[ aj-ik-tiv ]
/ ˈædʒ ɪk tɪv /
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See synonyms for: adjective / adjectives on Thesaurus.com

Grammar. any member of a class of words that modify nouns and pronouns, primarily by describing a particular quality of the word they are modifying, as wise in a wise grandmother, or perfect in a perfect score, or handsome in He is extremely handsome. Other terms, as numbers (one cup; twelve months), certain demonstrative pronouns (this magazine; those questions), and terms that impose limits (each person; no mercy) can also function adjectivally, as can some nouns that are found chiefly in fixed phrases where they immediately precede the noun they modify, as bottle in bottle cap and bus in bus station.
pertaining to or functioning as an adjective; adjectival: the adjective use of a noun.
Law. concerning methods of enforcement of legal rights, as pleading and practice (opposed to substantive def. 9).
(of dye colors) requiring a mordant or the like to render them permanent (opposed to substantive def. 10).
Archaic. not able to stand alone; dependent: Women were seen by some (by some men, that is) as adjective creatures, needing to be cared for and protected from the vicissitudes of life.


1 modifier, qualifier, identifier, describer, describing word.
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Origin of adjective

First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English, from Late Latin adjectīvum, neuter of adjectīvus, equivalent to adject(us) “attached, added,” past participle of ad(j)icere (ad- “toward” + -jec-, combining form of jac- “to throw” + -tus past participle suffix) + -īvus adjective suffix; see ad-, -ive

grammar notes for adjective

How do we spot an adjective? For one thing, adjectives tell us about the nouns they qualify by answering questions like “what kind,” “which one,” and “how many”: a serious student; the purple flower; three kisses. But in English there are adjectives and there are adjectives. Those in the second group are more adjectival than the others, in that the qualifications they express can themselves be qualified. The word more is our clue; true adjectives can compare one entity to another. For adjectives with two or more syllables, the comparative and superlative are formed with more and most ( more captivating; the most enthralling ). Monosyllables, and some disyllables that happen to end in -y, change form, with occasional accommodations in spelling, by adding -er and -est: smart, smarter, smartest; happy, happier, happiest. There are, of course, irregular members of this group; despite what your average three-year-old says, things go from good to better and best, not to gooder and goodest. But there is a caution; some adjectives have absolute meanings that can make them seem absurd if used comparatively. If a plant is dead, for example, another plant cannot be more dead.
In addition, many true adjectives are gradable. That is, they can be upgraded ( very pretty ), downgraded ( somewhat disorganized ), or intensified ( really tired ). Usually, those that should not be compared, as correct, impossible, and mortal, are also not gradable. A vote, for example, cannot be very unanimous, too unanimous, or not unanimous enough; it is either unanimous or not. And only in The Wizard of Oz is the Wicked Witch “not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead.” That is not to say that there are no exceptions, as can be seen at the expanded usage note for the absolute adjective unique.
Pronouns, as your, this, and each, can also function as adjectives. But it is the noun as modifier, like bottle and bus in bottle cap and bus station, that gives headaches to dictionary compilers. Faced with evidence, they must ask themselves if occasional use as a modifier makes a particular noun worthy of full adjective status. Bottle and bus certainly do not pass comparison or gradation tests; my cap isn’t more bottle than yours, nor is it very bottle. These nouns are not listed as adjectives in this dictionary. Yet similar nouns, like coffee, kitchen, and summer, are. The number of items they can modify, the number of adjectival senses they have, and the degree to which such senses differ from their noun senses all play a part in the decision. That decision, however is never final. Meanings expand and evolve. Language changes as we speak.


ad·jec·ti·val, adjectivead·jec·ti·val·ly, ad·jec·tive·ly, adverbnon·ad·jec·tive·ly, adverbpre·ad·jec·tive, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use adjective in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for adjective

/ (ˈædʒɪktɪv) /

  1. a word imputing a characteristic to a noun or pronoun
  2. (as modifier)an adjective phrase Abbreviation: adj
additional or dependent
(of law) relating to court practice and procedure, as opposed to the principles of law dealt with by the courtsCompare substantive (def. 7)

Derived forms of adjective

adjectival (ˌædʒɪkˈtaɪvəl), adjective

Word Origin for adjective

C14: from Late Latin adjectīvus attributive, from adjicere to throw to, add, from ad- to + jacere to throw; in grammatical sense, from the Latin phrase nōmen adjectīvum attributive noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for adjective


A part of speech that describes a noun or pronoun. Adjectives are usually placed just before the words they qualify: shy child, blue notebook, rotten apple, four horses, another table.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.