What Are Limiting Adjectives? A Comprehensive Guide

English writers use limiting adjectives to restrict the particular nouns or pronouns in the sentence. Learn the answer to “what are limiting adjectives” here.

Learning to write English well means learning different parts of speech. In addition to learning the essential parts of speech, you will need to learn the different types within those main categories. One small group of adjectives is the limiting adjectives.

What are limiting adjectives? This guide will help you learn the answer.

What Are Limiting Adjectives?

Limiting adjectives is a unique adjective that restricts the noun or pronoun it modifies rather than describing one of its qualities.

A Closer Look at Limiting Adjectives

What are limiting adjectives?
Descriptive adjectives describe the characteristics of the antecedents they modify

English grammar has two types of modifiers, and adjectives are the modifiers for nouns and pronouns. Limiting adjectives restrict the noun or pronoun they modify, limiting them to a specific group without making any description of them. For example:

  • The team went out for some dessert.

In this example sentence, the adjective “some” describes dessert but does not indicate what type of dessert. It could mean cake, ice cream, or something else.

This type of adjective is in contrast to descriptive adjectives. Descriptive adjectives describe the characteristics of the antecedents they modify. For example:

  • The team went out for a freshly baked dessert.

In this sentence, the adjective baked tells more about the dessert. You know that it is something baked, like cakes or cookies, and not ice cream. The adverb “freshly” helps solidify that picture in your mind.

Types of Limiting Adjectives

The English language has several kinds of adjectives that fall under the category of limiting adjectives. These include the following:

Articles

The articles “a,” “an,” and “the” are limiting adjectives. This small group of adjectives tells the reader if the writer is referring to a specific thing or not. “The” is the definite article referring to a specific thing, while a or an are the indefinite articles that modify non-specific nouns. For example:

  • Please walk the dog.

In this sentence, you can assume that the hearer or reader knows which dog is “the dog” because the writer used the definite article. However, in this sentence:

  • Please walk a dog.

The writer implies more than one dog is available, so you are not walking any specific dog because the writer used the indefinite pronoun.

Possessive Adjectives

What are limiting adjectives?
Possessive adjectives show possession

Possessive adjectives show possession. Possessive nouns use an apostrophe and often an “s” to show possession. Possessive pronouns are specific pronouns that show possession. These are:

  • My
  • Our
  • Its
  • Their
  • His
  • Her
  • Your

This type of adjective limits the noun by limiting it via its ownership.

Cardinal and Ordinal Adjectives

Ordinal and cardinal adjectives are adjectives that show a number or quantity. Cardinal adjectives are the numbers themselves. Ordinal adjectives are ordinal numbers, like first, second, third, etc. Here are how these look in a sentence:

  • After 12 days, the cruisegoers landed on their third island.

12 is a cardinal adjective in this sentence, while the third is an ordinal adjective.

Indefinite Adjectives

Indefinite adjectives tell something about how many of the nouns or pronouns are without stating a specific number. Words like “many,” “few,” “some,” and “any” fall into this category. These words limit the noun they modify without stating a specific number. Here is an example:

  • Please take a few business cards to give to some friends.

Both “few” and “some” are indefinite adjectives in this sentence because they indicate you are not taking all of the business cards and giving them to all friends, so they limit the nouns.

Interrogative Adjectives

The interrogative pronouns “whose,” “what,” and “which” serve as adjectives in sentences. These are limiting adjectives. For example, the following sentence uses “whose” as an interrogative adjective:

  • The dog, whose owner was late to pick him up from doggy daycare, cried.

These can also show up at the beginning of an interrogative sentence, as in this example:

  • Whose raincoat is sitting on the picnic bench?

Demonstrative Adjectives

The demonstrative pronouns “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those” serve as adjectives in a sentence and indicate the location or a moment in time. This limits the noun they modify, as in this sentence:

  • She would love these flowers, but not that perfume.

Tips for Using Limiting Adjectives

If you use limiting adjectives in a sentence, remember that they almost always come before any descriptive adjectives. For example, you would say:

  • Sarah ate several red apples last week.

In this sentence, “several” is an adjective describing apples, as is red, but only “several” is limiting. It would not make sense to say:

  • Sarah ate red several apples last week.

Even though this states the same fact, it is not the order that flows in the English speaker’s mind.

Also, remember that you do not make comparative or superlative adjectives out of limiting adjectives. You would not say something is “more theirs” or “the several-est.”

If you still need help, our guide to grammar and punctuation explains more.

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