AskDefine | Define adjective

Dictionary Definition

adjective adj
1 of or relating to or functioning as an adjective; "adjectival syntax"; "an adjective clause" [syn: adjectival]
2 applying to methods of enforcement and rules of procedure; "adjective law" [syn: procedural] [ant: substantive]


1 a word that expresses an attribute of something
2 the word class that qualifies nouns

User Contributed Dictionary



From adjectif, from adiectivum, from ad + iectus, perfect passive participle of iacio + -ivus, adjective ending; hence, a word "thrown next to" a noun, modifying it.


  1. Additional or adjunct.
    • 1899, John Jay Chapman, Emerson and Other Essays, AMS Press (1969) (as reproduced in Project Gutenberg)
      In fact, God is of not so much importance in Himself, but as the end towards which man tends. That irreverent person who said that Browning uses "God" as a pigment made an accurate criticism of his theology. In Browning, God is adjective to man.
  2. Applying to methods of enforcement and rules of procedure.
    adjective law


functioning as an adjective
methods of enforcement and rules of procedure



  1. A word that modifies a noun or describes a noun’s referent.
    The words “big” and “heavy” are English adjectives.

Usage notes

Adjectives compose a fundamental category of words in most languages. In most lanuages, most adjectives can be used both attributively and predicatively, can be graded, and can be modified by an adverb.


(grammar) a word that modifies a noun or describes a noun’s referent







adjective n p
  1. Plural of adjectiv adjectives

Extensive Definition

An adjective, in grammar, is a word whose main syntactic role is to modify a noun or pronoun (called the adjective's head), giving more information about to what the noun or pronoun refers. Some examples can be seen in the box to the right. Collectively, adjectives form one of the traditional eight parts of speech, though linguists today distinguish adjectives from words such as determiners that used to be considered adjectives but that are now recognized to be different. It derives from the Latin words ad and iacere (Latin words that start with an I change to a J in English); literally, to throw to.
Not all languages have adjectives, but most, including English, do. (English adjectives include big, old, and tired, among many others.) Those that do not typically use words of another part of speech, often verbs, to serve the same semantic function; for example, such a language might have a verb that means "to be big", and would use a construction analogous to "big-being house" to express what English expresses as "big house". Even in languages that do have adjectives, one language's adjective might not be another's; for example, where English has "to be hungry" (hungry being an adjective), French has "avoir faim" (literally "to have hunger"), and where Hebrew has the adjective "זקוק" (zaqūq, roughly "in need of"), English uses the verb "to need".
In most languages with adjectives, they form an open class of words; that is, it is relatively common for new adjectives to be formed via such processes as derivation.

Adjectives and adverbs

Many languages, including English, distinguish between adjectives, which modify nouns and pronouns, and adverbs, which modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Not all languages have exactly this distinction, however, and in many languages (including English) there are words that can function as both. For example, English fast is an adjective in "a fast car" (where it modifies the noun car), but an adverb in "he drove fast" (where it modifies the verb drove).

Classes of adjectives

There are 6 classes of adjectives in the English language:
Numeric: six, three hundred
Quantitative: more, all, some, half, more than enough
Qualitative: Relates to colour, size, smell etc.
Possessive: my, his, their, your
Interrogative: which, whose, what
Demonstrative: this, that, those, these
Adjectives also have different levels of intensity (See, superlative, comparative, nominative)


Linguists today distinguish determiners from adjectives, considering them to be two separate parts of speech (or lexical categories), but traditionally, determiners were considered adjectives in some of their uses. (In English dictionaries, which typically still do not treat determiners as their own part of speech, determiners are often recognizable by being listed both as adjectives and as pronouns.) Determiners are words that express the reference of a noun in the context, generally indicating definiteness (as in a vs. the), quantity (as in one vs. some vs. many), or another such property.

