adjective

1 of 2

noun

ad·​jec·​tive ˈa-jik-tiv How to pronounce adjective (audio)
 also  ˈa-jə-tiv
: a word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages and typically serving as a modifier of a noun to denote a quality of the thing named, to indicate its quantity or extent, or to specify a thing as distinct from something else
The word red in "the red car" is an adjective.

adjective

2 of 2

adjective

1
: of, relating to, or functioning as an adjective
an adjective clause
2
: not standing by itself : dependent
3
: requiring or employing a mordant
adjective dyes
4
: procedural
adjective law
adjectively adverb

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What is an adjective?

Adjectives describe or modify—that is, they limit or restrict the meaning of—nouns and pronouns. They may name qualities of all kinds: huge, red, angry, tremendous, unique, rare, etc.

An adjective usually comes right before a noun: "a red dress," "fifteen people." When an adjective follows a linking verb such as be or seem, it is called a predicate adjective: "That building is huge," "The workers seem happy." Most adjectives can be used as predicate adjectives, although some are always used before a noun. Similarly, a few adjectives can only be used as predicate adjectives and are never used before a noun.

Some adjectives describe qualities that can exist in different amounts or degrees. To do this, the adjective will either change in form (usually by adding -er or -est) or will be used with words like more, most, very, slightly, etc.: "the older girls," "the longest day of the year," "a very strong feeling," "more expensive than that one." Other adjectives describe qualities that do not vary—"nuclear energy," "a medical doctor"—and do not change form.

The four demonstrative adjectivesthis, that, these, and those—are identical to the demonstrative pronouns. They are used to distinguish the person or thing being described from others of the same category or class. This and these describe people or things that are nearby, or in the present. That and those are used to describe people or things that are not here, not nearby, or in the past or future. These adjectives, like the definite and indefinite articles (a, an, and the), always come before any other adjectives that modify a noun.

An indefinite adjective describes a whole group or class of people or things, or a person or thing that is not identified or familiar. The most common indefinite adjectives are: all, another, any, both, each, either, enough, every, few, half, least, less, little, many, more, most, much, neither, one (and two, three, etc.), other, several, some, such, whole.

The interrogative adjectives—primarily which, what, and whose—are used to begin questions. They can also be used as interrogative pronouns.

Which horse did you bet on? = Which did you bet on?

What songs did they sing? = What did they sing?

Whose coat is this? = Whose is this?

The possessive adjectivesmy, your, his, her, its, our, their—tell you who has, owns, or has experienced something, as in "I admired her candor, "Our cat is 14 years old," and "They said their trip was wonderful."

Nouns often function like adjectives. When they do, they are called attributive nouns.

When two or more adjectives are used before a noun, they should be put in proper order. Any article (a, an, the), demonstrative adjective (that, these, etc.), indefinite adjective (another, both, etc.), or possessive adjective (her, our, etc.) always comes first. If there is a number, it comes first or second. True adjectives always come before attributive nouns. The ordering of true adjectives will vary, but the following order is the most common:

opinion wordsizeageshapecolornationalitymaterial.

Participles are often used like ordinary adjectives. They may come before a noun or after a linking verb. A present participle (an -ing word) describes the person or thing that causes something; for example, a boring conversation is one that bores you. A past participle (usually an -ed word) describes the person or thing who has been affected by something; for example, a bored person is one who has been affected by boredom.

They had just watched an exciting soccer game.

The instructions were confusing.

She's excited about the trip to North Africa.

Several confused students were asking questions about the test.

The lake was frozen.

Example Sentences

Noun The words blue in “the blue car,” deep in “the water is deep,” and tired in “I'm very tired” are adjectives.
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
Trevon Roots anchors the Cadets’ defense, but heavy is the last adjective that comes to mind when describing the play of the athletic 6-foot-6, 190-pound forward. Rick Armstrong, Chicago Tribune, 14 Dec. 2022 If Great American Family is anything, it is accurately named, minus the first adjective. Carrie Wittmer, Vulture, 25 Dec. 2022 His name has been turned into an adjective for foolish optimism. David Marchese David Marchesephoto Illustration By Bráulio Amado, New York Times, 4 Dec. 2022 Your father-in-law’s behavior is inexcusable, an adjective that may seem insufficient to the many citizens alive today for whom rage is both sport and occupation. Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 20 Oct. 2022 Sometimes such fiction is called Kafkaesque: nothing is more Kafkaesque than describing a mediocre creation with that adjective. Yiyun Li, Harper’s Magazine , 28 Sep. 2022 Jean Rhys’s style, her unique use of language; her use of adjective to noun is singular. New York Times, 7 Aug. 2022 That adjective also applies to Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda, who wrings every ounce of malice and comedy out of the fearsome Miss Trunchbull. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, 17 Nov. 2022 Like an irate Fisher defending his alleged slow offense — alleged by Kiffin in using that exact adjective — following an upset loss at Mississippi in mid-November last year. Brent Zwerneman, San Antonio Express-News, 17 May 2022
Adjective
Corporate sales count shenanigans aside, the new 2021 no-adjective Rogue is primed to be a hit, one of the bestselling compact SUVs in the country. Dallas News, 10 Oct. 2020 Corporate sales count shenanigans aside, the new 2021 no-adjective Rogue is primed to be a hit, one of the bestselling compact SUVs in the country. Dallas News, 10 Oct. 2020 Instagram Holistic is the adjective form of holism, which the dictionary reminds us is a study or method of treatment that’s concerned with wholes and complete systems, more than the mere sum of elementary particles. Ben Court, Men's Health, 22 Dec. 2022 Corporate sales count shenanigans aside, the new 2021 no-adjective Rogue is primed to be a hit, one of the bestselling compact SUVs in the country. Dallas News, 10 Oct. 2020 Corporate sales count shenanigans aside, the new 2021 no-adjective Rogue is primed to be a hit, one of the bestselling compact SUVs in the country. Dallas News, 10 Oct. 2020 That’s not an adjective many would use to describe Charles. Eliana Dockterman, Time, 3 Nov. 2022 Corporate sales count shenanigans aside, the new 2021 no-adjective Rogue is primed to be a hit, one of the bestselling compact SUVs in the country. Dallas News, 10 Oct. 2020 Today's word contains six letters and can be a noun, verb or adjective. Celia Storey, Arkansas Online, 7 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'adjective.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

Noun

Middle English adjectif, borrowed from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French adjectyf, borrowed from Late Latin adjectīvum, from neuter of adjectivus adjective entry 2 (as translation of Greek epítheton)

Adjective

Middle English adjectif, borrowed from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French adjectyf, borrowed from Late Latin adjectīvus, from Latin adjectus (past participle of adjicere "to throw at, attach, contribute, add to (in speech or writing)," from ad- ad- + jacere "to throw") + -īvus -ive — more at jet entry 3

First Known Use

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Adjective

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of adjective was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near adjective

Cite this Entry

“Adjective.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/adjective. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition

adjective

noun
ad·​jec·​tive
ˈaj-ik-tiv
: a word that modifies a noun by describing a quality of the thing named, indicating its quantity or extent, or specifying a thing as distinct from something else
adjective adjective
adjectival
ˌaj-ik-ˈtī-vəl
adjective or noun
adjectivally
-və-lē
adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on adjective

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