What are adjectives?
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 another 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.


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.

Personal titles such Mr, Mrs, Auntie, Uncle, Dr and Lord are classified as adjectives when they are attached to a name.

The day after tomorrow, you can visit Auntie Pauline and Uncle Joe.
The lecture on Friday will be presented by Dr Ingols and Prof. Munro.


Possessive adjectives are used to show possession. They are my, your, his, her, its, our and their. (They are also called possessive pronouns.)


The words a, an and the are known as articles and are classified as adjectives too. A and an are called the indefinite articles, as they do not indicate a specific noun; whereas, the is called the definite article, because it does point to a specific noun.

A cup (< any cup)
The cup (< a specific cup)


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.) 


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.)

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.)

 Select the correct answer:


Go to a harder test on 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. (See lesson "Commas in a list".)

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
(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.

See the lesson on Principle and Principal.

When a personal title is attached to a name, it is written with a capital letter.
My favourite auntie is Auntie Grace.
(Note: There is no capital letter on the first auntie as it is not attached to a name. This is also covered in the lesson Nouns.)


Words like Dr, Mr and Revd (from Doctor, Mister and Reverend) are called contractions. As a guideline, only use a full stop (period ) at the end of a contraction if its last letter is different to the last letter of the whole word.

Dr Ingols and Prof. Munro
(Doctor ends in r - no full stop required.)
(Professor ends in r, but Prof ends in f - full stop required.)

See the lesson Full Stops in Contractions.


The word its (note - no 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.

See the lesson Its and It's.


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 threeletters, one attracts a, and the other attracts an.)

See the lesson An or A.


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 )


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 linkedtogether with hyphens to show that it is one adjective. 

See the lesson Compound Adjectives.

See also:

What are compound adjectives?
What are adverbs?
What are conjunctions?
What are interjections?
What are nouns?
What are prepositions?
What are pronouns?
What are verbs?
A more advanced test on adjectives
Compound adjectives
Demonstrative adjectives
Enumeration of adjectives
Indefinite adjectives
Interrogative adjectives
Predicate adjectives
Possessive adjectives