Parts of Speech
Adjectives (modifiers)

What are modifiers?

Modifiers limit, qualify, or make more exact other words or word groups by describing them.

Example:    the brown cow

Brown "modifies" the word "cow" by naming a quality of it,
making its description more precise. Simply, the word "brown" is describing the cow.

Modifiers "depend on" the word they qualify; therefore, they are optional.

Modifiers which are placed before a noun are called pre-modifiers and those placed after a noun are called post-modifiers.

What are adjectives?

Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Two types of adjectives are

  1. descriptive, describing a quality of the noun
  2. limiting, limiting the noun being described

Examples:   descriptive:   tall tree, stellar performance
        limiting:  my dog, the second try
  1. Desriptive adjectives can be attributive adjectives or predicate adjectives.

    • Attributive Adjectives:
      Adjectives which appear directly beside the noun, most commonly before, are called attributive, because they attribute a quality to the noun they modify. More than one adjective can modify the same noun.

          He washed the empty cup.
          "Empty" is an attributive adjective, as it is placed
          directly beside the noun "cup." It is describing the cup.
          The chatter made the room noisy.
          This is an instance in which the attributive adjective
          appears directly behind the noun. "Noisy" is describing the "room."
    • Predicate Adjectives:
      Adjectives which appear after a linking verb (see Lesson 1.3b) are called predicative, because they form part of the predicate. They modify the subject of the sentence or clause (a clause is a portion of a sentence which contains a subject and a predicate).

      For information on subjects and predicates, see Lesson 2.1.

             The painting was colourful.
                noun:         painting
                linking verb: was
                adjective:    colourful (describing the noun"painting")
             The wind remained strong.
                noun:         wind
                linking verb: remained
                adjective:    strong (describing the noun "wind")

  2. Limiting adjectives do as their name suggests, they limit the noun being described. There are nine types of limiting adjectives.

The Nine Types of Limiting Adjectives:

  1. Definite & Indefinite Articles
  2. Possessive Adjectives
  3. Demonstrative Adjectives
  4. Indefinite Adjectives
  5. Interrogative Adjectives
  6. Cardinal Adjectives
  7. Ordinal Adjectives
  8. Proper Adjectives
  9. Nouns used as Adjectives

  1. Definite & Indefinite Articles

    There is only one definite article, the. When used before a noun, it specifies a particular noun as opposed to any one.

         the dog  (a specific, identifiable dog)
         the walls (specific, identifiable walls)
    There are two indefinite articles, a and an. These are used with a noun when a specific noun is not being pointed at.

         a dog  (any dog)
         an apple (any apple)
  2. Possessive Adjectives:

    The possessive adjectives my, your, his, her, its, our, and their modify nouns by showing possession or ownership.

         my sweater
         their party
  3. Demonstrative Adjectives:

    A demonstrative adjective is a demonstrative pronoun that appears before a noun and emphasizes it.

    Example: (note the difference)
         demonstrative pronoun:   These are wonderful.
         demonstrative adjective: These apples are wonderful.
  4. Indefinite Adjectives:

    Indefinite adjectives are indefinite pronouns used before a noun.

    Example: (note the difference)
         pronoun:   Several witnessed the event.
         adjective: Several pedestrians witnessed the event.
  5. Interrogative Adjectives:

    The interrogative adjectives what, which, and whose modify nouns and pronouns to indicate a question about them.

    Example: (note the difference)
         pronoun:   Which fell?
         adjective: Which trapeze artist fell?
  6. Cardinal Adjectives:

    Adjectives that modify the noun by numbering it (stating how many) are cardinal adjectives.

         five books
         two fish
  7. Ordinal Adjectives:

    An ordinal adjective indicates the position of a noun in a series.

         the first date
         the fourth day
  8. Proper Adjectives:

    Adjectives derived from proper names are called proper adjectives. They are easily recognizable in that they are always capitalized.

         French bread
         Shakespearean sonnet
  9. Nouns used as Adjectives:

    Sometimes nouns can be used as adjectives to define or describe another noun.

         the porch light
         a house fly


Identify the correct adjective from the sentence which matches the type of adjective given in brackets. If your response shows as "Incorrect" in the status bar, the correct answer will appear in the blank.

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Copyright © 1998
English Department
University of Calgary

Last updated: July 26 1999