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Do you "adjective" English well?!

           A message void of adjectives is the least expressive one. Therefore adjectives are somehow the backbone of any expression we want to make accurate and clear in encoding the message. Adjectives help us respect real and straight communication rules. So, do you "adjective" your messages so well that people can understand you well?

           Without referring to the traditional definition of adjectives you can find in any dictionary, let's make our way into talking about the standard role of adjectives in language. In English the adjective is multi-functional. It is used essentially to describe an object but, in general, it is meant to enrich and clarify ideas and lead the interlocutors to communicate eloquently. Adjectives, thus, are seen in terms of six main kinds. They are as follows:

Of quality Demonstrative Distributive Quantitative Interrogative Possessive
  • square
  • good
  • golden
  • fat
  • heavy
  • dry
  • clever
  • this
  • that
  • these
  • those
  • each
  • every
  • either
  • neither
  • some
  • any
  • no
  • few
  • many
  • much
  • one
  • twelve
  • which
  • what
  • whose
  • my
  • your
  • his
  • her
  • its
  • our
  • your
  • their

I. Adjective List

            In English, these adjectives usually come before the nouns (objects) we intend to describe. e.g.: "a nice friend" - "a blue jacket" - "an interesting film". Without the use of adjectives, actually, we lose a lot; and we may be short in expressing our emotions, opinions, and the impressions we have about a given subject. We are going to see to what extent the use of adjectives (esp. adjectives of quality) is helpful in our interactive contact with the others?! See this example:

Yesterday, I bought a car.

           This sentence seems stiff and dull. It may make you respond to it indifferently because the speaker is giving a vague idea about the car he had bought. His sentence doesn't really carry a complete well-spoken idea. What the speaker needs to make his sentence expressive, attractive and provoking, is by relying on adjectives to colour it and present it in a beautiful structure. Now compare the first sentence with the following.

Yesterday, I bought a red car.

           The image is getting a little clearer with the adjective "red". Now we know something new about the car. It is not yellow or black, it is rather red. However, actually, it is not yet fully clear enough for us to form a complete image about the car so as to estimate or underestimate it. Therefore, one sentence can bear as many adjectives as you like, provided that they don't raise misunderstanding or confuse the listener. Yet, the speaker should normally respect the appropriate organisation of adjectives in a sentence.

The order of adjectives

           Is this order compulsory? Is it based on rules? Let's tackle and illustrate this issue through investigating the impact of the use of adjectives on our "stiff" sentence. What is the most appropriate word-order we should respect to reach a complete multi-adjectival statement? Suppose the speaker wants to tell us about the size of the car; and he chooses to depict his car as "small". Where shall he place the new word in the sentence? Before or after the previous adjective, namely: "red"? Look at it this way:

Yesterday, I bought a small red car

           The sentence in its new structure gives more information about the car. We, lucky as we are, have the opportunity to know that the car in question is not a big one. Thanks to this adjective we become able to make our image of the car a little bit clearer though some more details are still in need. These details cannot be provided, so to speak, unless other adjectives come to complete the image in our minds. The structural issue, on the other hand, is to justify the placement of the adjective "small" before the adjective "red". Why couldn't we say instead: [Yesterday, I bought a red small car]? This form is inaccurate. The word ordering, in a sentence, is not moody at all. The accuracy of the sentence here is controlled by the respect of this order, notably: "shape = small" then "colour = red" but not vice versa. Now suppose the speaker intends to praise his car and decides that the adjective 'beautiful' is the most suitable to give his opinion about it, what shall he do? Where shall he place it among the previously stated adjectives? Look at how the sentence should be structured:

Yesterday, I bought a beautiful, small, red car.

            All these details are boring but unavoidable to make the structure more formal and accurate. The 'beautiful' adjective, on the other hand, is quite interesting in the making of the image. It is not a piece of evidence but it is simply an opinion that could differ from any one else's. The rule says that the opinion is always initial when a range of adjectives are used that's why the speaker places his 'beautiful' opinion adjective first. The adjective describes it as beautiful and this opinion is essentially contributing in depicting an almost complete picture. And that's not all. Our sentence is able to bear as more adjectives as we wish but under the very specific conditions we are trying to clarify here. Now let's go on imagining this famous car as being made in Japan. How can the speaker introduce this new important information?


Yesterday, I bought a beautiful, small, red, Japanese car.

           The beautiful small car is made in Japan, which we didn't know before the use of the adjective "Japanese". It improves the picture of the car in our minds and also in the way we conceive the object. The car hasn't got an American or European origin. It is simply Japanese. The newly introduced adjective has to be placed at the end of the list of adjectives already stated. However, it is not the last in the order. Another adjective, notably the one which gives us information about the material with which the car was constructed, is the last ring of the chain. That's amazing, isn't it? Let's go on with it and see the way we are placing the new adjective,

Yesterday, I bought a beautiful, small, red, Japanese, plastic car.

