PUBLICO—Support your local clown.
  4. MONAGE A TROIS—I am three years old.
  5. QUIP PRO QUO—A fast retort
  6. PORTE-KOCHERE—Sacramental wine


  1. French
  2. wild, crazy
  3. local
  4. three
  5. fast
  6. Sacramental
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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