Descriptive Adjectives

The English language has eight different word types, each of which can be split into its own set of categories. For example, within pronouns, there are personal pronouns, relative pronouns, and reflexive pronouns, to name a few. 

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Table of contents

    Adjectives are another type of word that can be divided into different categories, one of which is descriptive adjectives.

    Today, we'll have a look at:

    • The definition of descriptive adjective
    • The different types of descriptive adjectives
    • How descriptive adjectives differ from other adjectives
    • Examples of the adjective types discussed

    Definition of Descriptive Adjectives

    Before we leap into what a descriptive adjective is, let's first ensure we have a clear definition of adjectives.

    An adjective is a type of word used to describe or modify a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun.

    Adjectives can be split into many different categories depending on their specific use or purpose. Some of the types of adjectives are:

    • Descriptive adjectives (e.g., the pink flower, the film was interesting)
    • Proper adjectives (e.g., Edwardian times, Chinese takeaway)
    • Demonstrative adjectives (e.g., this gate, that mouse, those papers)
    • Numeral adjectives (e.g., there were three elephants, he was the second in line)

    When doing some wider reading, you may find that adjectives can be split into even further different categories. Different theorists or linguists have highlighted different categories for adjectives, with up to 11 potential categories being mentioned across linguistic literature.

    Descriptive adjectives form one of the main groups of adjectives and have a specific definition.

    Descriptive adjectives are used to describe features of people, animals, or things.

    Types of Descriptive Adjectives

    There are three different categories that descriptive adjectives may fall into: comparative, superlative, or positive. We'll now have a look at each of these types in turn.

    Comparative Descriptive Adjectives

    Comparative descriptive adjectives are used to describe a noun or pronoun in relation to another noun or pronoun (it compares the two!). Comparisons use adjectives in the comparative degree, which usually involves adding the suffix -er to the end of a descriptive adjective.

    Some examples of comparative descriptive adjectives are:

    • bigger
    • louder
    • stronger
    • fitter
    • healthier

    You can usually tell a comparative descriptive adjective by its ending. They'll usually have an -er ending.

    Descriptive Adjectives Comparative StudySmarterFig. 1. The girl on the left has darker hair than the girl on the right. - Can you identify the comparative descriptive adjective in this sentence?

    Here's an example of a comparative descriptive adjective in a sentence:

    "This apple is juicier than the other."

    Here, juicier is the comparative descriptive adjective used to compare the 'juiciness' of the subject (this apple) and the object (the other). In this example, the two things being compared are noun phrases.

    Superlative Descriptive Adjectives

    Superlative descriptive adjectives are similar to comparative descriptive adjectives as they are also used to describe nouns or pronouns by comparing them against others. There is a difference between these two types of adjectives, though.

    Superlative descriptive adjectives are used to describe a noun or pronoun by comparing it to others and implying it surpasses anything it's compared to, i.e., it is the most of something.

    The term superlative may also be used on its own to refer to superlative descriptive adjectives.

    You can usually identify a superlative by its suffix, as superlatives typically end with -st, -est, or -ist.

    Here are some examples of superlative descriptive adjectives:

    • biggest
    • cheapest
    • loudest
    • funniest
    • healthiest

    Descriptive Adjectives lakehouse StudySmarterFig. 2. Out of the possible holiday lets, the lake house had the nicest views. - Can you spot the superlative descriptive adjective in this sentence?

    Multisyllabic Words

    Keep in mind that some adjectives can't be turned into comparatives or superlatives by adding suffixes. Think of adjectives like expensive, important, and intelligent. As an example, we can't add -est to the end of important to make importantest, or -er to the end of expensive to make expensive. Instead, we say most important and more expensive.

    This issue is due to syllables. If a word has one or two syllables, the suffixes can be added. However, if an adjective has more than two syllables, we typically use the superlative or comparative adverbs (most or more) to make a grammatically correct phrase.