           We've finally reached a quite complete image of this famous car. In English it is not, normally, allowed to go beyond these five adjectives in a sentence. Their variety is supposed to be enough to make any described object lavishly clear. Therefore, any more adjectives of quality in one single sentence generally lead to ambiguity or distortion of the image. That's greatly enough like this. The construction of a syntactically correct structure of a sentence, in which the adjectives are the basis of transmitting a complete clear message, implies the use of the specific number of adjectives; each of which has to refer you to a piece of information complete in itself but a brick completing the others. It means that no adjectives of the same category should be used more than once. Hence our sentence is, eventually, arranged as follows.

(1) Opinion:(beautiful)
(2) Shape:(small)
(3) Colour:(red)
(4) Origin:(Japanese)
(5) Material:(plastic)

           Once these rules are respected, not only will adjectives make your sentences correct and clear, but they also will decorate them and make them look formal and adept. With this order in mind, you can make as many sentences as you wish. You will successfully express yourself formally if you follow the correct order of the adjectives in the sentence. This classification system is not negotiable, however. You cannot break it unless you speak or write to someone who doesn't know exactly what a FORMAL sentence looks like.
*/ There is a lovely, large, multicolor, Moroccan, woollen carpet in my room.
*/ She was wearing an attractive, long, auburn, Indian, silky dress.

           As you can see in these sentences, as well as in the former ones, each pair of adjectives is separated by a comma (,). When there are more than one adjective before the noun in a sentence, we usually use commas except for adjectives of colour which we separate by "and" instead. e.g.:

A black and white Djellaba
A blue, white and red flag.

           Adjectives are used to carry the specific meaning we intend to convey in many different ways. I mean that the same adjective can have more than one meaning depending on the context. It is not the same in all situations. The adjectives of quality have the ability as to "metamorphose" in their implications once their context has been changed. I mean that they can go from the proper meaning to the figurative one and the same adjective can mean two different things in two different contexts. For example the adjective "pretty" means "attractive" but in another context, it means "fine or good". The adjective "rich", also, has got this quality. It can be used for more than one meaning. Here is a usual example:

                       1. That's a rich man. (He is wealthy; he's got a lot of money).
                       2. That's a rich book. (There are a lot of interesting ideas and insights in it).

           Sometimes the adjectives turn to be rigid and one adjective is used only for specific purpose and cannot be used for others though they share the same quality. Look at this example:

                      -/ My uncle is the tall man in the middle.

A man is "tall"; but what about a building or a mountain? Can we attribute the adjective "tall" to them, too? No, another adjective is quite more suitable because it is more expressive and accurate in this situation, it is "high":

                      -/ A high building / mountain.

Long & short

           Only adjectives of quality are dealt with here because they seem more interesting and quite diversified in their use, construction and organization in a discourse than the other kinds. They are widely needed in many different situations, such as comparisons in which the adjective seems very much flexible and able to take different shapes and express the least difference between compared people or things.

           To begin with, there are two main categories of adjectives: LONG and SHORT ones. Long adjectives are characterized by the number of syllables which exceeds two (with exceptions of course). e.g.: expensive, comfortable, interesting, intelligent... etc. Whereas short adjectives are made up of no more than two syllables for example: dark, big, hot, clean, dirty... etc.

            We habitually use adjectives in many situations in different styles according to what idea we want to convey; and how we want it to look like so as to carry a message clear enough to decode easily. We sometimes need to compare between people who share the same quality or one is inferior or superior to another in a quality, a trait or a virtue. The same thing can be said about objects, ideas and others. In cases as such we have normally to rely greatly on:


           As a rule, adjectives of quality are used in description. On the other hand, they can operate effectively in comparing between two given "things" sharing the same quality but with a certain level of disparity. Comparatives do it quite exceptionally well when they show us how this disparity, slight as it may be, can be spotted. They also can give us the tools to express equality and inequality using some language items. Let's illustrate these things in details:


           */ The dog is intelligent. The cat is intelligent, too.
           */ I think, the cat is as intelligent as the dog.

           The two pets are seen to be equal in their intelligence faculty thanks to the adjective "intelligent" assisted by the expression "". This structure can bear both short and long adjectives without exceptions. You can make as many sentences as you like thanks to the easy rules of this structure [as+adjective+as]:

           */ The boy is as tall as his father.            */ The girl is as beautiful as her mother.

           The adjective of quality greatly appreciates and enjoys being between these two lovely twins "as ... as" to the extent that some idioms are made of this team:

as + adjective + as

           Here are some examples:
~~ [ Idioms Of Comparison with (... as ... as ...) ] ~~
When it is negative!
           When the two compared nouns are not equal in a quality, the sentence can also us "as ... as" but with introducing "not":

*/ Casablanca is a big city. Rabat is a big city, too. But Rabat is not as big as Casablanca.

           From this sentence we infer that Rabat is inferior to Casa or that Casablanca is superior to Rabat in surface. So this sentence is either:

Rabat is less big  than Casablanca.
(OR) Casablanca is bigger than Rabat.

