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Adjectives are used almost exclusively to modify nouns, as well as any phrase or part of speech functioning as a noun.
There is a huge variety of adjectives in English. While many words are inherently adjectival, such as colors (red, black, yellow, etc.) or characteristics (strong, weak, nice, etc.), there are also several categories of adjectives that are formed from other sources.
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adjective, English part of speech, one of the two that refer typically to attributes and together are called modifiers. The other kind of modifier is the adverb. Adjectives and adverbs are functionally distinct in that adjectives modify nouns and pronouns, while adverbs typically modify verbs. In English, comparative adjectives end in –er or are preceded by more (e.g., “She is happier,” “She is more capable”); superlative adjectives end in –est or are preceded by most (“happiest,” “most capable”). English adverbs typically end in –ly (“happily”). Adjective and adverb are Indo-European form classes; some non-Indo-European languages lack specialized classes with analogous functions.


See P. Roberts, Understanding Grammar (1954) and Modern Grammar (1968); E. Finegan and N. Besnier, Language: Its Structure and Use (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A part of speech designating an attribute (property) of an object. An adjective may have the syntactic function of defining or qualifying a substantive, as in novyi dont (“new house”). It may also serve as a predicate or as the nominal element in a predicate, as in the Arabic al-qasru hasanun (“the palace is beautiful”) or the English “he is hungry.” Adjectives have their own sets of inflectional grammatical categories or their own means for external expression. Not all languages have adjectives as independent parts of speech. In many languages, such as Persian and Finnish, words designating attributes are not distinguished grammatically from substantives and form together with substantives a single class of nouns. In a number of languages, including Chinese and Korean, words designating attributes are not distinguished grammatically from verbs and form together with verbs a single class of predicates. Frequently a form of an adjective can also function as an adverb, such as the Russian khorosho or the German gut (“good” or “well”). For many languages, the existence of adjectives as separate parts of speech is debatable.

There can be various grammatical differences between adjectives and nouns. In languages with grammatical genders, the adjective changes in accordance with gender, for example Russian novyi, novaia, novoe (“new”); the substantive’s gender, on the other hand, is fixed. Inflectional grammatical categories that substantives have, such as number and case, may be lacking for adjectives; in English, for example, adjectives do not have forms to indicate number. If, as in Russian, these categories do exist, they and the category of gender exist to allow for agreement with substantives. Adjectives may have their own particular grammatical categories. In Russian, for example, there are long and short forms of adjectives, such as novyi and nov (“new”). The Baltic languages distinguish determinate and indeterminate forms of adjectives, and German and other languages have strong and weak adjectival declensions. In many languages, adjectives or their parts have degrees of comparison, which usually occupy a borderline area between inflection and word-formation, for example, Latin longus (“long”), longior (“longer”), longissimus (“longest”).

In Latin and most other languages in which both substantives and adjectives are declined, declensions for the two are identical. In Russian, German, and other languages, however, adjectives have their own inflections; this can be seen by comparing novyi, novogo, novomu, and the other forms of the Russian adjective “new” with dom, doma, domu, and the other forms of the Russian substantive “house.” Similar grammatical distinctions may exist between adjectives and verbs as well; in Japanese, for example, both adjectives and verbs are conjugated, but the former are distinguished from the latter by a separate set of conjugational forms.

From a semantic point of view, it is customary to divide adjectives (not completely rigorously) into qualitative and relative. The former represent directly perceived attributes, such as bol’shoi (“large”), belyi (“white”), or ostryi (“sharp”). The latter represent properties by referring to another object or action, as with nastol’nyi (“tabletop”), diadin (“uncle’s”), or skladnoi (“folding,” “collapsible”). Adjectives characteristically have their own means for word-formation. In most languages, adjectives are easily made into nouns, for example, the Russian stolovaia (“dining room”) and bol’noi (“patient”).

(2) A word designating an attribute (property) of an object and having among its syntactic functions the function of defining or qualifying a noun. It need not have grammatical independence or belong to any given class of words. In this sense there would seem to be adjectives in all languages. Such a use of the term “adjective” is not completely rigorous but is widespread.


Fortunatov, F. F. Izbrannye trudy, vol. 2. Moscow, 1957.
Kuznetsov, P. S. O printsipakh izucheniia grammatiki. Moscow, 1961.
Kuryłowicz, J. “K voprosu o genezise grammaticheskogo roda.” In his book Ocherki po lingvistike. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from Polish.)
Zalizniak, A. A. Russkoe imennoe slovoizmenenie. Moscow, 1967. Chapters 1, 2.
Benveniste, E. “Imennoe predlozhenie.” In his book Obshchaia lingvistika. Moscow, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(of law) relating to court practice and procedure, as opposed to the principles of law dealt with by the courts
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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