Adjectives – Definition and Concept

An adjective is defined as the part of speech that describes or modifies a noun or a pronoun.

  • This is the longest flight of stairs I have ever seen.
  • We wish that your time here be
  • The video footage was dismissed as circumstantial

The adjective longest describes the collective noun flight, the adjective productive describes the common noun time and the adjective circumstantial describes the noun evidence.

Adjectives have a limited function as against other parts of speech, and are themselves modified by adverbs in the same sentence if required.

At the end of the article, the reader will be able to:

  • Understand the difference between Determiners and Adjectives
  • Learn different types of adjectives or determiners
  • Study the comparison of adjectives and apply the three different degrees of the adjective in various sentences
  • Learn the conversion of the degree of an adjective

Determiners and Adjectives: The difference and Types

The adjectives of the examples in the previous example describe the noun or pronoun and thus are called descriptive adjectives.

There are other forms of adjectives as well. Let us look at a few examples:

  • You have to drive on this side of the road.
  • Place your card in that slot.
  • This closet should have the answers to their
  • My application has been rejected.

The words in boldface describe the nouns (in italics) they precede, just like adjectives do. So are they adjectives or something else? However, these words show a limited description, like referring to a fixed information like direction, quantity, etc. making these words a separate word class, called determiners.

Unlike determiners, adjectives serve not just deterministic information but provide a description of the noun [1] and thus the determiners are learnt as a separate part of speech.

Determiners are defined as a word or a set of words that can be used to refer to nouns, pronouns, or noun phrases.

Determiners are a recent addition to the list of different parts of speech of English Grammar and is a collection of words that were previously identified as pronouns, articles, quantifier adjectives, demonstrative adjectives, interrogative words, etc.

In this section we discuss those determiners that were previously adjectives. There are different types of determiners.

Quantitative Determiners

  • Come on Cooper, just try one spoon.
  • I wonder which of you two is more creative.
  • Have you finished all levels of this game?

Quantitative determiners (previously known as quantitative adjectives) are those that specify the quantity of the noun they precede. Quantitative determiners answer the question how much? Quantitative determiners can be a number or a figure specifying a quantity like in the examples above.

Demonstrative Determiners

  • Have you tried this brand of clothing?
  • We have to stop that agent from selling us out.
  • These gadgets aren’t easily available on free market.
  • Why are those flowers in the bouquet I ordered?

Demonstrative determiners (previously known as demonstrative adjectives) are those that specify the position of the noun they precede. Demonstrative determiners answer the question which (noun)?

Possessive Determiners

  • My application has been rejected.
  • Our batting order failed to take off when we needed them to.
  • In order to be a part of the brotherhood, we have to pass their
  • You have been particularly bad at keeping your own word.
  • His performance in this season has been subpar.
  • She had been running away from her problems for far too long.

Possessive determiners (previously known as possessive adjectives) are those that specify the owner of the noun they precede. Possessive determiners answer the question whose (noun)?

Distributive Determiners

  • Have you tried any product?
  • Each animal on the Indian emblem symbolizes a value of the Indian constitution.
  • Every student here has his/her own idea for a project.
  • Either player could have bagged the gold medal that day.
  • Neither student knew the answer to the question.

Distributive determiners (previously known as distributive adjectives) address specific members of a common noun. Distributive adjectives modify either common nouns or pronouns and answer the question ‘Which of the (nouns)?’

Interrogative Determiners

  • What name would you like on your credit card?
  • Which suit will he be wearing to work?
  • We have to find whose work this was.

Interrogative determiners directly refer to a noun in the same sentence. For example, each of the words ‘what’, ‘which’ & ‘whose’ refer to the nouns in italics and look for more information about those nouns. While these are called interrogative determiners because they are generally question words, not all of the interrogative determiners or question words can be interrogative adjectives. Observe the following examples:

  • What is your name?
  • Who will be the next President of the committee?
  • We now understand how all determiners cannot be called adjectives.


  • Who will be the next President of the committee?
  • Every student here has his/her own idea for a
  • An usher will be here to show you to your seats.

Articles are a special case of demonstrative adjectives or demonstrative determiners that specify to a noun. We learn more about articles in a separate article.

Degree of an adjective

An adjective can be used to compare two or more nouns. This is done by changing the form of that adjective, and accordingly we can have three major forms of an adjective: positive, comparative and superlative.

Positive degree is the root form of an adjective that is used in case of one noun or pronoun.

  • You will need good grades to qualify for the recruitment process.
  • Isn’t that professor funny?
  • Your maid is an industrious employee.

Sometimes, positive degree of an adjective is used to equate two nouns. Like the following examples:

  • You will need grades as good as his grades to qualify for the recruitment process.
  • The professor is as funny as a professional
  • Your maid is as industrious as a

Comparative degree of adjectives are the secondary forms used to compare two nouns or pronouns.

