Adjective phrases in English: examples, types, and rules

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adjective phrases
adjective phrases

If you know what an adjective is in English, it shouldn’t be difficult to master adjective phrases. Reason? You are using them all the time. All the time.

What is an adjective? How is it any different from adjective phrases in English? An adjective is just a word that modifies a noun or a pronoun. An adjective phrase, on the other hand, is a group of words that does the same thing: describes/modifies a noun or a pronoun.

What is an adjective phrase in English?

An adjective phrase is a group of words that modifies a noun or pronoun in a sentence. It can be placed before or after the word (noun or pronoun) it modifies or describes.

Check the definition of an adjective phrase by Wikipedia.

Adjective phrase examples

Examples of adjective phrases:

  • My dog Jimmy is very cute.

    (The adjective phrase very cute describes the noun dog. It’s giving more information about it. It has a head adjective cute and its modifier very. Together, they’re modifying the noun dog.)
  • You look unbelievably strong.

    (The adjective phrase unbelievably strong is describing the subject you, giving us more information about it. Strong is the head adjective, and unbelievably is an adverb that’s modifying the adjective.)
  • Your father is not nice to me.

    (The adjective phrase nice to me describes the subject your father. It’s telling us how your father is. In the adjective phrase, nice is the head adjective, and to me is a modifying phrase (prepositional phrase) that’s modifying the adjective.)
  • He’s dating a very smart girl.

    (Here, the adjective phrase is coming just before the word it modifies: girl. Like any adjective, an adjective phrase can also come before and after the noun or the pronoun it modifies.)
  • Any person smarter than you can do it.

    (Here, the adjective phrase smarter than you is coming just after the noun it’s modifying: person. Smarter is the head adjective, and than me is a modifying phrase that’s modifying the adjective.)

How to form an adjective phrase?

There are two ways to form a regular adjective phrase:

  1. Adverb (intensifier/mitigator) + adjective
  2. Adjective + adjective complement

Adverb + adjective

This is the most common form of an adjective phrase. Here, we use an adverb (intensifier or mitigator) and a regular adjective to form an adjective phrase.

Examples:

Your sister is very smart.

(Here, very smart is the adjective phrase. Very is the intensifier and smart is the adjective.)

That was an extremely good move. d3102aH

Extremely good is the adjective phrase that’s modifying the noun move. It is formed out the adverb extremely and the adjective good.

The act was somewhat funny.

Somewhat funny is the adjective phrase that’s modifying the noun act. In the first two examples, the adjective phrase has an intensifier (very and extremely), but in the adjective phrase, we have a mitigator in the adjective phrase. An intensifier intensifies (strengthens) the meaning of an adjective, and a mitigator limits (weakens) the meaning of an adjective.

Adjective + adjective complement

This is another way to form an adjective phrase. Here, the adjective phrase is formed using an adjective and a word or words that modify the adjective: adjective complement.

Let’s study some examples to understand and get familiar with this structure.

  • We are happy with your performance. dd1530

(Happy with your performance is the adjective phrase in the sentence. Happy is the adjective (head word), and with your performance is the prepositional phrase that’s modifying the adjective happy and working as the adjective complement (adverb)).

  • Jenny was angry at me.

(Here, the adjective phrase comprises of the adjective angry and its complement at me (prepositional phrase)).

My parents are excited to meet you.

(In this example, the adjective comprises of a past participe working as an adjective (excited) and its complement to meet you (infinitive phrase)).

Note: the head word of the adjective phrases are underlined in the above examples.

Regular adjective phrases are formed using a regular adjective. But there are adjective phrases in English that are formed from words that originally are not adjectives but function as adjectives. We call them non-finite verbs. When we form adjective phrases using participles (present and past), we have different elements in the adjective phrase. Let’s look at the different types of adjective phrases we have.

Types of adjective phrases in English

  1. Participle phrases
  2. Prepositional phrases
  3. Infinitive phrases

Participle phrases as adjectives

A participle phrase is a group of words that consists of a present participle, an ‘ing‘ form of a verb, or a past participle, the third form of a verb (V3). It is an adjective phrase headed by a participle. Don’t let the participle trick you; a participle looks like a verb but functions as an adjective.

We have two types of participle phrases:

1. Present participle phrase
2. Past participle phrase

Adjective phrase examples using present participles

  • The guy hiding behind the door is from a different class.

    (Hiding behind the door is the adjective phrase, starting with the present participle hiding and modifying the noun guy, telling us which guy the speaker is referring to. The entire phrase is working as an adjective.)
  • The girl dancing in the rain is the one I have a crush on.

