Most people know what an adjective is, but when it comes to describing an adjective phrase, it’s easy to get confused. An adjective phrase, or an adjectival phrase, is more than a group of words with an adjective in it. It’s actually a group of words that describe a noun or pronoun in a sentence, thus functioning as an adjective. You don’t have to be a grammar buff to know what an adjective phrase is or understand how one works. People use these phrases all the time.
An adjective phrase is defined as a group of words that, together, function as an adjective. That means that the phrase itself acts as an adjective in a sentence. An adjective phrase includes at least one adjective, along with at least one other word. All of the words that are modifiers or complements to the adjective are part of the overall adjective phrase.
What purpose do adjective phrases serve? Adjective phrases modify nouns or pronouns, functioning in the same manner with both.
The trick to identifying an adjective phrase is to identify a group of words within a sentence that is working together to describe a noun or pronoun.
- Find an adjective, which is a word that describes a noun or pronoun, in the sentence.
- Determine if the adjective is describing a noun or pronoun on its own or in tandem with one or more other words.
- If it is working alone, it is just an adjective. If it is working with other words, it is the head of an adjective phrase.
- Identify the other words that are acting with the head adjective to describe the noun or pronoun.
- These are part of the adjective phase. They can be adverbs, prepositions, prepositional phrases, or other adjectives.
The best way to understand this type of phrase is to see it in action. Adjective phrases can be formed by combining several adjectives in a row, or they can begin with a preposition or an adverb intensifier. In the sentences below the adjective phrase is bold and the noun or pronoun the phrase is modifying is underlined.
An adjective phrase can be formed by combining an adverb functioning as an intensifier and an adjective.
- The dazzlingly beautiful woman walked down the street. ("dazzlingly" is an adverb and "beautiful" is an adjective)
- That lemon was amazingly sour. ("amazingly" is an adverb and "sour" is an adjective)
An adjective phrase can be formed by combining a preposition or prepositional phrase with another word that, together, describe a noun in the sentence.
- He is from Boston. ("from" is a preposition; combined with "Boston," an adjective phrase that describes "he" is formed)
- She is from a suburb of Boston ("from a suburb" is a prepositional phrase; forms an adjective phrase describing "she" when combined with "Boston.")
Sometimes, one adjective isn’t descriptive enough. A string of multiple adjectives can work together as an adjective phrase.
- She had the most silky, smooth, and radiant hair I’ve ever seen. (silky, smooth and radiant are all adjectives; together they're an adjective phrase)
- Monica is a sweet, intelligent, beautiful girl. (sweet, intelligent and beautiful are all adjectives; together they're an adjective phrase)
If you’re looking for a more complex way to modify a noun — beyond a simple adjective — try using an adjective phrase. You can do this without changing the meaning of a sentence, or you can do so in a way that limits or intensifies the noun. Consider a few examples, in which the adjectives and adjective phrases are bold and the noun is underlined.
These sentences all mean the same thing. However, the first one has an adjective, while the following sentences contain adjective phrases.
- adjective - The beautiful house sits atop the hill.
- same-meaning adjective phrase - The house that is so beautiful sits atop the hill.
- adjective phrase to intensify - The amazingly beautiful house sits atop the hill.
- adjective phrase to limit - The somewhat beautiful house sits atop the hill.
Again, the two sentences below mean the same thing. The first one uses just an adjective, while the other one uses an adjectival phrase.
- adjective - The angry dog barks all day long.
- same-meaning adjective phrase - The dog that seems very angry barks all day long.
- adjective phrase to intensify - The viciously angry dog barks all day long.
- adjective phrase to limit - The tiny yet somewhat angry dog barks all day long.
Adjective phrases can be placed before or after the nouns they modify. Regardless, their purpose remains to modify nouns or noun phrases within sentences.
The use of adjective phrases to modify nouns or noun phrases is very common in sentences. They are often placed before the noun or pronoun they describe.
- The very small kitten jumped at the big dog.
- The sweat-covered man trudged his way home.
- A very big bug is coming toward me.
- A few extra buttons came with the coat.
- The weedy, overgrown garden needs to be tended.
Adjective phrases do not have to come before the noun or pronoun they modify in a sentence. It is not unusual for adjective phrases to follow the noun or pronoun they modify.
- We were saddened by the news.
- The cost of the car was way too high.
- She chose paint for her room that is a lemony yellow.
- My new kitten makes me very happy.
- I sometimes pity people living in large cities.
- We are collecting money for children born with heart defects.
- They were proud of the team that made it to the final.
- The brownies smell deliciously sweet.
- Something in the corner was moving.
A well-chosen adjective phrase can give a sentence more life and personality. A single adjective alone may be all the spice you need, but if it can be built out into an adjective phrase, you may be able to provide readers with greater detail. When you’re ready to sprinkle some adjective phrases into your writing, head over to adjective phrase examples for even more ideas.