Correct Use of Adjectives

Correct Use of Adjectives

Rule 1

There are two ways of using Adjectives

  1. Attributive use
  2. Predicative use

In Attributive use Adjectives are placed before the Nouns they qualify. As:

  • He is a good boy.

In Predicative use Adjectives are placed after the Nouns they qualify. As:

  • The boy is good.

The following are the Rules of Attributive and Predicative use of Adjectives:

Proper and Qualitative Adjectives can be used in both Attributive and Predicative ways. As:

  • This is an Indian dish. (Attributive)
  • This dish is Indian. (Predicative)
  • This is a good book (Attributive)
  • This book is good. (Predicative)

The following Adjectives are used only Predicatively (not attributively): asleep, alive, ill, awake, afraid, ashamed, alike, alone. As:

  • The baby is asleep. (cannot say—He is an asleep baby)
  • The child is awake. (Not awake child)
  • He is afraid of you.
  • I am alone.
  • Their appearances are alike.

Rule 2

Adjective is used after Indefinite Pronoun (something, nothing, anything, somebody, anybody, nobody, no one). As—

  • He is somebody important.
  • Tell me something interesting.
  • I have nothing new to say.
  • Is there anything new ?
  • If several Adjectives qualify the same

Noun, it is better to use them after the Noun, though their use before the Noun is

also not wrong. As:

  • A man, strong, young and brave.
  • I love all things—good and useful, colourful and beautiful.

Rule 3

When an Adjective is used for a title, it is used after the Noun. As: Akbar the Great; Alexander the Great, Louis the Pious.

Rule 4

In some phrases the Adjective is used after the Noun. As— the body politic, heir apparent, the sum total, chairman elect, a God incarnate, Governor-General, from time immemorial.

Rule 5

Ordinal and Cardinal Numbers: If Numerical Adjectives of both kinds (Cardinal – one / two / three, etc. and Ordinal – I / II / II, etc.) are to be used before a Noun, the Ordinal numbers should be used first and Cardinal numbers later. I, II, III are read is First, Second, Third, etc. As:

  • I have read the first two chapters (not two first chapters) of this book.
  • The first five poems of this book are in our course. (Not five first)

Rule 6

If both Numeral and Possessive Adjectives are to be applied to a Noun, the

Numeral Adjective should be used before the Possessive Adjective. As:

  • All my brothers are well settled. (Not My all brothers)
  • Half my friends have already gone. (Not My half friends)

The, this, that are used after the Numeral Adjective. As:

  • All the books (Not the all books)
  • Both the books, (Not the both books)
  • All this is wrong. (Not this all)

Rule 7

For emphasis the Adjective is used after the Noun. As:

  • Things eternal are more precious than things temporal.

Rule 8

If several Adjectives qualify the same Noun, they should be arranged in such a

way that the Adjectives suggesting the basic qualities of the Noun concerned

should come nearest to it serially. As:

  • A dirty, ugly old man. (Not old, dirty ugly man)
  • A weak, hungry, green parrot.

Rule 9

For all Adjectives of Latin origin, comparison is shown by ‘to’ (not by ‘than’). The more common Adjectives o f Latin origin are: Superior, inferior, junior, senior, prior, anterior, posterior.

It may be remembered that generally these Adjectives end with – or. By this sign they can be recognised. It may be remembered that ‘to’ is used after Prefer / Preferable also, though they are not of Latin origin. As:

  • He is junior/senior to me. (not than me)
  • This is superior/inferior to that. (not than that)
  • His turn comes prior to mine. (not than mine)
  • Milk is preferable to tea. (not than)

Rule 10

The above noted Adjectives of Latin origin (Superior, inferior, junior, senior, prior, anterior, posterior) are already of Comparative Degree.

Therefore no attempt should be made to make their comparative degree by

adding more / less or any other comparative word.

Therefore, it is wrong to use such expressions as ‘more superior’ or ‘less superior’, ‘more preferable’ or ‘less preferable’ and so on. Also, as has been explained above, ‘to’ is used with them, not ‘than’. As:

  • He is junior to me. (Not more junior than)
  • She is senior to her. (Not more senior than)
  • Milk is preferable to tea. (Not better preferable)

Rule 10

Double Comparatives: Double comparatives should not be used. Therefore, the following expressions are wrong—more cleverer; more better; more stronger; less braver; greater higher, etc. The correct expressions would be:

  • He is cleverer (not more cleverer) than you.
  •  An elephant is stronger (not more stronger) than a horse.

