Forming Adjectives in English

Today’s post will deal with another aspect of word transformation (or word formation). In this case I will focus on how to form adjectives. Just as with other aspects of the English language, there are certain patterns that can be followed in order to form new adjectives from existing words. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how to form adjectives in English, with a focus on some of the most common patterns.

What are adjectives?

Adjectives are words that modify and describe nouns. An adjective is a type of word that complements the noun and provides more information about it, either by specifying general qualities, detailing particular characteristics that are inherent to it, or by delimiting its scope.

How do we form adjectives?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a general rule which you can follow to form adjectives. In many cases, in fact, these adjectives don’t even derive from another word. For instance, adjectives like red, small or flat, are not formed through any particular word formation process.

Therefore, in this post we will focus only on those which are formed through a process that can be explained; in this case: suffixation. 

But firstly, let’s take a look at the typical adjective suffixes and some examples:

SUFFIXADJECTIVES EXAMPLES 
-able, -iblecomprehensible, understandable, comfortable, predictable, visible
-al, -ialfacial, commercial, industrial, comical, natural
-fulbeautiful, colourful, hopeful, healthful 
-icclassic, heroic, manic, robotic, strategic
-icalclassical, comical, philosophical, hysterical
-ishgirlish, selfish, yellowish, childish, Spanish
-ive, -ativeattractive, competitive, sensitive, creative, imperative
-lesschildless, doubtless, questionless, priceless
-eous, -ious, -ousoutrageous, ferocious, adventurous, herbaceous
-y, -lyangry, hungry, grumpy, corny, cloudy
-ent, -antconfident, competent, efficient, dominant

Now, we’ll see some adjectives (including some from above) and how they were formed. Please note how some spelling changes take place in many cases.

Forming Adjectives from Nouns

In the following table, you can see the different methods to form adjectives from nouns, including the suffixes, the inherent meaning of the suffix, the nouns and their transformation into adjectives. 

SUFFIXESMEANINGNOUNSADJECTIVES
-al, -ialrelating tonorm
music
industry
normal
musical
industrial
-ic, -icalhaving the nature of
caused by
class
economy
romance
hero
classical
economic/economical
romantic
heroic
-fulfull ofbeauty
harm
peace
beautiful
harmful
peaceful
-lesswithout
lacking
end
motion
speech
endless
motionless
speechless
-ishorigin
nature
the same features as
Britain
Spain
child
yellow
fool
British
Spanish
childish
yellowish
foolish
-eous, -ious, -ousquality
nature
adventure
ambition
anxiety
danger
adventurous
ambitious
anxious
dangerous
-ylikeanger
wealth
wind
wit
angry
wealthy
windy
witty
-aryrelating to quality or placecustom
moment
customary
momentary
-likethe same features aschild
worm
childlike
wormlike

Now let’s see some examples of sentences with both noun and adjective forms:

NOUNADJECTIVE
John loves going on adventures.John’s a very adventurous person.
You’re behaving like a child!Don’t be so childish!
The creature had a body like a wormTHe creature had a wormlike body. 
The list seemed to have no endThe list seemed endless

Forming Adjectives from Verbs

Here’s a cool table with the suffixes that some verbs take and their transformation into adjectives. I’ve also added the intrinsic meaning of the suffix, which helps to understand the meaning of the final adjective after the transformation. 

SUFFIXESMEANINGVERBSADJECTIVES
-ivecausing effectact
create
talk
attract
active
creative
talkative
attractive
-able, -ibleable, can doread
speak
break
enjoy
readable
speakable
breakable
enjoyable
-fulfullplayplayful
-ent, -antperforming agentobey
resist
expect
please
obedient
resistant
expectant
pleasant

Now let’s see some examples of sentences with both noun and adjective forms:

VERBADJECTIVE
She obeys the teacher. She is obedient to the teacher. 
We enjoyed the weekend very much. The weekend was very enjoyable. 
Mary talks too much, doesn’t she?Mary’s very talkative, isn’t she?

Forming Adjectives from Verbs with -ed/-ing

Another way to form adjectives from verbs is to use the past or present participles of the verbs, that is, their -ed or -ing forms. For instance:

VERBADJECTIVE -ED
(PAST PARTICIPLE)
ADJECTIVE -ING
(PRESENT PARTICIPLE)
to amuseamusedamusing
to interestinterestedinteresting
to surprisesurprisedsurprising
to boreboredboring

Remember that adjectives ending in -ed are used when the subject feels some way, whereas -ing adjectives are used when the subject produces the feeling. For more info about these adjectives visit this previous post, where this point is explained in more depth.

Forming Adjectives from Other Adjectives

There are several possibilities to form adjectives from other adjectives. Let’s see a couple of cases. 

Comparatives and Superlatives (suffixation)

The most common way to form an adjective from another adjective is when we use comparatives or superlatives from one-syllable adjectives or two-syllable adjectives ending in -y

Remember that the ending suffixes for these are -er and -est respectively, and that some spelling rules may apply (double the final consonant, change the -y for -i, etc.). For example:

This TV is very big, but mine’s bigger.

He’s extremely happy. He’s probably the happiest person I know.

Prefixation

Also, adjectives can be modified by adding a prefix to them. For instance:

  • possible → impossible
  • regular → irregular
  • logical → illogical
  • etc.

However, we will see these in a future post, so keep an eye out for it.

Warning: Adjectives Ending in -ic/-ical

In the first table (Adjectives from Nouns), we have seen some adjectives that could have these two endings: -ic or -ical. However, it must be said that their meanings usually vary. 

This difference is not the same for all of them, so whenever you come across a pair like economic/economical or historic/historical, make sure you learn the difference by looking them up in a dictionary. For the moment, I’m going to leave you with a couple of links so you learn some pairs:

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I’ll see you in the next post. Until then, don’t forget to keep smiling! 

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