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Effective Adjectives

What are adjectives and when are they 'effective adjectives' for writing?

Well, everybody knows by now that an adjective is a part of speech which modifies a noun or a pronoun, in a positive, comparative or superlative way. As the picture on the right shows, an adjective tells us about the noun, its size, colour, sound, looks, feel, etc.

Many adjectives can be put either before the noun they describe, or following linking verbs such as 'appear', 'be', 'become', 'feel', 'get', and 'seem':

• The hot sun beat down on us all day.     or     • The sun was hot.
• The high price surprised him.                 or     • The price seemed high.

There are more facets to an adjective, but for writing purposes we are going to be concerned with their position in a sentence. When we use more than one adjective before a noun, there is often a preferred order for these adjectives.

The order of a string of adjectives is a matter that native speakers and highly proficient non-native speakers know intuitively the order in which adjectives should occur when more than one is used. . . . However, this is something that foreign learners need to learn the hard way.

The order of a string of adjectives in front of a noun is not fixed: opinion + size/physical quality/shape/age + colour +participle adjectives.

Take the examples below and try to come out with some of your own adjectival phrases. I dare you to write at least five in a first session.

•    an old plastic container        (= age + material + noun)
•    a hard red ball                     (= quality + colour + noun)
•    a frightening Korean mask   (= opinion + origin + noun)
•    a round biscuit tin                (= shape + purpose + noun)
•    a small broken plate             (= size + participle adjective + noun)
•    a useful digital alarm clock    (= opinion + type + purpose + noun)

To help you to learn this order, it can be useful to remember that gradable adjectives (describing opinion, size, quality, shape, and age) usually precede ungradable adjectives (participle adjective and adjectives describing origin, material, type and purpose).

When two gradable adjectives come before the noun, we can put either a comma or 'and' between them. Compare:
• an attractive, big garden     
• an attractive and big garden

Two colour adjectives have 'and' between them:
• Sweden's yellow and blue flag {not ...yellow, blue flag)

Two ungradable adjectives have 'and' between them if they are from the same class, but and is not used if they are from different classes. Compare:
• financial and political conditions 
• improving financial conditions

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