Attributive, predicative, absolute, and substantive adjectives

A given occurrence of an adjective can generally be classified into one of four kinds of uses:
  • Attributive adjectives are part of the noun phrase headed by the noun they modify; for example, happy is an attributive adjective in "happy kids". In some languages, attributive adjectives precede their nouns; in others, they follow their nouns; and in yet others, it depends on the adjective, or on the exact relationship of the adjective to the noun. In English, attributive adjectives usually precede their nouns in simple phrases, but often follow their nouns when the adjective is modified or qualified by a phrase acting as an adverb. For example: "I saw three happy kids", and "I saw three kids happy enough to jump up and down with glee".
  • Predicative adjectives are linked via a copula or other linking mechanism to the noun or pronoun they modify; for example, happy is a predicate adjective in "they are happy" and in "that made me happy".
  • Absolute adjectives do not belong to a larger construction (aside from a larger adjective phrase), and typically modify either the subject of a sentence or whatever noun or pronoun they are closest to; for example, happy is an absolute adjective in "The boy, happy with his lollipop, did not look where he was going."
  • Substantive adjectives act almost as nouns. One way this can happen is if a noun is elided and an attributive adjective is left behind. In the sentence, "I read two books to them; he preferred the sad book, but she preferred the happy," happy is a substantive adjective, short for "happy one" or "happy book". Another way this can happen is in phrases like "out with the old, in with the new", where "the old" means, "that which is old" or "all that is old", and similarly with "the new". In such cases, the adjective functions either as a mass noun (as in the preceding example) or as a plural count noun, as in "The meek shall inherit the Earth", where "the meek" means "those who are meek" or "all who are meek".

Adjectival phrases

An adjective acts as the head of an adjectival phrase. In the simplest case, an adjectival phrase consists solely of the adjective; more complex adjectival phrases may contain one or more adverbs modifying the adjective ("very strong"), or one or more complements ("worth several dollars", "full of toys", "eager to please). In English, attributive adjectival phrases that include complements typically follow their subject ("an evildoer devoid of redeeming qualities").

Other noun modifiers

In many languages, including English, it is possible for nouns to modify other nouns. Unlike adjectives, nouns acting as modifiers (called attributive nouns or noun adjuncts) are not predicative; a red car is red, but a car park is not "car". In English, the modifier often indicates origin ("Virginia reel"), purpose ("work clothes"), or semantic patient ("man eater"). However, it can generally indicate almost any semantic relationship. It is also common for adjectives to be derived from nouns, as in English boyish, birdlike, behavioral, famous, manly, angelic, and so on.
Many languages have special verbal forms called participles that can act as noun modifiers. In some languages, including English, there is a strong tendency for participles to evolve into adjectives. English examples of this include relieved (the past participle of the verb relieve, used as an adjective in sentences such as "I am so relieved to see you"), spoken (as in "the spoken word"), and going (the present participle of the verb go, used as an adjective in sentences such as "Ten dollars per hour is the going rate").
Other constructs that often modify nouns include prepositional phrases (as in English "a rebel without a cause"), relative clauses (as in English "the man who wasn't there"), other adjective clauses (as in English "the bookstore where he worked"), and infinitive phrases (as in English "pizza to die for").
In relation, many nouns take complements such as content clauses (as in English "the idea that I would do that"); these are not commonly considered modifiers, however.

Adjective order

In many languages, attributive adjectives usually occur in a specific order; for example, in English, adjectives pertaining to size generally precede adjectives pertaining to age ("little old", not "old little"), which in turn generally precede adjectives pertaining to color ("old green", not "green old"). This order may be more rigid in some languages than others; in some, it may only be a default (unmarked) word order, with other orders being permissible to shift the emphasis.

Comparison of adjectives

In many languages, adjectives can be compared. In English, for example, we can say that a car is big, that it is bigger than another is, or that it is the biggest car of all. Not all adjectives lend themselves to comparison, however; for example, the English adjective even, in the sense of "being a multiple of two", is not considered comparable, in that it does not make sense to describe one integer as "more even" than another.
Among languages that allow adjectives to be compared in this way, different approaches are used. Indeed, even within English, two different approaches are used: the suffixes -er and -est, and the words more and most. (In English, the general tendency is for shorter adjectives and adjectives from Anglo-Saxon to use -er and -est, and for longer adjectives and adjectives from French, Latin, Greek, and other languages to use more and most.) By either approach, English adjectives therefore have positive forms (big), comparative forms (bigger), and superlative forms (biggest); many languages do not distinguish comparative from superlative forms, however.


