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Adjectives are what give detail and engage the senses in our writing. This lesson defines and illustrates adjectives and descriptive detail in writing and speaking. Nouns and verbs are briefly reviewed.

What is an Adjective?

An adjective is a word that describes a noun, which is a person, place, or thing, or a state of being, usually the subject of a sentence. An adjective tells us what something is like. Imagine a world of conversation where no one ever described anything.

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On the news this morning, there was a story about a tractor parts factory that had been torn to bits by a tornado. Workers hid in the bathroom and remained safe. The news reporter asked one of them, ‘What was it like? What did you hear? What did it feel like?’ If there were no adjectives, or describing words, we would have no idea what the worker had experienced. Here are some examples of how an adjective describes a noun:

  • ‘The worker was terrified.’ The adjective ‘terrified’ describes the noun worker.
  • ‘He heard loud, crashing sounds.’ The adjectives ‘loud’ and ‘crashing’ describe the noun sounds.

  • ‘Nature was angry, violent, and destructive.’ The adjectives ‘angry,’ ‘violent’ and ‘destructive’ describe the noun ‘nature.’

When you use adjectives, you describe a scene in specific details, allowing the reader to experience the scene as if he or she was there with you when you did. If you are using specific or descriptive details in describing a kitchen, you don’t just say, ‘There was a table.’ You might say, ‘There was an old, scratched-up, oak table that had seen years of happy family dinners.

‘ Using good descriptive detail makes for lively writing, which means writing that comes alive as if it was real, right there before you.Adjectives, or good description written with adjectives, most often comes from the senses: what we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. We see the color green; we hear jazzy, upbeat music; we smell sweet perfume; we taste spicy food; we feel chilly or sweaty; or we touch a couch that is fuzzy, rough, or smooth. Sometimes adjectives also describe a condition or state of being such as, ‘I feel sick’ or ‘she looks sad’ or ‘happy childhood.’

More Examples

How would we answer our friends, relatives, and co-workers the following questions if there were no adjectives?

  • How do you like my new outfit?
  • How was the party?
  • How was the movie?
  • What’s your new apartment like?
  • How are you feeling now?
  • How’s your job?
  • How was the wedding?
  • What was Paris like?
  • How’s the weather?
  • How are the driving conditions?
  • How’s school going?

We couldn’t answer any of these questions without adjectives, or describing words! Most of us, at some time or another, have laughed our heads off playing the game where you fill in the blanks of a story with different parts of speech. Parts of speech are exactly what they sound like – the different kinds of words we combine and use to say things in writing or speech, the parts of our speech. Nouns, verbs, and adjectives are all parts of speech.

Remember that a noun is a person, place, or thing. A verb is an action.

How Adjectives Improve Sentences

Imagine a fill-in-the-blank game without any descriptive words, as seen in this example:A dog went for a walk with his friend the cat. They went down the street, through the park, to the beach, and onto the dock, where they smelled fish. They could see the water, feel the wind, and smell the food cooking in the restaurants.

Now, let’s add adjectives to modify or describe the nouns:A fluffy dog went for a long walk with his best friend the Siamese cat. They went down the main street, through the town park, to the sandy beach, and onto the old dock, where they smelled rotten fish. They could see the blue water, feel the cold wind, and smell the greasy food cooking in the boardwalk restaurants.Using adjectives makes your writing more descriptive. When you use words that help the reader see, hear, smell, feel, or even imagine that he or she can taste what you’re writing about your writing becomes more vivid or alive.

If you bring a reader inside your scene with descriptive writing, he or she will be more compelled to keep reading because they’re having what feels like a live experience.

Lesson Summary

An adjective is a part of speech that describes a noun, which is another part of speech. Parts of speech are the different words we use to express ourselves in writing or speech. If we had no adjectives in our language to describe what we hear, see, smell, taste, and touch; to describe what condition we’re in; or to paint a vivid scene as we write or speak, it would truly be a colorless world, as colors themselves are adjectives!

Quick Notes

Adjectives are used to add details to stories.
Paragraph with adjectives highlighted
The Purpose of Adjectives Examples
*A part of speech that describes a noun *Used to make writing more descriptive *Expresses the senses *colors *conditions *details

Learning Outcomes

Progress through this lesson on adjectives so that you can accurately:

  • Review sentences in which an adjective describes a noun
  • Understand the role of an adjective in providing details
  • Recognize examples of questions whose answers require the use of adjectives
  • Compare a paragraph that doesn’t use adjectives to one that does

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