    (Dancing in the rain is the adjective phrase, modifying the noun girl and telling us which girl the speaker is referring to.)
  • People living in Delhi are always complaining about the work the government does
    .
    (Living in Delhi is the adjective phrase that’s identifying the noun people. Not all the people in the world are always complaining; people living in Delhi are. The adjective phrase helps us know who these people are.)
  • Watching from the balcony, Jyoti enjoyed the game.

    (The present participle phrase is coming at the beginning of the sentence, describing the subject Jyoti. When a participle phrase comes at the beginning of a sentence, it is separated from the rest of the sentence using a comma after them.)
  • Motivating the class and giving them clarity about life, Ashish broke down.

    (The adjective phrase is describing the subject Ashish with two events. Using a participle phrase allows you to describe a noun with more details and a clear description.)
  • Joe Rogan, living the life of a martial artist, is the owner of JRE, the most popular podcast on the internet.

    (The adjective phrase is offset using two commas in this example as it gives nonessential information about the noun it describes: Joe Rogan.)

How to identify a present participle adjective phrase?

An adjective phrase that is formed using a present participle can be formed in the following ways:

  1. Present participle + object of the participle
  2. Present participle + object of the participle + modifiers
  3. Present participle + modifiers

The guy motivating the class is my school friend.

Adjective phrase: motivating the class
Adjective (Present participle): motivating
The object of the participle: the class

The man talking to the murderer without any fear is my school friend.

Adjective phrase: talking to the murderer
Adjective (Present participle): talking
The object of the preposition: the murderer
Modifier: without any fear

The guy dancing on the stage is my school friend.

Adjective phrase: dancing on the stage
Adjective (Present participle): dancing
Modifier: on the stage

Adjective phrase examples using past participles

Past participle phrases are adjective phrases that start with a past participle (V3) and modify a noun or a pronoun. They can come at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence.

  • Played more than a million times on Youtube, my latest song is doing amazing.

    (Played more than a million times on Youtube is the adjective phrase, starting with the past participle played and describing the noun my latest song.)
  • Your friend died in a car accident came in my dream yesterday.

    (The adjective phrase is describing the subject your friend and identifying it for us. Not any friend of yours came in my dream, the one who died in a car accident. Since the adjective phrase is essential to identify the pronoun, it is not offset using commas.)
  • Considered the best application for learning English, my English learning application just crossed 1 billion downloads.

    (The adjective phrase is modifying the noun phrase my English learning application. When a participle phrase comes at the beginning of a sentence, we must use a comma after it.)
  • The little girl diagnosed with cancer has written a book about her life.

    (The adjective phrase is modifying the noun girl, telling us which girl the speaker is talking about.)
  • The insurance company will not pay for everything destroyed by the fire.

    (The adjective phrase is modifying the pronoun everything, telling us what it includes. Since it is essential to identify the pronoun, it is not offset using a comma.)
  • I am planning to buy iPhone 11, rated 4.9 by the experts.

    (The adjective phrase is modifying the noun iPhone 11, but it is giving nonessential information about it, and that’s why it is separated with the rest of the sentence using a comma.)

Important points

1. When an adjective phrase, formed using a participle, comes at the beginning of a sentence, we must use a comma after it even if it is essential to the meaning of the noun or the pronoun it modifies.

  • Motivating the class and giving them clarity about life, Ashish broke down.
  • Played more than a million times on Youtube, my latest song is doing amazing.

2. Generally, a participle phrase gives essential information and is not offset using commas when it comes after the noun or the pronoun it modifies. But when it gives nonessential information, use one or two commas depending upon its place in the sentence. Preparing you for every scenario! 😉

  • Joe Rogan, living the life of a martial artist, is the owner of JRE, the most popular podcast on the internet.
  • I am planning to buy iPhone 11, rated 4.9 by the experts.

Propositional phrases as adjectives

When prepositional phrases function as an adjective, modifying a noun or a pronoun, they are called adjectival phrases as they function adjectivally. Let’s take some examples of prepositional phrases in English.

Examples:

• They are writing a movie about his life.

(The prepositional phrase about his life modifies the noun movie and helps us to understand which movie he is talking about writing. It is starting with the preposition about and is followed by the object of the preposition his life. It is a prepositional phrase but working as an adjective.)

• I’m marrying the girl of my dreams.

(Which girl am I marrying? The girl of my dreams. The prepositional phrase of my dreams is helping us to identify the girl the speaker is talking about. It’s working as an adjective.)