Rule 11

When two qualities of the same person or thing are to be compared, the Comparative Degree formed by -er should not be used. In their place comparative degree should be made by adding more or less to the Adjective concerned. As:

  • He is more brave than strong. (Not braver than stronger)
  • Mohan is more good than wise (Not better than wise)
  • He is more industrious than intelligent. (Not more industrious than more intelligent)

Rule 12

Correct Comparisons: When two persons, things or qualities are to be compared, care should be taken to see that comparison is made between correct persons or things. No wrong comparison should be made. As:

  • My horse is better than Ram.

This sentence is wrong because in this sentence the comparison is wrong. The sentence as it is would mean as if comparison is made between ‘my horse’ and ‘Ram’.

The correct comparison would be between ‘my horse’ and ‘Ram’s horse’ (not Ram himself). Therefore, the correct form of the

above sentence would be:

  • My horse is better than Ram’s. (i.e., Ram’s horse)


  • The climate of Punjab is better than that of Bihar. (Not than Bihar)
  • The markets of Delhi are larger than those of (or than the markets of) Agra. (Not than Agra)

Rule 13

Adjectives of the same degree: If the same Noun is qualified by two or more than two Adjectives , all these Adjectives must be of the same Degree. As:

  • She is the best and most talented girl. (We can’t say best and talented or good and most talented)
  • This is the deepest and longest valley.
  • I have the best and cheapest book.

Rule 14

Non-gradable Adjectives: The under noted Adjectives are already of the Superlative Degree. They cannot be used as Comparative Degree Adjectives, nor can the emphasising expressions such as very / extremely / highly / much can be used with them.

These Adjectives are: Unique, perfect, matchless, excellent, ideal, absolute, universal, impossible, entire, whole, full, complete, round, extreme, eternal, chief. Now see their use:

  • He is an ideal leader. (We can’t say more ideal or most ideal)
  • This is a unique chance. (not, more unique or most unique)
  • This plan is perfect.
  • I have full sympathy with him.

Note: However, these days full and perfect are being used in Comparative and Superlative Degrees also. Now we can use full, fuller, and fullest, or perfect, more perfect or most perfect. This use is coming

into vogue. As:

  • I have the fullest sympathy with you.
  • This is the more perfect/most perfect plan.
  • Please give me a fuller account of the incident.

Rule 15

Like best/like most: Both these uses are correct.

  • Which of these books do you like most ?
  • Which of these books do you like best ?

Rule 16

Adjective/Adverb: Sometimes Adjectives are used with verbs also, but in that case the Adjectives qualify the subject of the verb. If, however, they qualify the action (verb), they should be used Adverbially. As:

  • The flowers smell sweet (not sweetly)
  • He looked angry (not angrily)
  • The ship appeared suddenly (not sudden)
  • He looked coldly at us. (not cold)

Correct Use of Adjectives

There are some typical Adjectives in the use of which there is always some doubt and a mistake is often committed. See their correct use carefully:

Later and Latter

Later is the Comparative Degree of late, while latter is antonym of former. Later gives the sense of time, while latter expresses place or

position. As:

  • Ram came later than Hari.
  • This event is of a later date.
  • Ram and Shyam are brothers but the latter is more cultured than the former.

Former and Latter

When there is reference to only two persons or things, we use former for the first and latter for the second. But when the reference is for three or more persons or things, we use first for the first and last for the last. As:

  • Ram and Shyam are brothers but the former is very rich and the latter very poor.
  • In a list of fifty candidates Ram’s name is at the first place and Mohan’s at the last.

First and Foremost

First is first merely in serial order without any suggestion of more or less in importance, while foremost means most important without any reference to serial order. As:

  • He was the first man to reach here.
  • Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru was the foremost statesman of his time.

Last and Latest

Last is the antonym of first, while latest is the antonym of earliest. Therefore, last has the sense of place in serial order, while latest has the

sense of Time. As:

  • The last person in the queue is my friend.
  • What is the latest news about his condition ?

Nearest and Next

Nearest means nearest in distance, while next means after this / that in serial order. As:

  • Which is the nearest railway station from here ?
  • My seat was next from the door.

Farther and Further

Farther means away in distance, while further means ‘in addition to’. But further is also used sometimes for distance. As:

  • Lucknow is farther from Agra than Kanpur.
  • There is nothing further to say.
  • Further he said that he was ill.