    Positive Descriptive Adjectives

    Positive descriptive adjectives differ from the two types of descriptive adjectives we've already discussed because they aren't used to make comparisons. These are purely descriptive words used to add detail to nouns and pronouns.

    Here are some examples of positive descriptive adjectives:

    • ambitious
    • flat
    • important
    • ugly
    • helpful

    Despite the name, positive descriptive adjectives don't always need to be adjectives that describe positive attributes, and they could be negative too!

    Descriptive Adjectives Ogre StudySmarterFig. 3. The ogre had green skin, a large hump, and pointy fangs. - Can you spot the positive descriptive adjectives in this sentence?

    All positive descriptive adjectives can be turned into their comparative or superlative forms.

    Here are some examples of positive descriptive adjectives being changed into their comparative and superlative forms.

    • flat (positive descriptive adjective)
    • flatter (comparative descriptive adjective)
    • flattest (superlative descriptive adjective)
    • ugly (positive descriptive adjective)
    • uglier (comparative descriptive adjective)
    • ugliest (superlative descriptive adjective)
    • helpful (positive descriptive adjective)
    • more helpful (comparative descriptive adjective)
    • most helpful (superlative descriptive adjective)

    Nearly every positive adjective can be converted into its comparative and superlative forms in the ways previously shown. There are, however, two exceptions to the rule. These are good and bad. For these positive adjectives, you can't convert them to their comparative or superlative forms by adding suffixes or adverbs, instead, there are different words to use.

    Here are the rules for each of these:

    Positive adjective = good

    Comparative adjective = better

    Superlative adjective = best

    Positive adjective = bad

    Comparative adjective = worse

    Superlative adjective = worst

    Examples of Descriptive Adjectives

    Now that we've looked at the three types of descriptive adjectives, let's have a look at some examples of each being used in sentences.

    Comparative Descriptive Adjectives

    The brown mouse was faster than the white mouse.

    The willow tree is taller than the oak tree.

    Sami was more helpful than Jani.

    Superlative Descriptive Adjectives

    The brown mouse was the fastest in the pack.

    The willow tree is the tallest in the forest.

    Sami was the most helpful person on the team.

    Positive Descriptive Adjectives

    The mouse was brown and fast.

    The willow tree is tall.

    Sami was helpful to the team.

    Difference Between Adjectives and Descriptive Adjectives

    The amount of different types of adjectives is disputed among different linguists. Some linguists (such as Bernardez, 2005) categorize adjectives into two types: descriptive and limiting.1 Other linguists have come up with a much wider range of adjective categories, with Khamying (2007) stating that there are 11 different adjective classifications.2

    Let's have a look at the differences between descriptive adjectives and the other possible types.

    Descriptive vs. Limiting Adjectives

    A descriptive adjective is an adjective that describes the features or a condition of something. Comparative, superlative, and positive descriptive adjectives all come under the category of descriptive adjectives.

    Limiting adjectives are used to describe a limiting factor of a noun or pronoun. A limiting factor may be quantity, number, or another type of classification, such as belonging or nationality.

    Some examples of limiting adjectives in sentences are:

    Jenny took the second train. (number)

    Kazim needed an umbrella for her walk. (limit)

    There were many frogs in the pond. (quantity)

    The jacket was his. (belonging)

    The boys wanted to order Chinese food, but the girls wanted pizza. (nationality)

    Khamying's 11 Types of Adjectives

    Unlike Bernardez, Kahmying2 stated there are 11 different types of adjectives. Let's look at the 11 different categories and how they are defined.

    • Descriptive adjectives

      • Used to describe qualities or attributes of nouns or pronouns (e.g., The garden flowers were pretty).

    • Demonstrative adjectives

      • Used to describe a noun's position and plural vs. singular status (e.g., Jeni liked those flowers when she was last here).

    • Proper adjectives

      • Used to describe the nationality of a noun or pronoun. These come from proper nouns and have the initial letter capitalized (e.g., A British man ordered Chinese food).