  • You will need grades better than these grades to qualify for the recruitment process.
  • The professor is funnier than a professional comedian.
  • Your maid is more industrious than mine.

Note how the comparative degree of the adjective directly establishes a comparison between two nouns.

Superlative degree is the tertiary form of adjectives used to compare more than two nouns or pronouns. Some examples:

  • Even your best grades aren’t good enough for the recruitment process.
  • The professor is the funniest of all the people of his age I’ve ever met.
  • Your maid is the most industrious employee of this town.

The superlative degree of an adjective assigns the noun the highest degree of the adjective in the category of nouns.

Superlative degree is also used to assign equality between nouns.

  • His grades are one of the best grades amongst the applicants of the recruitment process.
  • The professor is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met.
  • Your maid is one of the most industrious employees of this town.

The formation ‘one of the’ together with the superlative degree of the adjective establishes a category of all nouns that are deemed equal. Note how this syntax in the second example creates a category of the noun guys of which the noun professor is a part of. The same can be said about the other examples.

Changing the Degree of Adjectives

So how do we determine the different degrees of an adjective? We count the number of syllables [2] in the adjective.

Most single syllable adjectives have comparative forms that end in ‘–er’ and superlative forms that in ‘–est’. Examples include mean, smooth, rough, clear, quick, cruel, etc.

  • I’ve lived through rougher times. (comparative)
  • This is the roughest neighbourhood they’ve been in. (superlative)
  • He needs a clearer shot or he won’t take it. (comparative)
  • This is the clearest image of the document I could take. (superlative)

Some single syllable adjectives ending in ‘–y’ have comparative forms ending in ‘–ier’ and superlative forms that end in ‘–iest’. Examples include happy, quirky, meaty, bushy, etc.

  • We work together for a happier
  • This is the happiest version of him I’ve ever seen.
  • Your beard is bushier than ever.
  • This is the bushiest outfield of all.

Some other monosyllable and multi-syllable adjectives cannot be extended with suffixes. We use the determiners more and most for the comparative and superlative forms respectively. Examples include adjectives like adamant, conscious, benign, famous, etc.

  • You may relax. The situation is now more benign than before.
  • This is the most benign tumour I’ve ever treated.
  • Your enemy is now more notorious than he was in the 90s.
  • He is the most notorious criminal of the east coast.

Lastly, there exist a certain set of adjectives that do not follow the above nomenclature. These adjectives are called irregular adjectives. Examples include good, far, much, bad, etc.

  • This is a worse report than I feared you’d write. (comparative of ‘bad’)
  • This is the worst piece of work you’ve done. (superlative of ‘bad’)
  • Antigua is further away than Jamaica. (comparative of ‘far’)
  • Prague is the furthest he can get away from us. (superlative of ‘far’)

These are the different ways of changing the degree of an adjective. A comprehensive list of different forms of adjectives are part of appendix A.

Adjective vs. Adverb

Observe the following examples:

  • He was faster than the national champion.
  • He ran faster than the national champion.
  • Each pen costs 75 cents.
  • The pens cost 75 cents each.

Without reading further, try to determine the part of speech in boldface.

Now notice the same examples rewritten below.

  • He was faster than the national champion.
  • He ran faster than the national champion.
  • Each pen costs 75 cents.
  • The pens cost 75 cents each.

In the first and third example, the words faster and each describe the pronoun he and noun pen respectively. Hence they would be adjectives. (Each would be a determiner)

In the second and last example, the words faster and each describe the verbs ran and cost respectively. Hence they would be adverbs. (Each would be a distributive pronoun)

Thus we see how same words can be used as an adjective or an adverb, depending on which part of speech of the sentence they modify. We have to observe the role of every word of the sentence to determine the part of speech of these words in such cases.


This basic idea should help readers use adjectives in various sentences. Adjectives, like adverbs form a large part of casual descriptive writing.


[1] The reason why determiners were differentiated from other parts of speech in Modern English was because of the attempts made by conventional English to fit these words into any one of the existing parts of speech. In this article we explored how determiners perform the same task as adjectives. In another article on pronouns, we will study how the same determiners play the role of pronouns. The resulting confusion will help us understand the need for Modern English to define a separate word class or part of speech, comprising of these controversial words and name them as determiners.

[2] Syllable is a group of letters in a word that can be pronounced as one vowel. A word can have one or more syllables. For example, the word aim has one syllable, paper has two syllables and pedestal has three syllables. Notice how the pronunciation breaks off at the end of each syllable:

  • Aim (1 syllable)
  • Pa/per (2 syllables)
  • Ped/es/tal (3 syllables)
  • Par/a/mount (3 syllables)
  • Und/er/stand/ing (4 syllables)