By Geraldine Woods

To find adjectives, go to the words they describe — nouns and pronouns. Start with the noun or pronoun and ask three questions. (Not “What’s the new hot app?” or “Did you see Will’s new profile photo?” This is grammar, not life.) Here are the three questions:

  • How many?
  • Which one?
  • What kind?

grammar-adjectives

Take a look at this sentence:

George posted three new photos on his favorite website.

You see three nouns: George, photos, and page. George has led a colorful life, but you can’t find the answer to the following questions: How many Georges? Which George? What kind of George? No words in the sentence provide that information, so no adjectives describe George.

But try these three questions on photos and website and you do come up with something: How many photos? Answer: three. Three is an adjective. Which photos? What kind of photos? Answer: new. New is an adjective. The same goes for website: What kind? Answer: favorite. Favorite is an adjective.

You may have noticed that his answers one of the questions. (Which website? Answer: his website.) His is working as an adjective, but his is also a pronoun. Normal people don’t have to worry about whether his is a pronoun or an adjective. Only English teachers care, and they divide into two camps — the adjective camp and the pronoun camp. Needless to say, each group feels superior to the other.

Look at another sentence:

The angry reaction thrilled George’s rotten, little, hard heart.

This sentence has three nouns. One (George’s) is possessive. If you ask how many George’s, which George’s, or what kind of George’s, you get no answer. The other two nouns, reaction and heart, do yield an answer. What kind of reaction? Angry reaction. What kind of heart? Rotten, little, hard heart. So angry, rotten, little, and hard are all adjectives.

Sometimes writers change nouns into adjectives — improperly! The word quality, for example, is a noun meaning worth, condition, or characteristic. Salespeople and advertising writers often use quality as an adjective meaning good or luxurious. Grammatically, you can’t buy a quality tablet. You can buy a high-quality tablet. That said, some nouns do function as adjectives, depending upon the sentence they’re in. Look at these two sentences:

I love the New York Liberty. (New York Liberty = WNBA basketball team = noun)

The Liberty store sells team merchandise. (Liberty = adjective)

If you’re not sure whether a particular word may function as an adjective in proper English, check the dictionary.