Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

words healthy, wealthy and wise on street sign
The words healthy, wealthy, and wise are adjectives. James Brey/Getty Images


An adjective is the part of speech (or word class) that modifies a noun or a pronoun. Adjective: adjectival.

In addition to their basic (or positive) forms (for example, big and beautiful), most descriptive adjectives have two other forms: comparative (bigger and more beautiful) and superlative (biggest and most beautiful).

See examples and observations below. Also see:


From the Latin, "to add" and "to throw"


  • "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
    (Benjamin Franklin)
  • "Good men are gruff and grumpy, cranky, crabbed, and cross. I am also acerbic, waspish, sour, belligerent, and very occasionally shrewish."
    (Clement Freud)
  • "These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity."
    (Martin Luther King, Jr., eulogy for the young victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, Sep. 18, 1963)
  • "He is a hard man who is only just, and a sad one who is only wise."
  • "I had scarcely reached the stairs when I observed a hideous form. A little, short, broad, bow-legged individual with long arms and a short, wizened face."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 1934)
  • "All things bright and beautiful,
    All creatures great and small.
    (Cecil Frances Alexander)
  • "He was a tall man with an astonishing and somehow elegant curvature of the spine, formed by an enlarged lower abdomen, which he carried in a stately and contented way, as if it contained money and securities."
    (John Cheever, The Wapshot Scandal, 1964)
  • "John Cowper Powys said, 'We have no reason for denying to the world of plants a certain slow, dim, vague, large, leisurely semi-consciousness.' He may not be right, but I like his adjectives."

    "At last I knelt on the island's winterkilled grass, lost, dumbstruck, staring at the frog in the creek just four feet away. He was a very small frog with wide, dull eyes."
    (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1974)
  • "Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable."
    (Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1886)


    • "Most common adjectives form pairs which contrast in terms of meaning: good - bad, wide - narrow, useful - useless, and so on. Many adjectives are derived from from other words (especially nouns), and are easy to recognize by their suffixes. Some of the most common adjective suffixes are: -al (as in equal), -ous (as in famous), -ic (as in basic), -y (as in sleepy), -ful (as in beautiful and -less (as in hopeless)."
      (Geoffrey Leech, A Glossary of English Grammar. Edinburgh University Press, 2006)
    • Tests for Being an Adjective
      "Some rough tests for being an adjective in English are:
      - You can put an adjective in place of the X in the X thing or some X stuff
      - You can put an adjective in place of the X in The thing was X or The stuff was X
      - You can modify many, but not all, adjectives with the word very."
      (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994)
    • Adjectivals
      "[A]jectivals are typically used to express properties in relation to things or entities. Precisely how they do this depends on their syntactic realization. As subject and object complements, they denote an ATTRIBUTE or RESULT, e.g. The children were unhappy / She got pretty mad at me / Tyson knocked Bruno unconscious . . .. In such cases the assignment of a property to a thing or entity is the primary communicative purpose of the sentence. As dependents, adjectivals serve a secondary communicative role, as in e.g. The happy children returned to the kindergarten, which primarily reports on the situation of 'returning,' with 'happy' merely describing one of the two participants of this situation. But the function of such adjectives is basically the same: to assign a property."
      (Carl Bache and Niels Davidsen-Nielsen, Mastering English: An Advanced Grammar for Non-Native and Native Speakers. Walter de Gruyter, 1997)
    • Fuzziness
      "The problem is that linguistic labels like 'noun' and 'adjective' are not nearly as regular and clear-cut as dictionaries and grammar books make out. . . . The reality of language is a mess and fuzziness, and membership to these categories is always a matter of degree. . . . Happy is a well-behaved adjective. However, there are plenty of other adjectives that aren't. Take a pair of uncooperative adjectives like asleep and utter. While you can certainly say the man is asleep, you cannot then refer to the asleep man. Conversely, you can say that's utter piffle, but not that piffle is utter. These two adjectives lack the most basic properties of adjectivehood. There will always be gradience, or blurring, within word classes like adjective and noun, with central members showing all the characteristics, and peripheral members fewer."
      (Kate Burridge, Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History. HarperCollins Australia, 2011)
    • Mark Twain on Adjectives
      "When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart."
      (Mark Twain in a letter to a 12-year-old boy, quoted by Constance Hale in Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. Three Rivers Press, 2001)
    • The Lighter Side of Adjectives
      Sheldon: [furious that Leslie has written on his board] I don't come into your home and touch your board!
      Leslie: There are no incorrect equations on my board.
      Sheldon: Oh, that is so . . . so . . .
      Leslie: I'm sorry, I gotta run. If you come up with an adjective, text me.
      Sheldon: Inconsiderate. That is the adjective! Inconsiderate.
      (Jim Parsons and Sara Gilbert, "The Hamburger Postulate." The Big Bang Theory, 2007)

      "In his 2002 memorial eulogy to former cabinet minister Barbara Castle, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recalled her remark, 'Bugger the adjectives. It's the nouns and verbs people want.'"
      (Ned Halley, Dictionary of Modern English Grammar. Wordsworth, 2005)

    Pronunciation: ADD-jek-tiv