• The ending of the movie wasn’t good.

(The ending of what was not good? The prepositional phrase of the movie modifies the noun ending and identifies it for us.)

• The guy in the red shirt is my neighbor.

(Which guy is my neighbor? The prepositional phrase in the red shirt identifies the noun guy. Not any guy present there is my neighbor, the guy in the red shirt is my neighbor.)

• The house across the street is believed to be haunted.

(Here, the prepositional phrase across the street modifies the noun house.)

• Don’t open the letter inside the box; it’s personal.

(Which letter is personal? The letter inside the box.)

• Students from different countries are studying in this college.

(From different countries is the prepositional phrase that’s modifying the noun students. Without it, the sentence gives a different meaning.)

• I am from India.

(From India is the prepositional phrase that’s giving information about the pronoun I.)

More examples of adjective phrases

  • Most people are unhappy with their life.
  • Her extremely beautiful eyes are the reason I am with her.
  • People abusing others for no reason are losers.
  • Look at that girl doing stunts on the rope.
  • Jon is extremely dangerous to fight against.
  • They are from China.
  • Someone at the stand is crying.
  • Something under the fridge is moving.
  • The guy giving the presentation is my friend.
  • He was surprisingly good.
  • The bike completely burnt by the fire has been taken by the insurance company.
  • An overly confident man thinking he is unbeatable faces reality very soon.
  • People covered in mud are my friends.
  • Believed to keep a doctor away, apples are my favorite.

Infinitive phrases as adjectives

Infinitive phrases can also function as adjectives. When they do, they come after the noun or pronoun they give information about.

An infinitive phrase starts with an infinitive and is followed by its object or modifier or both.

Examples:

  • Can I have a book to read on the train?

(Here, ‘to read on the train’ is an infinitive phrase that’s modifying the noun ‘book’, working as an adjective.)

  • We need some people to work on our social media platforms.

(‘To work on our social media platforms‘ is the infinitive phrase that’s giving information about the noun people’, working as an adjective.)

  • I wish I had someone to stand by me.

(Here, ‘to stand by me’ is the infinitive phrase that’s describing the pronoun ‘someone’ and helping us understand who it’s referring to.)

Also, check out bare infinitives and forms of infinitives in English.

Adjectival phrase vs Adjective phrase

Adjectival phrases are adjective phrases that don’t have a regular adjective in them. These are participle phrases, prepositional phrases, and infinitive phrases that function as an adjective in a sentence.

On the other hand, adjective phrases are headed by an adjective. The difference between an adjective phrase and an adjectival phrase is that the former is headed by a regular adjective, and the latter is headed by a non-finite verb or a preposition.

  • That was extremely tasty cheese.

The adjective phrase is headed by a regular adjective tasty.

  • The man talking to your mother is a dentist.

Here, talking to your mother is an adjectival phrase. We are calling it an adjectival phrase as it is not headed by a regular adjective; it is headed by a present participle. It is a present participle phrase that’s working as an adjective.

Adjective phrases

  • The exam was very difficult.
  • They were pretty happy with our performance.

Adverbial phrases

  • Do you know a place to hide tonight? (modifying the noun ‘place’)
  • Don’t look at the man in the blue pants. (modifying the noun ‘man’)
  • The man murdered here last night was a cop. (modifying the noun ‘man’)

How to identify an adjective phrase?

A regular adjective phrase is formed using an adjective and an adverb (intensifier/mitigator): adverb + adjective:

  • very hard
  • quite simple
  • somewhat scary

Examples:

  • My life is very hard.
  • This game is quite simple.
  • The house was somewhat scary.

When prepositional phrases, infinitive phrases, or participle phrases work as an adjective, they are a part of a noun phrase and come right after the noun they modify.

  • of this country
  • to help you with this project
  • attacked at the cafe
  • looking at us

Examples:

  • I love the people of my country.
  • We know a man to help you with this project.
  • The boy attacked at the cafe was 8 years old.
  • The old lady looking at us seems to be in some problem.

Is an adjective phrase always headed by an adjective?

Adjective phrases are not always headed by a regular adjective. They can be headed by a non-finite verb or even a preposition. A participle phrase (headed by a participle), an infinitive phrase (headed by an infinitive ‘to + V1’), and a prepositional phrase (headed by a preposition) can function like an adjective, but they can fuction as an adverb too.

If these phrases function as an adjective, they sit next to the noun they modify.

