How to Use Adjectives Correctly? 10 Step-by-Step Guide

Are you wondering how to use adjectives correctly? This guide offers step-by-step guidance to help.

Adjectives and adverbs are the parts of speech in English that describe other words. These describing words make writing richer and more engaging, adding descriptive flair to your work.

Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns. There are eight specific examples of adjectives you can use in your sentences. These include:

  • Proper adjectives
  • Descriptive adjectives
  • Quantitative adjectives
  • Determiners (articles)
  • Indefinite adjectives
  • Demonstrative adjectives
  • Distributive adjectives
  • Interrogative adjectives
  • Possessive adjectives

In addition to these, you can have subcategories, including coordinate adjectives, superlative adjectives, and comparative adjectives.

With so many different adjectives, you need to understand how to use them correctly if you write or speak the English language. This guide will help you nail your English grammar by learning how to use adjectives correctly.

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Step 1: Use Adjectives to answer the Questions Which One, What Kind, and How Many

Adjectives modify nouns and answer one of three questions:

  • Which one
  • What kind
  • How many

In the following sentence, the adjectives help add clarity to what is said:

  • Please place three red flowers on each table.

The adjectives “three” and “red” tell how many flowers and what kind of flowers. This description prevents misunderstandings or centerpieces that do not match the designer’s vision. You might also be wondering how to use ellipses in your work.

Step 2: Use Proper Adjective Order

Many English language learners are surprised to learn that adjectives have a specific order they should appear in the sentence. The order is:

  • Determiner (a, an, or the)
  • Possessive
  • Quantity or number
  • Quality or opinion
  • Size
  • Age
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Proper adjective
  • Qualifier

Here is an example that shows several adjectives listed in the correct order:

  • They had a nice big old brown German shepherd dog.

In this sentence, “nice” is quality or opinion, “big” describes the size, “old” describes age, “brown” is a color, and “German” is a proper adjective. It would make less sense to say:

  • They had a brown old big nice German shepherd dog.

Even though this sentence conveys the same meaning, changing the order of the adjectives makes it sound wrong to the listener. Keeping adjective order makes sentences flow naturally the way we use them in spoken English.

Here is another example:

  • Suzanne wrapped herself in a big new brown fluffy blanket.

In this sentence, “big” describes the blanket’s size, “new” describes its age, “brown” is its color, and “fluffy” is the qualifier, so the order of adjectives in this sentence is correct.

Step 3: Punctuate Coordinate Adjectives Correctly

Coordinate adjectives fall into the same order category but are used together to modify the same noun or pronoun. They require the proper punctuation or the use of a conjunction. These groups of words need to have conjunction, like “and,” or a comma to separate them. If there are multiple coordinate adjectives for the same noun, you will need both. For example:

  • The red, white, and blue flag fluttered in the breeze.

Since all three adjectives are colors, they need a comma and conjunction as they are coordinate adjectives.

If the adjectives do not come from the same category, they do not have to be separated. For example:

  • She loved her new silk blouse.

In this sentence, “silk blouse” is what English grammar teachers call a “semantic unit.” Though silk is an adjective that describes” blouse,” you cannot separate the two and have the sentence make sense. Thus, you do not place a comma between “new” and “silk.”

Step 4: Add -er to Make Comparative Adjectives

How to use adjectives correctly? Add -er to make comparative adjectives
For example, to change the adjective “big” into a comparative adjective, you would add -er to make “bigger”

Comparative adjectives compare two items, and they typically take a regular adjective and add the suffix -er. For example, to change the adjective “big” into a comparative adjective, you would add -er to make “bigger.”

A sentence with a comparative adjective usually follows this basic sentence structure:

  • Subject – verb – comparative adjective – than – object

Here is an example:

  • My coat is warmer than my jacket.

Step 5: Add -est to Make Superlative Adjectives

Superlative adjectives compare one item to a larger group of items. It ends in the suffix -est in most instances. It usually means that the subject being described is the best example of that particular adjective.

A sentence with a superlative adjective typically follows this basic structure:

  • Subject – verb – the – superlative adjective – object

Here is an example:

  • This coat is the warmest one I have owned.

With superlative adjectives, you can often leave off the object. For example:

  • Their new puppy was the fluffiest.

The context of this sentence would likely tell if the puppy was fluffier than its littermates or than all of the puppies the family had owned. It may just be a generalization that implies that the puppy was extremely fluffy. Either way, the sentence without the object is correct.

Step 6: Use Linking Verbs and Adjectives to Create Predicate Adjectives

Many adjectives will come before the nouns or pronouns they modify, but not in sentences that have state of being verbs, like “am,” “is,” “are,” “was,” “were,” “be,” “being,” “been.” These verbs can sometimes have an adjective after them that describes the subject. It is known as a predicate adjective.

Here is an example sentence with a predicate adjective:

  • He was cold.

In this simple sentence, the adjective “cold” describes the pronoun “he.”

Step 7: Use Nouns as Adjectives in Certain Situations

English provides some times when you can use nouns to describe other nouns. When this happens, the noun becomes an adjective. For example:

  • She had specific training to learn how to interact with her guide dog.

In this case, “guide,” which is usually a noun, is an adjective describing the dog.

Step 8: Capitalize Any Proper Adjectives

Many proper nouns can be made into adjectives to differentiate one item from another. The capitalization rules still apply when using a proper noun as an adjective. You will capitalize the first letter of the word. Here is an example:

  • The Ukrainian flag flew over the embassy.

In this sentence, “Ukrainian” is a proper adjective from the word “Ukraine,” and thus, it requires a capital “U.”

Step 9: Add -ing to Some Verbs to Make Adjectives

Sometimes verbs ending in -ing take the spot of an adjective in the sentence. This verb form is called a participle. For example:

  • The running horse is a beautiful sight to see.

In this sentence, “running” is an adjective describing “horse.” The verb in the sentence is “is,” not running.

Step 10: Add Adjective Phrases to Your Writing to Make It More Interesting

Adjective phrases are phrases that have adjectives but contain additional information. The entire phrase acts as an adjective to describe the noun or pronoun. It might include adverbs and even other nouns as part of the phrase.

For example:

  • The goats running in the pasture were bleating loudly.

In this sentence, “running in the pasture” is an adjective phrase. The entire phrase describes “goats.”

Here is another example:

  • Mrs. Smith was shorter than some of her students.

“Shorter than some of her students” is an adjective phrase. “Shorter” is the comparative adjective, but the entire phrase serves as the predicate adjective to describe Mrs. Smith.

If you’d like to learn more, check out our guide on the difference between past and present verbs!

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  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.