Adjectives Functioning as Nouns (Nominal adjectives)
Certain adjectives are used to denote a class by describing one of the attributes of
the class. For example, the poor denotes a class of people who share a similar
financial status. Other nominal adjectives are:
A major subclass of nominal adjectives refers to nationalities:
However, not all nationalities have corresponding nominal adjectives. Many of them
are denoted by plural, proper nouns:
Nominal adjectives do not refer exclusively to classes of people. Indeed some of
them do not denote classes at all:
Comparative and superlative forms can also be nominal adjectives:
the best is yet to come
the elder of the two
the greatest of these
the most important among them
We refer to all of these types as nominal adjectives because they share some of the
characteristics of nouns (hence `nominal') and some of the characteristics of
adjectives. They have the following nominal characteristics:
they are preceded by a determiner (usually the definite article the)
they can be modified by adjectives (the gallant French, the unfortunate poor)
They have the following adjectival features:
they are gradable (the very old, the extremely wealthy)
many can take comparative and superlative forms (the poorer, the poorest)
Nouns Functioning as Adjectives (Adjectival Nouns)
We have seen that attributive adjectives occur before a noun which they modify, for
example, red in red car. We need to distinguish these clearly from nouns which occur
in the same position, and fulfill the same syntactic function. Consider the following:
race car = a car driven in races
saloon car = a car with a saloon
family car = a car for a family
Here, the first word modifies the second, that is, it tells us something further about
the car. For example, a race car is a car which is driven in rallies. These modifiers
occur in the same position as red in the example above, but they are not adjectives.
We can show this by applying our criteria for the adjective class.
Firstly, they do not take very:
*a very race car
*a very saloon car
*a very family car
Secondly, they do not have comparative or superlative forms:
*racer *racest / *more race / *most race
*salooner *saloonest / *more saloon / *most saloon
*familier *familiest / *more family / *most family
And finally, they cannot occur in predicative position:
*the car is race
*the car is saloon
*the car is family
So although these words occupy the typical adjective position, they are not
adjectives. They are nouns.
In each of the following sentences, indicate whether the highlighted word is an
adjective or a noun.
a. Nominal Adjective
1. Life insurance is not cheap. b. Adjectival Noun
2. The Prime Minister is a close friend of mine. b. Noun
3. The Chinese Embassy is just down the road. b. Noun
4. Friday is a busy day for me. b. Noun
5. Our patient records are confidential. b. Noun
computerized, determined, excited, misunderstood, renowned, self-
centred, talented, unknown
annoying, frightening, gratifying, misleading, thrilling, time-consuming,
Adjectives with -ed or -ing endings are known as PARTICIPIAL ADJECTIVES,
because they have the same endings as verb participles:
He was training for the Olympics.
He had trained for the Olympics.
Like other adjectives, participial adjectives can usually be modified by very,
extremely, or less:
less frightening, etc.
They can also take more and most to form comparatives and superlatives:
annoying, more annoying, most annoying.
Finally, most participial adjectives can be used both attributively and
That's an irritating noise That noise is irritating
This is an exciting film This film is exciting
He's a talented footballer That footballer is talented
Many participial adjectives are formed by combining a noun with a participle:
These, too, can be used predicatively (the chemicals are alcohol-based, the soldiers
were battle-hardened, etc).
