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Adjectives are one of the four major word classes, along with nouns, verbs and adverbs. Examples of adjectives are: big, small, blue, old, rich and nice. They give us more information about people, animals or things represented by nouns and pronouns:

That’s a big house.

Look at the grey horse.

Some dogs have long tails.

She is tall.

Meanings of adjectives

Adjectives give us more information. They modify or describe features and qualities of people, animals and things.

Here are some of the common meanings.

examples meaning
I am fond of ice cream.

Cairo is different from Alexandria.

His car is similar to mine.

Other examples:

keen (on), near (to), aware (of)
Relations between people and things. These adjectives usually require a word or phrase (complement) to complete their meaning.
He’s generous.

She’s a kind woman.

The waiter was very polite.

Other examples:

talkative, cruel, cooperative, helpful, useful
Descriptions of people and things in terms of their actions.
That’s an old house.

The Olympic stadium is big.

Other examples:

tall, old, good, rough, true, ugly, red, heavy
Features that will last a long time or will not change (permanent).
Anyone hungry? Lunch is nearly ready.

It’s so cold in Nick’s house.

Other examples:

absent, ill, dry, full, lonely, wet, hot, thirsty, angry
States and conditions that can change.
I saw a great French film last night.

I don’t like modern paintings.

I live in a detached house.

Other examples:

organic (vegetables), impressionist (painter), wild (salmon)
Classifying people and things into types.



Most common adjectives are members of a pair of opposites (antonyms):

beautiful – ugly

dead – alive

happy – sad

rough – smooth

big – small

dry – wet

heavy – light

tall – short

cold – hot

good – bad

Gradable and ungradable

Many pairs of opposites are gradable, i.e. they have different degrees of the same feature:


This suitcase is extremely small.

This suitcase is very small.

This suitcase is quite small.


It was reasonably hot in Italy this summer.

It was quite hot in Italy this summer.

It was pretty hot in Italy this summer.

It was very hot in Italy this summer.

It was extremely hot in Italy this summer. 

One type of adjective is not gradable. These are the adjectives that we use to classify people and things into types: 


These vegetables are organic.

Not: These vegetables are very organic.*

I like salmon especially when it is wild.

Not: I like salmon especially when it is quite wild.

Adjectives: forms

Unlike in many other languages, adjectives in English do not change (agree) with the noun that they modify:

All new foreign students are welcome to join the clubs and societies.

Not: All new foreigns students …

Every room was painted in different colours.

Not: … in differents colours.

Identifying adjectives

There is no general rule for making adjectives. We know they are adjectives usually by what they do (their function) in a sentence. However, some word endings (suffixes) are typical of adjectives.




comfortable, readable, incredible, invisible


comical, normal, musical, industrial, presidential


beautiful, harmful, peaceful, wonderful


classic, economic, heroic, romantic


aeronautical, alphabetical, political


British, childish, Irish, foolish

ive, –ative

active, alternative, creative, talkative


endless, motionless, priceless, timeless

eous, –ious, –ous

spontaneous, hideous, ambitious, anxious, dangerous, famous


angry, busy, wealthy, windy


Adjectives ending in -ic and -ical often have different meanings:

The economic policy of this government has failed.

A diesel car is usually more economical than a petrol one.

Forming adjectives from other words