Formation and use of adjectives

Three questions this week on the formation and use of adjectives.

Vivian from Taiwan asks:
Can the word fun be used as an adjective?

Uma from Germany writes:
Could you please enlighten me by explaining how adjectives work in English?

M. A. Khaliel from Saudia Arabia writes:
Please let me know how to use adjectives and their formation.


Roger replies:

Fun is sometimes used as an adjective in the following contexts:

  • It was a fun thing to do.
  • It was a fun place to go to.
  • She is a fun person to be with.
instead of:
  • She is fun to be with.
  • It was fun to go there.
  • It was fun to do that.

Fun here means pleasant and enjoyable. It/she made you feel happy.

However, funny is the normal adjective and fun is normally used as a noun. Note that when funny is used as an adjective in this way, it will have one of two quite different meanings. Consider the following:

She is a funny person. She makes me laugh.
She is a funny person. Her behaviour is really strange.


Adjectives describe the qualities of people, things and places. They are one of the largest word classes in English. They are normally placed before a noun but, as we saw above, they can also come after the verb to be and also after other linking verbs such as stay, look, seem, appear, become, etc. Study the following:
  • A tall young man and a petite middle-aged woman were walking along the narrow road.

  • Tasty, fresh, white French bread is always best served with Stilton cheese and red wine.

  • The fine sunny weather is set to continue. It will stay fine for the next few days.

  • New ideas are always interesting and exciting.

Note that if we have more than one adjective before a noun, the order in which they appear is not always fixed, although it tends to be in this order: quality, size, age, colour, class. Check to see to what extent this is true in the above examples.

Note also that we often use adverbs of degree to modify the meanings of the adjectives we use. Among the most common are very, too, quite, rather, much, more, and most. Consider the following:

  • It was very noisy in the garden but much quieter in the house.

  • I would have said he was rather tall. But my mother described him as exceedingly tall.

  • She is a very gifted child. Her teacher says that she is too intelligent for her class.

adjectival endings

Many of the most common adjectives have no special endings. Consider these pairs which are opposite in meaning:

light - dark / heavy
cool - warm
difficult - easy / simple
sad - happy
rough - smooth
cruel - kind

However, many common adjectives can be recognised as such by their endings. Here are some of the most common:


typical, special, international, industrial, mental, physical, general

-ant: pleasant, significant, tolerant, deviant, conversant, variant, valiant
-ent: different, violent, patient, sufficient, convenient, excellent, frequent
-ous: serious, anxious, nervous, dangerous, obvious, famous, conscious
-ic: terrific, horrific, democratic, domestic, scientific, platonic, sympathetic, basic
-y: filthy, dirty, dusty, messy, noisy, sandy, stony, rocky, healthy, hungry, angry
-ive: active, passive, secretive, attractive, expensive, sensitive, native
-able: comfortable, regrettable, probable, enjoyable, fashionable
-ible: possible, horrible, terrible, sensible, susceptible
-ful: useful, careful, beautiful, skilful, grateful, faithful
-less: useless, careless, pointless, breathless, tireless, toothless
-ed: interested, bored, tired, surprised, worried, confused, excited
-ing: interesting, boring, tiring, surprising, worrying, confusing, exciting


Finally, now, test your knowledge of adjectives with the ending: -ful. Think about what you think is the most appropriate adjective in each case and then check your answers with those below:

1. It was the worst play we had ever seen. It was really _________ful.

2. The car had a three-litre engine. It was really ___________ful.

3. She paid a lot of attention to detail to ensure that everything was correct. She was really ___________ful.

4. He could never remember where he had put things. He was one of the most _______________ful professors I had ever met.

5. He obtained the highest grades in exams and was an excellent sportsman too. He was one of the most _____________ful students the school had ever had.

6. His garden was always full of the brightest flowers in summer. It was really ____________ful.

7. It was really quiet in the woods. The only sound you could hear was that of birdsong. It was really ____________ful.

8. I decided I would impress my mother by tidying my room and doing all the washing up. "Oh, you've been really _________ful," she said when she came in.











1. A dreadful / awful play.

2. A powerful engine.

3. A careful worker.

4. A forgetful professor.

5. A successful student.

6. A colourful / beautiful garden.

7. Peaceful surroundings.

8. A helpful boy.