When participial adjectives are used predicatively, it may sometimes be
difficult to distinguish between adjectival and verbal uses:
 the workers are striking
In the absence of any further context, the grammatical status of striking is
indeterminate here. The following expansions illustrate possible adjectival [1a] and
verbal [1b] readings of :
[1a] the workers are very striking in their new uniforms (=`impressive',
[1b] the workers are striking outside the factory gates (=`on strike')
Consider the following pair:
 the noise is annoying
 the noise is annoying the neighbours
In , we can modify annoying using very:
[2a] the noise is (very) annoying
But we cannot modify it in the same way in :
[3a] *the noise is (very) annoying the neighbours
We can distinguish between the following pairs using the same criteria:
This film is terrifying This film is terrifying the children
Your comments are alarming the
Your comments are alarming
The defendant's answers were The defendant's answers were
misleading misleading the jury
Similar indeterminacy occurs with -ed forms. Again, we can generally use very
to determine whether the -ed word is adjectival or verbal:
The bomb was detonated ~*The bomb was very detonated
This document is hand-written ~*This document is very hand-written
My house was built in only twelve weeks ~*My house was very built in only twelve weeks
Ten people were killed ~*Ten people were very killed
The inability to supply very in these cases indicates a verbal rather than an
adjectival construction. However, this test is less reliable with -ed forms than it
is with -ing forms, since very can sometimes be supplied in both the adjectival
and the verbal constructions:
I was embarrassed I was very embarrassed by your behaviour
I was very embarrassed I was very embarrassed by your behaviour
She was surprised She was very surprised by my reaction
She was very surprised She was very surprised by my reaction
The presence of a by-agent phrase (by your behaviour, by my reaction)
indicates that the -ed form is verbal. Conversely, the presence of a
complement, such as a that-clause, indicates that it is adjectival. Compare the
following two constructions:
Adjectival: The jury was convinced that the defendant was innocent
Verbal: The jury was convinced by the lawyer's argument
Here are some further examples of adjectival constructions (with
complements) and verbal constructions (with by-agent phrases):
I was delighted to meet you again I was delighted by his compliments
John is terrified of losing his job John is terrified by his boss
I was frightened that I'd be late I was frightened by your expression
I was disappointed to hear your decision I was disappointed by your decision
If the -ed form is verbal, we can change the passive construction in which it
occurs into an active one:
Passive: I was delighted by his compliments
Active: His compliments delighted me
In each of the following sentences, indicate whether the highlighted word is a
participial adjective or a verb.
1. He told me a moving story about his childhood. a. Participial Adjective
2. Our piano was tuned by a Mr Beethoven. a. Participial Adjective
3. I spent four hours calculating your tax returns. a. Participial Adjective
4. His new novel is open-ended. a. Participial Adjective
5. The whole affair became terribly complicated. a. Participial Adjective
The Ordering of Adjectives
When two or more adjectives come before a noun, their relative order is fixed to a
certain degree. This means, for instance, that while complex mathematical studies is
grammatically acceptable, mathematical complex studies is less so.
~*a red huge strawberry
A huge red strawberry
~*a narrow long road
A long narrow road
~*the Japanese black little lovely box
The lovely little black Japanese box
a huge red bomber ~*a red huge strawberry
a long narrow road ~*a narrow long road
the lovely little black Japanese box ~*the Japanese black little lovely box
expensive Russian dolls
heavy woolen clothes
huge polar bears
Adjectives cannot be written in any order. There are rules, so you should use the
Determiner or article
Determiners e.g. this, that, these, those, my, mine, your, yours, him, his,
her, hers, they, their, Sam's ; or
Articles - a, an, the
2. Opinion adjective
e.g. polite, fun, cute, difficult, hard-working
Size, including adjectives, comparatives and superlatives
height; e.g. tall, short, high, low; taller, tallest
width; e.g. wide, narrow, thin, slim; wider, widest
length; e.g. long, short; longer, longest
volume; e.g. fat, huge; fatter, fattest
e.g. circular, oval, triangular, square, 5-sided, hexagonal, irregular
e.g. new, young, adolescent, teenage, middle-aged, old, ancient
e.g. red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white, grey, black, black and
white, light blue, dark red, pale blue, reddish brown, off-white, bright green,
e.g. Hong Kong, Chinese, English, American, Canadian, Japanese
e.g. Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, pagan, atheist
e.g. wood, plastic, metal, ceramic, paper, silk
11. Noun used as an adjective
e.g. campus (as in 'campus activities')
12. The noun that the adjectives are describing.
Correct the order of the adjectives and nouns in the following sentences, then
click the 'See Answer' buttons to see the correct noun phrases:
1. age, colour, determiner or article, material, nationality
2. desk, office, big, ugly, an, wooden, brown
3. hair, long, black, straight, my, sister's
4. photograph, black, white, and, oval, a, family, historic
Here is a brief review of adjective clauses and relative pronouns.
An adjective clause is used to describe a noun:
The car, which was red, belonged to Young-Hee. (Non-defining)
The car which was red belonged to Young-Hee. (Defining)
The children who wanted to swim ran to the pool.
The children, who wanted to swim, ran to the pool.
My father, who is in Egypt now, will come back tomorrow.
My brother who is an engineer works for a famous company.
My brother, who is an engineer, works for a famous company.
A relative pronoun is usually used to introduce an adjective clause:
Young-Hee, who is a Korean student, lives in Victoria.
Relative pronouns are:
Hans, who is an architect, lives in
Who used for humans in subject position
Mike, whom Hans knows well, is
Whom used for humans in object position
an interior decorator.
used for things and animals in subject or Mike has a dog which follows her
object position everywhere.
used for humans, animals and things, in Mike is decorating a house that
subject or object position (but see below) Hans designed.
used for humans, animals and things, in the The man whose car was stolen
possessive case felt unhappy.
