Adjective Phrase Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

adjective phrase
The title of this popular children's book by Eric Carle contains an adjective phrase: very hungry. (Philomel Books, 1969)

In English grammar, an adjective phrase is a group of words that functions as an adjective in a sentence. An adjective headword may be accompanied by modifiers, determiners, and/or qualifiers (all of which are called dependents). Also known as an adjectival phrase

Adjective phrases modify nouns. They may be attributive (appearing before the noun) or predicative (appearing after a linking verb), but not all adjectives can be used in both positions.

Examples and Observations

  • "The prototypical adjective phrase consists of a single adjective, tall in Sally is tall, or an adjective headword and a qualifier, very tall. Even taller than the woman who coaches her volleyball team is more elaborate, but because it can substitute for the single adjective tall (Sally is even taller than the woman who coaches her volleyball team), you can recognize it as an adjective phrase."
    (Thomas P. Klammer et al., Analyzing English Grammar, 5th ed. Pearson, 2007)
  • "Humans can be fairly ridiculous animals."
    (Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, 2007)
  • "The unicorn blinked and swished its tail and looked fairly ridiculous on the folding tabletop."
    (Steven R. Boyett, Elegy Beach, 2009) 
  • Tina lost her dark brown briefcase.
  • "Mr. Sweet was a tall, thinnish man with thick kinky hair going dead white. He was dark brown, his eyes were very squinty and sort of bluish, and he chewed Brown Mule tobacco."
    (Alice Walker, "To Hell With Dying," 1967)
  • After Don's accident, his behavior grew stranger and stranger.
  • "'You want a second opinion? O.K.' says the doctor. 'You're ugly, too.' She liked that joke. She thought it was terribly, terribly funny."
    (Lorrie Moore, "You're Ugly, Too," 1990)

Premodifiers, Postmodifiers, and Discontinuous Modifiers

"An adjective phrase consists of an adjective which may be preceded and/or followed by other words.

The premodifier is always an adverb phrase, but the post-modifiers can be an adverb phrase, a prepositional phrase, or even a clause. It is also possible to have a modifier that is partly in front and partly behind the head, called a discontinuous modifier, abbreviated as disc-mod." (Marjolijn Verspoor and Kim Sauter, English Sentence Analysis: An Introductory Course. John Benjamins, 2000)

Noun Phrases and Adjective Phrases

"There may be very little difference between a noun phrase and an adjective phrase in structures where the adjectives occur before the word it qualifies. Most noun phrases consist of a head noun plus one or more adjectives, or indeed an adjective phrase itself. Consider the examples in a, below.

a. [ADJECTIVE PHRASES]
'It was cold, bleak, biting weather.'

'He's an extraordinary looking man, and yet I can really name nothing out of the way.'

'In Beijing these days, one of the fastest-growing fortunes the world has ever seen is managed by fewer than two-dozen traders.'

'This was a hearty, healthy, dapper, red-faced gentleman, with a shock of hair prematurely white, and a boisterous and decided manner.'

In each of these examples, if we include the italicized head nouns, we have noun phrases with embedded adjective phrases; without the head nouns, we have adjective phrases.

The focus is always on the head word (HW)." (Bernard O'Dwyer, Modern English Structures: Form, Function, and Position. Broadview, 2006)

Phrases Within Phrases

"[C]onsider . . . our example:

The young man picked the best bloom from the very delicate orchid.

The sequence from the very delicate orchid is a prepositional phrase. The prepositional phrase consists of a noun phrase and a preposition. One can demonstrate that the sequence from the very delicate orchid is a coherent group of words by moving it as in:

From the very delicate orchid the young man picked the best bloom.

The word very is an intensifying adverb and it modifies delicate to form an adjective phrase within the noun phrase within the prepositional phrase. This phrase-within-a-phrase structure is shown by bracketing below:

[The young man] picked the best bloom [from [the [very delicate] orchid]].

We could add very carefully to this sentence. Since carefully is an adverb and very is an intensifying adverb modifying it, very carefully would be an adverb phrase."
(Barry J. Blake, All About Language. Oxford University Press, 2008)