Using Adjectives [describing nouns]

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We use adjectives to describe nouns.  In descriptive writing adjectives give our readers a more complete picture of the place, people, or things we are describing.

We can write, “We stayed in a room.” Or we can write, “We stayed in a spacious room.”  When we use adjectives the “thing” we are writing about comes alive.

English adjectives come before the noun and after the article (a/an or the).

  • We lived in an old house.
  • We visited a beautiful park.
  • They served delicious food.

English adjectives also can come after the be verb. If two adjectives are used, they are separated with an and.

  • The tree in the backyard is tall.
  • The walkway through the park is relaxing.
  • The old man was tired and restless.

We can also use nouns as adjectives.  In the following sentences the first noun describes the second noun. Adjective nouns are always in their singular form.

  • a book cover
  • a flower garden
  • a computer desk

Adjective Order


When we use more than one adjective, we put them in a certain order. In other words, we say, “The big, red balloon.”  We do not say, “The red, big balloon” because size comes before color.

The order we use is first determiner, then opinion, then size . . .

  1. determiner (a/an, the, her/his, that, some)
  2. opinion (beautiful, expensive, delicious)
  3. size (big, small, huge)
  4. shape (round, square, tall)
  5. age (old, young)
  6. color (brown, white)
  7. origin (American, Chinese, Japanese)
  8. material (wooden, cotton, plastic)
  9. qualifier (sleeping bag, rocking chair).

Example: We bought a beautiful, round, wooden table.

Although this is the order we usually use, there are exceptions to the rule, and in some cases adjectives may be placed in one or more categories.


When we use two adjectives to describe a noun, we sometimes separate them with a comma. A general rule is; if you can put and or but between the adjectives, than you should separate them with a comma.  For example you can say, “It is a beautiful, spacious room.”  Or you can say, “It is a beautiful and spacious room.”  So you can place a comma after beautiful.

But we probably will not say, “He lives in big and white house.” Or “A big and old dog followed him home.”  So in these sentences, you should not use commas.  “He lives in a big white house.” “A big old dog followed him home.”

Using Be to Describe

The verb be can be used to describe the subject of the sentences.

You can use be + adjective to describe physical condition (The woman is thin.), or age (The girl is eight.), or personality (Brian is kind.), or state (They are late.).

You can use be + noun to describe a thing (That is a book.), or occupation (She is a nurse.), or relationship (They are roommates.).

Exercise 1 Use “be” with adjective or noun.

  1. The manager         is kind ___________________________
  2. My parents _____________________________________
  3. The tree _______________________________________
  4. This food ______________________________________
  5. The English tests_________________________________

Forming Adjectives from Verbs and Nouns

  • Adjectives can be formed by adding -ing to verbs. 
    • drive  driving (a driving lesson)
    • sleep  sleeping (a sleeping bag)
    • drink  drinking (a drinking glass)
  • Adjectives can also be formed by using the past participle form of verbs.
    • frighten  frightened (a frightened cat)
    • confuse  confused (a confused student)
    • break  broken (a broken leg)
  • Nouns are also used to modify other nouns.
    • A store that sells toys >> a toy store
    • department store
    • pencil case

Richard Carrigan, MSE

Richard Carrigan has been an educator for over 30 years and a filmmaker for the past ten years. He has experience teaching English as a Second Language in Asia and teaching university students in the United States. He earned his undergraduate degree from Loma Linda University and his graduate degree from Shenandoah University.