I will never forget the day when (=on which) I first
When used after temporal nouns
arrived in America.
used after nouns denoting The house where (in which) we lived in Paris was
used after the noun
Why The reason why (for which) he got so angry is trivial.
There are two main kinds of adjective clause:
1. Non-defining clauses
Non-defining clauses give extra information about the noun, but they are not
essential for defining the noun:
The desk in the corner, which is covered in books, is mine.
2. Defining clauses
Defining clauses give essential information about the noun:
The package that arrived this morning is on the desk.
Adjective Clauses 1
Combine the two sentences to make one, using an adjective clause.
For example, "I met Mary in the hall. She is a tour guide." becomes "I met Mary,
who is a tour guide, in the hall."
1. The man was sick. He looked very pale.
2. He was sitting in the emergency room. It was very crowded.
3. A nurse was nearby. He called to her.
4. The nurse called a doctor. He came quickly.
5. The doctor asked him to lie down. She looked very worried.
6. She gave the man an injection. It made him go to sleep.
For each of the foll
clause is defining or non-defining. For example:
The sky, which was perfectly clear, was covered with stars.
The sky, which was perfectly clear, was covered with stars. [Non-defining]
The shoes which are by the bed are mine.
The shoes which are by the bed are mine. [Defining]
1. The new appliances, which are quite expensive, will be on sale next week.
2. The picture which is hanging on the wall was painted by our friend.
3. The people who own the hotel have a great deal of business experience.
4. His uncle, who sings in the choir, is a friend of my father.
5. The building, which is in excellent repair, is over two hundred years old.
6. The door that is open leads to the study.
7. My friend, who is coming for a visit, is anxious to meet you.
8. Did you see the exhibition which was held here last week?
Paying attention to grammatically correct usage, for each of the following sentences, fill in
the blank with who, whom or whose. For example:
The person ___ owns the bookstore is my friend.
The person who owns the bookstore is my friend.
The singer to ____ we gave the bouquet will be performing again tonight.
The singer to whom we gave the bouquet will be performing again tonight.
The contestants _____ names were announced should prepare to start.
The contestants whose names were announced should prepare to start.
1. My best friend, ________ I see every day, always has something new to tell me.
2. Most students ________ live in residence find it easy to make friends.
3. Our neighbors, to ________ we lent our lawnmower, are conscientious and considerate.
4. The volunteers, ________ enthusiasm was obvious, finished the work quickly.
5. The musicians ________ we heard yesterday have played together for many years.
6. Parents ________ children do well in school usually consider themselves fortunate.
7. Children ________ like music are often good at mathematics.
8. The student to ________ the prize was awarded had an impressive record.
9. My friend, ________ I visited last week, is taking a holiday soon.
10. The class treasurer, to ________ we gave the money, announced the balance of the
11. The engineers ________ designed the building received an award.
12. The townspeople, ________ pride in their community is well-known, raised enough
l.مmoney to build a new town hall.
Paying attention to grammatically correct usage, for each of the following sentences, fill in
the blank with who, whom or which. Use who or whom for antecedents which refer to
persons, and use which for antecedents which refer to things. For example:
The woman ___ borrowed the books is a librarian.
The woman who borrowed the books is a librarian.
The key _____ opens this door is difficult to turn.
The key which opens this door is difficult to turn.
The children ____ we met are well-behaved.
The children whom we met are well-behaved.
The story _____ you heard is true.
The story which you heard is true.
The man to ____ you told the news is my brother.
The man to whom you told the news is my brother.
I have not yet received the letter to _____ you refer.
I have not yet received the letter to which you refer.
1. The window ________ is open is the kitchen window.
2. The girl _________ recited the poem is my niece.
3. The woman to ________ we were introduced was quite helpful.
4. The opportunity to _________ she owed her success came unexpectedly.
5. The man ________ they trusted was unreliable.
6. The book _________ you read is the best book by that author.
7. The Pacific Ocean, _________ may have been crossed by raft during the Stone Age, is the
world's largest ocean.
8. His mother, _________ he visited frequently, ran her own business.
9. The boy, ________ was friendly and intelligent, soon found work.
10. Her husband, to _________ she told the story, was just as surprised as I was.
11. The pictures, _________ were taken in Algeria, were very striking.
12. The newspaper to ________ we subscribe is delivered regularly.