Attributive adjectives, and other noun modifiers, may be used either restrictively (helping to identify the noun's referent, hence "restricting" its reference), or non-restrictively (helping to describe an already-identified noun). In some languages, such as Spanish, restrictiveness is consistently marked; for example, Spanish la tarea difícil means "the difficult task" in the sense of "the task that is difficult" (restrictive), while la difícil tarea means "the difficult task" in the sense of "the task, which is difficult" (non-restrictive). In English, restrictiveness is not marked on adjectives, but is marked on relative clauses (the difference between "the man who recognized me was there" and "the man, who recognized me, was there" being one of restrictiveness).


  • Dixon, R. M. W. (1977). Where have all the adjectives gone? Studies in Language, 1, 19–80.
  • Dixon, R. M. W. (1994). Adjectives. In R. E. Asher (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (pp. 29–35). Oxford: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-035943-4. (Republished as Dixon 1999).
  • Dixon, R. M. W. (1999). Adjectives. In K. Brown & T. Miller (Eds.), Concise encyclopedia of grammatical categories (pp. 1-8). Amsterdam: Elsevier. ISBN 0-08-043164-X.
  • Warren, Beatrice. (1984). Classifying adjectives. Gothenburg studies in English (No. 56). Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis. ISBN 91-7346-133-4.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna. (1986). What's in a noun? (or: How do nouns differ in meaning from adjectives?). Studies in Language, 10, 353–389.
adjective in Afrikaans: Byvoeglike naamwoord
adjective in Tosk Albanian: Adjektiv
adjective in Bosnian: Pridjevi
adjective in Breton: Anv-gwan
adjective in Bulgarian: Прилагателно име
adjective in Catalan: Adjectiu
adjective in Chuvash: Паллă ячĕ
adjective in Czech: Přídavné jméno
adjective in Danish: Tillægsord
adjective in German: Adjektiv
adjective in Spanish: Adjetivo
adjective in Esperanto: Adjektivo
adjective in Persian: صفت (دستور زبان)
adjective in French: Adjectif
adjective in Scottish Gaelic: Buadhair
adjective in Galician: Adxectivo
adjective in Korean: 형용사
adjective in Croatian: Pridjevi
adjective in Indonesian: Adjektiva
adjective in Icelandic: Lýsingarorð
adjective in Italian: Aggettivo
adjective in Hebrew: שם תואר
adjective in Kazakh: Сын есім
adjective in Latvian: Īpašības vārds
adjective in Lithuanian: Būdvardis
adjective in Lingala: Likonzámí
adjective in Hungarian: Melléknév
adjective in Malayalam: നാമവിശേഷണം
adjective in Malay (macrolanguage): Kata sifat
adjective in Dutch: Bijvoeglijk naamwoord
adjective in Japanese: 形容詞
adjective in Norwegian: Adjektiv
adjective in Norwegian Nynorsk: Adjektiv
adjective in Low German: Adjektiv
adjective in Polish: Przymiotnik
adjective in Portuguese: Adjetivo
adjective in Romanian: Adjectiv
adjective in Quechua: Rikch'ayrimana
adjective in Russian: Имя прилагательное
adjective in Sicilian: Aggittivi
adjective in Simple English: Adjective
adjective in Slovak: Prídavné meno
adjective in Serbian: Придеви
adjective in Serbo-Croatian: Pridjev
adjective in Sundanese: Adjéktif
adjective in Finnish: Adjektiivi
adjective in Swedish: Adjektiv
adjective in Tagalog: Pang-uri
adjective in Thai: คำวิเศษณ์
adjective in Turkish: Sıfat
adjective in Ukrainian: Прикметник
adjective in Walloon: Addjectif
adjective in Yiddish: אדיעקטיוו
adjective in Chinese: 形容词

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

adjectival, adverb, adverbial, adversative conjunction, attributive, conjunction, conjunctive adverb, coordinating conjunction, copulative, copulative conjunction, correlative conjunction, disjunctive, disjunctive conjunction, exclamatory noun, form class, form word, function class, gerundive, interjection, part of speech, participle, particle, past participle, perfect participle, preposition, present participle, subordinating conjunction, verbal adjective
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