Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

What Are Adjectives?

The Quick Answer
Adjectives are describing words.

Definition of Adjective

Adjectives are describing words. Large, grey, and friendly are all examples of adjectives. In the examples below, these adjectives are used to describe an elephant.


  • Large elephant
  • Grey elephant
  • Friendly elephant
  • Adjectives Modify Nouns

    The word elephant is a noun. Adjectives are added to nouns to state what kind, what colour, which one or how many. Adjectives are said to modify nouns and are necessary to make the meanings of sentences clearer or more exact.

    • Follow the yellow cab.
    • (In this example, the adjective yellow modifies the noun cab.)
    • Craig caught a large bass.
    • (In this example, the adjective large modifies the noun bass.)
    • It is the girl with the pale face again.
    • The principal words should be in bold.
    • (Beware of the adjective principal - see right)
    • The rusty nail he stood on was the cause of the infection.
    • Please put the old documents in the shredder.
    • There is an essential matter we need to discuss.
    • Peter guessed the right number.

    Adjectives Modify Pronouns

    Although less common, adjectives can also modify pronouns.

    • It is a blue one.
    • (In this example, the adjective blue modifies the pronoun one.)
    • Only a brave few have received a recommendation.

    The Different Types of Adjectives

    Adjectives are describing words. However, there are many other words that are classified as adjectives, some of which do not fall easily under this description.

    Possessive Adjectives

    Possessive adjectives are used to show possession. They are my, your, his, her, its, our and their. (They are a type of possessive pronoun.)

    Read more about possessive adjectives.

    The Articles

    The words a, an, and the are known as articles. They are classified as adjectives. A and an are called the indefinite articles because they are used to indicate non-specific people or things. The is called the definite article because it does indicate a specific person or thing.
    • A cup (i.e., any cup)
    • The cup (i.e., a specific cup)
    Read more about articles.

    Demonstrative Adjectives

    Demonstrative adjectives are used to demonstrate or indicate specific things. This, that, these and those are all demonstrative adjectives.
    • If I hear that parrot again, I will call the RSPCA.
    • (That is a demonstrative adjective. It refers to a specific parrot.)
    • Medals will only be given to those runners who complete the marathon in less than 8 hours.
    • (Those is a demonstrative adjective. It refers to specific people.)
    Read more about demonstrative adjectives.

    Indefinite Adjectives

    Unlike demonstrative adjectives, which indicate specific items, indefinite adjectives do not point out specific things. They are formed from indefinite pronouns. The most common indefinite adjectives are no, any, many, few and several.
    • The chief has heard many people make the same promise.
    • (The indefinite adjective many modifies the noun people.)
    • According to a council spokesman, there are no wallabies left in Derbyshire. However, over the past few months, many walkers have reported seeing several adults with young.
    • (The indefinite adjectives in this example are no, few, many and several.)
    Read more about indefinite adjectives.


    Numbers are classified as adjectives too.
    • Four dolphins stayed with the boat until dawn.
    • (The adjective four modifies the noun dolphins.)
    • All we could muster was 9 cans of beans.
    • (The adjective 9 modifies the noun cans.)
    Quick Test
    Interactive Test


    Enumeration of Adjectives

    It is possible to use more than one adjective to modify a noun.
    • Large, grey, and friendly elephant
    Lining up adjectives in this way is called enumeration of adjectives.

    Read more about using commas with multiple adjectives.

    Principal and Principle

    Writers occasionally confuse the words principal and principle. In its most common role, the word principal is an adjective with a meaning similar to main or key.
    • The principal objective is to make a profit.
    • (The adjective principal modifies the noun objective.)
    The word principle, on the other hand, is not an adjective. It is a noun. It can mean general law or code of conduct.
    • No! It is against my principles!
    • That is a great idea in principle.
    The word principal can also be noun when it means head or chief. It is commonly used to denote head teacher in the US.
    • Here comes the principal.
    Read more about the difference between Principle and Principal.
    Top Tip

    Its Not It's

    The word its (i.e., without an apostrophe) is a possessive adjective, just like his, her, and my.
    • Can you see its pale-coloured belly?
    • Jenkins failed the final test and its re-sit.
    It's (note the apostrophe) is short for it is or it has. If you cannot substitute it's with it is or it has, then it is wrong.

    Read more about the difference between Its and It's.

    An or A?

    Sometimes, particularly with abbreviations, there is confusion about when to use a and when to use an. The rule is: Use a when the next sound is a consonant sound and an when it is a vowel sound.
    • Buy a house in an hour.
    • (Note: Although house and hour start with the same three letters, one attracts a, and the other attracts an.)
    It's not a question of whether the word starts with vowel or a consonant. It's about the sound of the first letter.

    Read more about using An or A.

    Use a Plural with These and Those

    The words these and those should only be used with plurals.
    • I have never seen these kind of things before.
    • (...these kinds of things )
    • Sarah is not used to those type of situations.
    • (...those types of situations )

    Expressions Like Three-And-A-Quarter Million

    Knowing that numbers are adjectives is important for expressions such as four-and-a-half dozen.
    • All we could muster was 9-and-a-half cans of beans.
    • (The adjective 9-and-a-half modifies the noun cans. It is linked together with hyphens to show that it is one adjective.)
    Read more about linking the parts of a single adjectives with hyphens.