Fewer, Less and Lesser

Fewer is used for number, less for quantity, and lesser for less in importance. As:

  • Fewer visitors came to see the Taj this year.
  • Fewer candidates have applied for the post this time.
  • There is less milk in the jar.
  • He has now less time.
  • Many lesser speakers also spoke from the platform.
  • I have not read the lesser poets of the Elizabethan Age.

Note: If in a certain sentence there is a Definite Numeral Adjective, followed by a Plural Noun, we use less in place of fewer. As:

  • I have ten rupees less at the moment.
  • There are two members less in the team.

Elder and Eldest : Older and Oldest

Elder and Eldest are used for members of the same family. Elder means senior in age and eldest means senior-most in age. Older and oldest

are used for other people or things, in the same sense of age. As:

  • He is my elder brother.
  • My eldest brother is like my father.
  • I am older than my friend.
  • He is the oldest man in the village.
  • This is the oldest Church.

Note: It may be remembered that older is followed by than, while elder is followed by to. As:

  • I am elder to my sister, while she is older than her friend.

Some and Any

Some is used in Affirmative and Interrogative sentences for request or invitation. Any is used in Negative and Interrogative

sentences. As:

  • I have some letters for you. (Since it is an affirmative sentence, we cannot say ‘any letters for you’)
  • I do not have any letters for you. (Since it is a negative sentence, we cannot say ‘some letters for you’.)
  • I want to read some more books.
  • I don’t want to read any more books.
  • Do you have some friends with you ?
  • Do you not have any friend with you ?
  • Will you please have some tea ?
  • No, I will not have any. Or Yes, I will have some.

Little, a little, the little

(a) Little means almost nil / nothing. It has a negative sense. As:

  • There is little hope of his success. (i.e. There is almost no hope of his success.)
  • I have little time to waste.

(b) A little means small in quantity.

  • There is a little money left. (i.e. small amount)
  • I have only a little sugar left.
  • We had only a little time to complete the work.

(c) The little means not much but all that is there.

  • He has wasted the little money he had. (i.e. not much, but all that he had.)
  • Make the best use of the little time you have.

Few, a few, the few

(a) ‘Few’ means ‘almost nil’. It has a negative sense.

  • He has few chances of success. (i.e. almost no chances of success.)
  • He has few enemies.

(b) A few means ‘small in number’.

  • I can give you a few books.
  • I have only a few friends.

(c) ‘The few’ means ‘small in number’, but all that are there.

  • I have lost the few books I had. (i.e. very few in number, but all those that I had.)
  • Carefully read the few books you have.

Each and Every

Each is used for two or more than two. Every is used for at least three or more. Every should not be used for two. As:

  • Each of you must reach in time.
  • Each of the two brothers is highly cultured. (not ‘every one of the two’)
  • Every one of them was ready to go.
  • I know every street of Calcutta.

Either and Neither

Either means ‘one of the two’; Neither means ‘neither this nor that of the two.’ Neither is antonym of either. Neither / Either are not used for more than two. As:

  • You can take either side.
  • Either of the two brothers can come.
  • You should take neither side.
  • Neither of the two brothers is likely to come.

‘Due to’ and ‘owing to’

‘Due to’ means ‘caused by’. It is related with the action of a verb. As:

  • His demotion was due to his negligence of duty.
  • He has risen so high due to his hard labour.

‘Owing to’ is only a Prepositional phrase. It only governs a Noun or a Nominal. It is generally placed at the beginning of the sentence.

  • Owing to his illness, he could not appear at the examination.
  • Owing to heavy rain, the programme was badly disturbed.

Many a

It is used like a Singular Numeral Adjective, though it is Plural in sense. It takes a Singular Noun and a Singular Verb after it. It means many (one by one). As:

  • Many a young man has laid down his life for the country.
  • Many a great occasion has come in my life.

Verbal and Oral

Verbal means of or in words. It is opposite of ‘written’. As:

  • There is no verbal difference between the two documents.
  • There is a striking verbal similarity between the two poems.

‘Oral’ means by ‘mouth’, not in writing.

  • There will be an oral test.
  • He has failed in the oral examination.

Note: Nowadays ‘Verbal’ is also used in the sense of ‘Oral’ (by mouth).

  • We have received a verbal message.

‘Common’ and ‘Mutual’

‘Common’ means belonging to two or more persons or things.

  • There is nothing common between them.
  • This is our common property.

‘Mutual’ means ‘between two’, ‘for each other’.

  • There was mutual exchange of views between them.
  • There was little mutual understanding between them.

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