Examples:

  • The car parked in front of your house is mine. (past participle phrase modifying the noun car)
  • The boys sitting in the room number 4 are my students. (present participle phrase modifying the noun boys)
  • I don’t know a person to talk to. (infinitive phrase modifying the noun boys)
  • The problem with you is that you don’t listen to anyone. (prepositional phrase modifying the noun problem)

Notice that these adjectival phrases sit the next to the noun they are modifying.

Predicative and attributive adjective phrase

An adjective phrase, like an adjective, can be used attributively and predicatively. An attributive adjective comes right before the noun/pronoun it modfies, and a predicative adjective comes right after a linking verb or the noun it modifies.

Attributive adjective phrases

  • The extremely dark sheet was mine.
  • You are a quite smart person.
  • Yesteday, I saw an unbelievably huge man.

The nouns these adjective phrases are modifying are coming before them.

Predicative adjective phrases

  • Your friends are really smart.
  • This college looks extremely big.
  • The girl waving at us is my friend Anna.

Why should we learn adjective phrases?

Sometimes, a word isn’t sufficient to describe a noun or a pronoun. We need a couple of words to express our message. That’s what adjective phrases help us do: make sentences with a lot of description to strengthen the meaning of a sentence, to make it more colorful and clearer.

FAQs

What is an adjective phrase?

An adjective phrase is a group of words that modifies a noun or pronoun in a sentence. It can be placed before or after the word (noun or pronoun) it modifies or describes.

How do you identify adjective phrases?

You can identify an adjective phrase in two different ways:
1. It comes after a linking verb and modifies the subject of the sentence. (Jon is very smart.)
2. It can come just before the noun it modifies. (You are extremely talented people.)
3. It can just after the noun it modifies. (Anyone smarter than you can do it.)

What is an adjective phrase example?

Here are some examples of adjective phrases:
1. You look unbelievably strong.
2. Your father is not nice to me.
3. The girl dancing in the rain is the one I have a crush on.

How do you make an adjective phrase in a sentence?

An adjective phrase can be formed in the following ways:
1. adverb (Intensifier/mitigator) + adjective
2. Infinitive phrase
3. Prepositional phrase
4. Present participle phrase
5. Past participle phrase

Examples:

1. You are very sweet.
2. I have a thought to write on this book.
3. People in my circle are very supportive.
4. Look at the girl dancing in the blue dress.
5. A man motivated enough can do this job.

What is the structure of an adjective phrase?

The structure of a regular adjective phrase is this: adverb (intensifier/mitigator) + adjective.

Regular adjective phrases
Very good
extremely smart
quite long
somewhat bad

It can be a prepositional phrase, infinitive phrase, and a participle phrase that works as an adjective.

What are the types of adjective phrases?

There are 4 types of adjective phrases in English:

1. Regular adjective phrase
2. Infinitive phrase
3. Prepositional phrase
4. Participle phrase

Examples:

The match was extremely good. (regular adjective phrase)
He is the man to learn English from. (infinitive phrase)
He is a man with a vision. (prepositional phrase)
The people dancing on the stage are my friends. (present participle phrase)
The chair kept in the storeroom is very old. (past participle phrase)

What is the difference between adjective phrase and adjectival phrase?

The difference between an adjective phrase and an adverbial phrase is that an adjective phrase (regular) is formed out of a regular adjective and an adverb, and an adverbial phrase is a prepositional phrase, infinitive phrase, and participle phrase.

Adjective phrase
1. Your friend is very aggressive.
2. I found the movie extremely boring.

Adjectival phrase
1. Do you know the person to contact there?
2. The story of my life is crazy.
3. The girl looking at you is the topper of the class.
4. I haven’t looked at the box sent to me last week.

How do you distinguish between an adjective phrase and a noun phrase?

An adjective phrase works as an adjective and modifies a noun/pronoun, and a noun phrase, on the other hand, works like a noun. It has a head noun and one or more odifiers that modify the noun. And an adjective phrase is headed by an adjective; the head adjective in the adjetive phrase can be a regular adjective or a participle.

Adjective phrases
1. This man is very competitive. (modifying the noun ‘man’)
2. A person with the right attutude can do this easily. (modifying the noun ‘person’)

Noun phrases
1. He is a very competitive man. (subject complement)
2. A person with the right attutude can get this done. (subject)

A noun phrase can have an adjective phrase in it, but an adjective phrase can’t have a noun phrase in it.

Other phrases:

Check out Yourdictionary and Grammarmonster for more examples (though unnecessary).

Watch my Youtube lesson on Adjective phrases:

So, I am sure now you know what adjective phrases are and how we use them. That’s all about today’s class, smart brains. I’ll see you in the next class.

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