ad·​jec·​tive | \ ˈa-jik-tiv How to pronounce adjective (audio) also ˈa-jə-tiv \

Definition of adjective

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: 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.



Definition of adjective (Entry 2 of 2)

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

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Other Words from adjective


adjectively adverb

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.

Examples of adjective in a Sentence

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 That doesn’t mean Black Lives Matter is immune from those opposing the movement, including the president, from using violence as a narrative and thug as an adjective. Safia Samee Ali, NBC News, "'Not by accident': False 'thug' narratives have long been used to discredit civil rights movements," 27 Sep. 2020 Generally left-leaning people whose politics were either amorphous or polymorphous appropriated the adjective, too. Win Mccormack, The New Republic, "How to Make Progressivism Mean Something Again," 25 Sep. 2020 Behold a fiendishly heinous compound adjective, another curse of the pandemic, that’s now used to cover up personal desires and quests for power and money. Chris Jones,, "Column: Big Ten football is suddenly ‘safe’? In the reopening debate for sports and entertainment, that word is a lie.," 16 Sep. 2020 Another time Payton used that adjective to describe something was when he was asked about quarterback Jameis Winston. Amie Just | Staff Writer,, "Protocols in place, Saints training camp is — finally — in full gear," 17 Aug. 2020 The influential seventh-century encyclopedist Isidore of Seville used the adjective ‘obscenus’ to describe the love of prostitutes and those parts of the body that excite people to shameful acts. Aaron Gilbreath, Longreads, "The Function and Language of Ancient Sexual Texts," 4 May 2020 Analog, meanwhile, is the adjective, typically meaning the opposite of digital. Jason Kehe, Wired, "The Media Monsters in the National Dialog," 8 July 2020 By the late 1700s, barbecue was already a cooking process (verb), a descriptor for a kind of cooked meat (adjective), and a form of entertainment (noun). Adrian Miller, Fortune, "If you barbecue on July 4th, you’re building on a Black American legacy," 3 July 2020 The adjective in the title is not the only thing Fatal Affair has in common with the 1987 classic Fatal Attraction, starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close. Emily Tannenbaum, Glamour, "Netflix’s Fatal Affair Trailer Is Serving Major Fatal Attraction and Obsessed Vibes," 1 July 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: 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, "Nissan Rogue’s 2021 version throws down a challenge to rivals RAV4 and CR-V," 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. Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press, "2021 Nissan Rogue’s new features, performance, value ready to pressure RAV4 and CR-V," 5 Oct. 2020 Without that lovely little adjective, the wheelbarrow might simply be a bland generality. Danny Heitman, WSJ, "The Poetry of the Prosaic," 2 Oct. 2020 That’s why the noun is governor and the adjective gubernatorial. Richard Lederer, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Here’s a classical primer of political word origins," 19 Sep. 2020 Often the best strategy here is to think of action verbs, then modify them into adjective form. Peter Jones, USA TODAY, "Use these 8 words to describe yourself during a job interview," 17 Aug. 2017

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.

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First Known Use of adjective


14th century, in the meaning defined above


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for adjective


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)


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

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Time Traveler for adjective

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

4 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Adjective.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for adjective


How to pronounce adjective (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of adjective

: a word that describes a noun or a pronoun


ad·​jec·​tive | \ ˈa-jik-tiv How to pronounce adjective (audio) \

Kids Definition of adjective

: a word that says something about a noun or pronoun In the phrases “good people,” “someone good,” “it's good to be here,” and “they seem very good” the word “good” is an adjective.

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More from Merriam-Webster on adjective

Nglish: Translation of adjective for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of adjective for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about adjective

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