Adjectives

Adjectives can be identified using a number of formal criteria. However, we may begin by saying that they typically describe an attribute of a noun:

cold weather

large windows

violent storms

Some adjectives can be identified by their endings. Typical adjective endings include:

-able/-ible achievable, capable, illegible, remarkable
al biographical, functional, internal, logical
-ful beautiful, careful, grateful, harmful
-ic cubic, manic, rustic, terrific
-ive attractive, dismissive, inventive, persuasive
-less breathless, careless, groundless, restless
-ous courageous, dangerous, disastrous, fabulous

However, a large number of very common adjectives cannot be identified in this way. They do not have typical adjectival form:

badbrightclever

cold

common

complete

dark

deep

difficult

distantelementarygood

great

honest

hot

main

morose

old

quietrealred

silent

simple

strange

wicked

wide

young

As this list shows, adjectives are formally very diverse. However, they have a number of characteristics which we can use to identify them.

Characteristics of Adjectives

Adjectives can take a modifying word, such as very, extremely, or less, before them:

very cold weather

extremely large windows

less violent storms

Here, the modifying word locates the adjective on a scale of comparison, at a position higher or lower than the one indicated by the adjective alone.

This characteristic is known as GRADABILITY. Most adjectives are gradable, though if the adjective already denotes the highest position on a scale, then it is non-gradable:

my main reason for coming ~*my very main reason for coming
the principal role in the play ~*the very principal role in the play

As well as taking modifying words like very and extremely,adjectives also take different forms to indicate their position on a scale of comparison:

bigbiggerbiggest

The lowest point on the scale is known as the ABSOLUTE form, the middle point is known as the COMPARATIVE form, and the highest point is known as the SUPERLATIVE form. Here are some more examples:

Absolute Comparative Superlative
dark darker darkest
new newer newest
old older oldest
young younger youngest

In most cases, the comparative is formed by adding -er , and the superlative is formed by adding -est, to the absolute form. However, a number of very common adjectives are irregular in this respect:

Absolute Comparative Superlative
good better best
bad worse worst
far farther farthest

Some adjectives form the comparative and superlative using more and most respectively:

Absolute Comparative Superlative
important more important most important
miserable more miserable most miserable
recent more recent most recent