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What Is an Adjective Phrase?

Updated on
December 21, 2021
Grammar
What Is an Adjective Phrase?

Adjective phrases are one of the many kinds of phrases you use in your speech and writing every day. With adjectives, you describe nouns. With adjective phrases, you describe adjectives. Ultimately, adjective phrases provide more vivid descriptions for nouns and create richer sentences. 

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What is an adjective phrase?

To really understand what an adjective phrase is, let’s break it down.

A phrase is a group of words that’s not quite a sentence but expresses a coherent idea. They fit into sentences to provide context and clarity. Here are a few quick examples of phrases:

  • Up the hill 
  • Without any toppings

An adjective is a word that describes a noun. Adjectives include:

  • Gray
  • Small
  • Hilarious

An adjective phrase is a phrase that contains an adjective, but there’s more to it than that—as a whole, an adjective phrase is a phrase that acts as an adjective by describing a noun. Take a look at the bolded adjective phrases in these sentences:

  • We didn’t believe our tour guide when he warned us about the increasingly hostile goblins we’d encounter as we went deeper into the woods. 
  • She was taller than her classmates. 

As you see in these examples, an adjective phrase can go before or after the noun it’s ultimately describing. 

How to identify adjective phrases

When you need to pick out an adjective phrase in a sentence, look for the noun first. Identify who or what the sentence is about. Let’s use this sentence as an example:

After shopping around for months, I finally found a reliable, yet affordable, used truck. 

There are two nouns in this sentence: the speaker and the truck. Next, look for adjectives—the words that modify these nouns. In our example sentence, only one noun, the truck, is described: It’s a used truck. 

But if you look a little closer, you’ll see that it isn’t just a used truck—more specifically, it’s a reliable, yet affordable, used truck. The phrase “reliable, yet affordable, used” is an adjective phrase because it provides descriptive details about the noun “truck.” 

We could delete this adjective phrase, and the sentence’s meaning would stay the same: After months of shopping, I finally found a used truck. But by including the full phrase, we’re more deeply describing the exact kind of truck the speaker wanted, giving context for why they shopped around for so long. 

Look for phrases that could be cut from their sentences without changing their meaning, but remain because they provide valuable context. Here are a few more bolded adjective phrases that serve this purpose:

  • The horse’s large, menacing eyes said a fight was imminent. 
  • Your cluttered ’90s-era living room badly needs an update. 
  • I didn’t enjoy the book because it was too long and convoluted for me to follow.  

By design, an adjective phrase contains multiple words. As you can see from the examples above, more than one of them may be adjectives. When you’re looking for an adjective phrase in a sentence, look for words that follow the Royal Order of Adjectives, the standard order English adjectives follow in sentences. Although you might not consciously think about the order adjectives need to follow in a sentence, you’ll notice when they’re out of order because the sentence will sound wrong. 

Examples of adjective phrases

Adjective phrases come in many different forms. Some incorporate comparative and superlative adjectives, such as these examples: 

  • We experienced the decade’s most destructive storm.
  • They saw only the brightest stars through their telescope.

Compound adjectives are often part of adjective phrases, too:

  • The movie, short and whitewashed, faced criticism from historians. 
  • The playlist was too slow-paced for the crowd that night. 

Adjective phrases can contain adverbs:

  • It was a deliciously sensational play.
  • His hair, shockingly dyed pink, surprised his parents.
  • The salesperson, who went abroad, took the rest of the week off. 

And they can incorporate prepositions:

  • The kids, like popcorn, were bouncing all over their trampoline. 
  • My grandmother from New York makes a delicious egg cream. 

Sometimes, an adjective phrase is just a series of adjectives:

  • My old, slow, gas-guzzling minivan finally died. 
  • They took an intense, time-consuming physics course. 

No matter what an adjective phrase contains or where it appears in a sentence, it always makes the sentence more descriptive without changing the sentence’s core meaning. 

What’s the difference between adjective phrases and adjective clauses?

A phrase is a group of words that can’t stand on its own as a sentence because it doesn’t have a subject and a predicate. A clause, on the other hand, does contain a subject and a predicate and in some cases can stand on its own as a sentence. 

Adjective clauses and adjective phrases largely play the same role: to describe a noun. But while an adjective phrase is simply a few additional words that “bulk up” an adjective, an adjective clause reiterates the noun. Often, an adjective clause does this with a pronoun

Here are a few examples of adjective clauses bolded within sentences:

  • The school, which has a very selective admission policy, has a small student body.
  • It was completely dark, save for the cell phone flashlight that illuminated our immediate surroundings.
  • Niko P., who always wears a hat, won’t be joining us this year. 

In contrast, here are these same sentences with adjective phrases swapped in for the adjective clauses:

  • The very selective school has a small student body.
  • It was completely dark, save for the bright, short-range cell phone flashlight. 
  • Perpetually hat-wearing Niko P. won’t be joining us this year. 

Adjective phrase FAQs

What is an adjective phrase?

An adjective phrase is a phrase that’s headed by an adjective and provides context, clarity, or details that support that adjective. 

How do you identify an adjective phrase?

To find an adjective phrase within a sentence, locate the adjective and then determine which words are describing or adding meaning to the adjective. 

What is an example of an adjective phrase?

Here are three:

  • The horse from the neighboring farm won every race.
  • His brand-new, unreleased album went viral.
  • We ordered a much cheesier pizza last week.

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