What Are Adjectives?
Traditional grammar says adjectives are “words that describe.” They are associated with nouns or other adjectives:
These are smart students.
Students is a noun.
Proof: the students.
Smart is associated with students.
So, is smart an adjective?
Traditional grammar says that adverbs, which we will cover in another lesson, are associated with adjectives.
Extremely is a typical adverb. As we can see, it can describe smart.
These are extremely smart students.
So, yes, smart is an adjective.
Descriptive Words that are Not Adjectives
But now let’s apply the extremely test to other words:
A pirate ship is approaching!.
Ship is a noun.
Proof: the ship.
So, is pirate an adjective?
We can test the word pirate by putting extremely in front of it.
The extremely pirate ship.
Pirate is not an adjective.
So, what is it?
Pirate is a noun.
Let’s try another word:
I love football.
Football is a noun.
Proof: the football.
Traditional grammar says that football will become an adjective when it modifies (describe) games, as in—
I love football games.
Games is a noun.
Proof: the games.
But is football now an adjective? Can we say—
Why does traditional grammar tell us that pirate, in pirate ship, is an adjective?
Because traditional grammar looks at a word’s function – what is does – instead of the word’s form – what the word is.
The Test for Adjectives
Instead of having a definition of adjectives, we will use a test:
WHAT? + N + extremely.
Adjectives = WHAT? + N + extremely.
Using the Test for Adjectives
- Is the word associated with a noun? It is not an adjective. Go to step 2.
- Can I put extremely in front of it? It is not an adjective. Yes, it is an adjective.
That funny movie is showing downtown.
WHAT? funny movie
Movie is a noun.
Proof: the movie.
Funny is associated with a noun.
We can put extremely in front of funny.
Funny is an adjective.
The book was terrible.
WHAT? terrible book.
Book is a noun.
We can put extremely in front of terrible.
Terrible is an adjective.
Use the adjective test to determine if the following are nouns or adjectives.
Snail is a noun.
Small is an adjective.
3. kitchen table
15. Chinese cooking
8. light (not heavy)
18. light (object)
Individual or Small Group Activity
Complete the exercise: Romania