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Modules

What Is an Adjective?

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An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun by describing, identifying or quantifying it. An adjective usually precedes the noun or pronoun that it modifies.

In the following examples, the highlighted words are adjectives:

  • The truck-shaped hot-air balloon floated over the treetops.
  • Joe covered his bedroom walls with hideous posters.
  • The small boat foundered on the wine dark sea.
  • The coal mines are dark and dank.
  • Many stores have already begun to play irritating Christmas music.
  • A battered music box sat on the mahogany sideboard.
  • The mud room was filled with large, yellow rain boots.

An adjective can be modified by an adverb or by a phrase or clause functioning as an adverb. In the following sentence,

  • My husband knits intricately patterned mittens.

the adverb intricately modifies the adjective patterned.

Some nouns, many pronouns and many participle phrases can also act as adjectives. In the following sentence,

  • Eleanor listened to the muffled sounds of the radio hidden under her pillow.

both highlighted adjectives are past participles.

Note that grammarians also consider articles (the, a, an) to be adjectives.

Possessive adjectives

A possessive adjective (my, your, his, her, its, our, their) is similar or identical to a possessive pronoun; however, it is used as an adjective and modifies a noun or noun phrase, as in the following:

Example Explanation
I can’t complete my assignment because I don’t have the textbook. The possessive adjective my modifies assignment and the noun phrase my assignment functions as an object. Note that the possessive pronoun form mine never modifies a noun or noun phrase.
What is your phone number? The possessive adjective your modifies the noun phrase phone number. The entire noun phrase your phone number functions as a subject complement. Note that the possessive pronoun form yours never modifies a noun or noun phrase.
The bakery sold his favourite type of bread. The possessive adjective his modifies the noun phrase favourite type of bread. The entire noun phrase his favourite type of bread is the direct object of the verb sold.
After many years, Magda returned to her homeland. The possessive adjective her modifies the noun homeland. The noun phrase her homeland is the object of the preposition to. Note also that the possessive pronoun form hers never modifies a noun or noun phrase.
We have lost our way in this wood. The possessive adjective our modifies the noun way. The noun phrase our way is the direct object of the compound verb have lost. Note that the possessive pronoun form ours never modifies a noun or noun phrase.
In many fairy tales, children are neglected by their parents. The possessive adjective their modifies parents. The noun phrase their parents is the object of the preposition by. Note that the possessive pronoun form theirs never modifies a noun or noun phrase.
The cat chased its tail down the stairs. The possessive adjective its modifies tail. The noun phrase its tail is the object of the verb chased. Note that its is the possessive adjective and it’s is a contraction for it is.

Demonstrative adjectives

A demonstrative adjective (this, these, that, those and what) is identical to a demonstrative pronoun, but is used as an adjective to modify a noun or noun phrase, as in the following:

Example Explanation
When the librarian tripped over that cod, she dropped a pile of books. The demonstrative adjective that modifies the noun cord. The noun phrase that cord is the object of the preposition over.
This apartment needs to be fumigated. The demonstrative adjective this modifies the noun apartment. The noun phrase this apartment is the subject of the sentence.
Even though my friend preferred those CDs, I bought these. The demonstrative adjective those in the subordinate clause modifies CDs. The noun phrase those CDs is the object of the verb preferred. In the independent clause, these is the direct object of the verb bought.

Note that the relationship between a demonstrative adjective and a demonstrative pronoun is similar to the relationship between a possessive adjective and a possessive pronoun, or to that between an interrogative adjective and an interrogative pronoun.

Interrogative adjectives

An interrogative adjective (which or what) is like an interrogative pronoun, except that it modifies a noun or noun phrase rather than standing on its own, as in the following:

Example Explanation
Which plants should be watered twice a week? The interrogative adjective which modifies the noun plants. The noun phrase which plants is the subject of the compound verb should be watered.
What book are you reading? The interrogative adjective what modifies the noun book. The noun phrase what book is the direct object of the compound verb are reading.

Indefinite adjectives

An indefinite adjective is similar to an indefinite pronoun, except that it modifies a noun, pronoun or noun phrase, as in the following:

Example Explanation
Many people believe that corporations are insufficiently taxed. The indefinite adjective many modifies the noun people. The noun phrase many people is the subject of the sentence.
I will send you any mail that arrives after you have moved to Sudbury. The indefinite adjective any modifies the noun mail. The noun phrase any mail is the direct object of the compound verb will send.
The caretakers found a few goldfish floating belly-up in the pond. The indefinite adjective few modifies the noun goldfish. The noun phrase a few goldfish is the direct object of the verb found.
The title of Kelly’s favourite video game is "All Dogs Go To Heaven." The indefinite pronoun all modifies dogs. The title "All Dogs Go To Heaven" is a subject complement of the verb is.


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