    Descriptive Adjectives Chinese takeaway StudySmarterFig. 4. Adjectives used to describe where food has come from (such as Chinese for Chinese food) can be defined as proper adjectives.

    • Distributive adjectives

      • Used to differentiate a noun into separate parts (e.g., Every flower is unique).

    • Interrogative adjectives

      • Used to change a noun into an interrogative form (e.g., Which of these flowers is for sale?).

    • Possessive adjectives

      • Used to show the possession of a noun or pronoun (e.g., Craig took his scooter back).

    • Quantitative adjectives

      • Used to describe quantities of nouns or pronouns (e.g., There were many flowers in the garden).

    • Numeral adjectives

      • Used to describe an exact numeral quantity of nouns or pronouns (e.g., He was parked in the seventh bay from the house).

    • Emphasizing adjectives

      • Used to emphasize a noun (e.g., They took their own drinks to the party).

    • Exclamatory adjectives

      • Uses exclamatory interjections to modify a noun (e.g., What a disaster!)

    • Relative adjectives

      • Used to modify a noun or pronoun and to introduce a relative phrase (e.g., When we've paid, you can pick whichever flowers you want).

    Descriptive Adjectives List

    We've covered all of the different types of adjectives and descriptive adjectives, so let's now finish off by recapping the three types of descriptive adjectives with some examples.

    Type of Descriptive Adjective


    Examples in Sentences

    Comparative Descriptive Adjectives

    prettieruglierfastermore reliablemore intelligentpoorercrunchiersweeterstickiermustierThe calculator was more reliable than my maths skills.The cookies were stickier than the biscuits.

    Superlative Descriptive Adjectives

    ugliestslowestleast intelligentrunniestfluffiesthottestmost competentsmoothestquietestbrightestThe toad was the ugliest animal in the pond.Freeda was the most competent badminton player in the group.

    Positive Descriptive Adjectives

    warmbluelongsweetdelicateroughscarredopalescentsharpjaggedThe intruder had a scarred face. Bruno's jewels had an opalescent glow.

    Descriptive Adjectives - Key takeaways

    • Descriptive adjectives are used to describe features of people, animals, or objects (nouns or pronouns).
    • Descriptive adjectives can be split into three different types: comparative, superlative, and positive.
    • Comparative descriptive adjectives describe a noun or pronoun by comparing it to another.
      • E.g., brighter, smaller, shinier
    • Superlative descriptive adjectives describe a noun or pronoun by comparing it to others and implying it surpasses anything it's compared to.
      • E.g., bubbliest, dullest, tastiest
    • Positive descriptive adjectives are used to add basic descriptive detail to a noun or pronoun without adding comparisons.
      • E.g., bright, dull, sour

    1 E. Bernardez. English Communication Arts 1. (2005).

    2 S. Khamying. Advanced English Grammar for High Learner. (2007).

    Frequently Asked Questions about Descriptive Adjectives

    What is the definition of descriptive adjective?

    A descriptive adjective is used to describe features of nouns or pronouns.

    What are some examples of descriptive adjectives?

    Descriptive adjectives describe features of a noun or pronoun. Some examples of descriptive adjectives are: flat, round, brighter, runniest, and crunchy.

    How many types of descriptive adjectives are there?

    There are three different types of descriptive adjectives: comparative (e.g. uglier, prettier, healthier), superlative (e.g. ugliest, prettiest, healthiest), and positive (e.g. ugly, pretty, healthy).

    What is the difference between adjectives and descriptive adjectives?

    Adjectives can be split into two different types (according to linguist Bernardez): descriptive and limiting. Descriptive adjectives describe features of a noun or pronoun. Limiting adjectives describe a limiting factor (quantity, nationality, number) of a noun or pronoun.

    How do you identify descriptive adjectives?

    Any adjective that can be used to describe a noun or pronoun's features can be considered a descriptive adjective.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of these are examples of positive descriptive adjectives?

    True or false: All of the following are positive descriptive adjectives.important    ambitious    arrogant    decaying

    Which linguist stated that there are two categories of adjective?


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