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What Do Adjectives Modify?

Adjectives are words that modify nouns. They are often called “describing words” because they give us further details about a noun, such as what it looks like (the white horse), how many there are (the three boys) or which one it is (the last house). Adjectives do not modify verbs or other adjectives.

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Most often, adjectives are easy to identify in a sentence because they fall right before the nouns they modify.

The old clock hung upon the wall.
A white horse galloped across the lush, green grass.
Have you met our three handsome boys?
Ours is the last house on the street.

In these sentences, old, white, lush, green, three, handsome, and last are all adjectives; they give us a more detailed description of the nouns they modify. An adjective might answer the mental questions, “What kind is it?” (as with an old clock, a white horse, the lush grass, the green grass, or the handsome boys), “How many are there?” (as with the three boys), or “Which one is it?” (as with the last house). Adjectives that answer the first question are descriptive adjectives. Those that answer the other two questions are limiting adjectives—they restrict or quantify a noun rather than describing it.

The five ladies go to Las Vegas every year.
Those flowers must go on that table.
She gave the best piece to her mother.

The examples above use the limiting adjectives five (how many ladies?), every (which year/s?), those (which flowers?), that (which table?), best (which piece?) and her (whose mother?). Technically, definite articles (the) and indefinite articles (a/an) also function as limiting adjectives.

Predicate Adjectives

Although many adjectives fall before the nouns they modify, as in the examples above, those used in sentences or clauses with linking verbs fall after the nouns they modify. Linking verbs describe a state of being rather than an action; the most common linking verb is to be, and others include sense verbs like appear, seem, look, smell, sound, and taste.

Cynthia is fatigued .
Those muffins look delicious .
The sunrise seemed golden .
Do you think this spaghetti sauce tastes spicy ?

With linking verbs, adjectives like fatigued, delicious, golden, and spicy all fall after the nouns they modify (Cynthia, muffins, sunrise, spaghetti sauce).

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