Adjectives are words that refer to the qualities of people, things, or ideas, or which group them into classes. Most adjectives can be used with a noun and usually come immediately before it in the sentence:a blue flower a slow train When adjectives are used in this way they are said to modify the noun; this use is called attributive. Most adjectives can be used after verbs like be, seem, or appear in sentences like this:The test was positive. In such sentences, the adjective forms the complement of the sentence and completes the meaning of the sentence subject. This use is called predicative. Many adjectives can be graded by adding a modifier before or after them:
Many adjectives have a comparative and a superlative form:
| absolute|| comparative|| superlative|
|unusual||more unusual||most unusual|
But … Some adjectives can be used only predicatively; they cannot be used attributively. You can say:She was alone.
but you cannot say:I saw an alone woman.
Some adjectives can be used only attributively; they cannot be used predicatively. You can say:It was a mere skirmish.
but you cannot say:The skirmish was mere.
Qualitative and classifyingSome adjectives describe the qualities of a person, thing, or idea; they tell us about its qualities — whether it was large or small, red or green. For example:a stupendous achievement an exciting proposal
These are referred to as qualitative adjectives.Other adjectives help to divide persons, things, or ideas into classes; they tell us which of a number of groups they fall into — nuclear or non-nuclear? annual, biennial, or triennial?the French language an annual event
Such classifying adjectives cannot usually be graded and they do not normally have comparative or superlative forms. So it would be odd to say, for example:It was a very annual event.
Using commasWhen two or more adjectives are used in a list, the question arises: should they be separated by commas? There are no clear-cut rules about this, but the following guidelines may help:No comma is needed to separate adjectives of different types—e.g., a qualitative and a classifying adjective:a big black dog
Use a comma between two or more qualitative adjectives:long, slender legs
If the adjectives are all classifying adjectives, use commas if the adjectives all refer to the same class:English, French, and Spanish editions a tall, conical lid
Otherwise do not use commas:Italian Renaissance architecture.