We'll see these new forms in details right now and we will start with,


Long Adjectives
           It is through adjectives that superiority is expressed better. To do that, it is necessary to know how to do it perfectly. If you want to use long adjectives like intelligent, comfortable, expensive, etc... in comparing between two elements or more, you have to use the modifiers "more" for comparatives and "the most" for superlatives, for example,

           */ The book is more interesting  than the film.
           */ A car is more comfortable  than a donkey back.
           */ The plane is the most expensive  means of transport.
           */ This is the most exciting  film I've ever seen.

Here is an illustrative table:

  Long Adjectives   Comparatives Superlatives
  • beautiful
  • expensive
  • comfortable
  • interesting
  • difficult
  • important
  • exciting
  • famous
  • ............
  • more beautiful than
  • more expensive than
  • more comfortable than
  • more interesting than
  • more difficult than
  • more important than
  • more exciting than
  • more famous than
  • .............
  • the most beautiful
  • the most expensive
  • the most comfortable
  • the most interesting
  • the most difficult
  • the most important
  • the most exciting
  • the most famous
  • .............
Short Adjectives
           On the other hand, if you want to express superiority using short adjectives, you need some more details to be aware of. The general rule says:

[ short adjective+er + than ]

           Unlike long adjectives, short adjectives are divided into groups depending on their spelling. Some of them take "-er" at the end but some others take it with some more modifications on the root word itself. These tables explain when and how. There are at least FIVE categories:

  1. [Comparative=Adj+er / Superlative=The + adj+est]
      Adjectives   Comparatives Superlatives
    • tall
    • short
    • old
    • dark
    • cheap
    • long
    • warm
    • cold
    • ............
    • taller than
    • shorter than
    • older than
    • darker than
    • cheaper than
    • longer than
    • warmer than
    • colder than
    • .............
    • the tallest of...
    • the shortest of...
    • the oldest of...
    • the darkest of...
    • the cheapest of...
    • the longest of...
    • the warmest of...
    • the coldest of...
    • .............

  2. [Comparative=Adj+r / Superlative=The + adj+st]
      Adjectives   Comparatives Superlatives
    • wide
    • nice
    • rude
    • fine
    • large
    • ............
    • wider than
    • nicer than
    • ruder than
    • finer than
    • larger than
    • .............
    • the widest of...
    • the nicest of...
    • the rudest of...
    • the finest of...
    • the largest of...
    • .............

  3. [Comparative=Adj+(double last letter)+er / Superlative=The + adj+(double last letter)+est]
      Adjectives   Comparatives Superlatives
    • fat
    • big
    • hot
    • slim
    • sad
    • ............
    • fatter than
    • bigger than
    • hotter than
    • slimmer than
    • sadder than
    • .............
    • the fattest of...
    • the biggest of...
    • the hottest of...
    • the slimmest of...
    • the saddest of...
    • .............

  4. [Comparative=Adj+(change "y" into "i")+er / Superlative=The + adj+(change "y" into "i")+est]
      Adjectives   Comparatives Superlatives
    • heavy
    • dirty
    • pretty
    • happy
    • sunny
    • easy
    • lazy
    • ............
    • heavier than
    • dirtier than
    • prettier than
    • happier than
    • sunnier than
    • easier than
    • lazier than
    • .............
    • the heaviest of...
    • the dirtiest of...
    • the prettiest of...
    • the happiest of...
    • the sunniest of...
    • the easiest of...
    • the laziest of...
    • .............

  5. Irregular ones. Completely change (no rules).
      Adjectives   Comparatives Superlatives
    • good
    • bad
    • little
    • many
    • much
    • far
    • old
    • ............
    • better thanworse than
    • less than
    • more than
    • more than
    • further/farther than
    • elder than
    • .............
    • the best of...
    • the worst of...
    • the least of...
    • the most of...
    • the most of...
    • the furthest / farthest of...
    • the eldest of...
    • .............

These five forms have got five different spelling ways. With short adjective comparatives, we usually use "-er" -as shown in the tables above- at the end of the adjective to make the comparison expressive, e.g.:

1. Salwa is 20. Ali is only 15, but Brahim is 22. So Salwa is older than Ali, but Brahim is the oldest of the three.

2. Rabat is larger than Tangiers. But Casablanca is larger than both Rabat and Tangiers. It is the largest of them.

3. July is hotter than April. But August is the hottest month of the year.

4. Nadia is pretty. Leila is prettier than Nadia whereas Aisha is the prettiest of them all.

5. Irregular comparisons:
           5.a: [good] Your idea is better than mine. But the old man's is the best of all.
           5.b: [far] Marrakesh is farther from Rabat than Casablanca. But Dakhla is the furthest city to the south.
                                 (NB: "farther" of distance only while "further" is of distance and time)
           5.c: [bad] Laziness is worse than ignorance. Laziness is rather the worst characteristic in a person.

All in all, if we wanted the way leading to the other meticulous locations of the adjective described, it would be better to quote a funny character 'Tony' in Oliver Goldsmith's play She Stoops to Conquer Act I; Scene ii :

"It's a damned long, dark, boggy, dirty, dangerous way"


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Last Update : December 7th, 2014

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