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Adjective Structure

August 15th, 2008

Perhaps one of the principal differences between English and other languages is the idea that adjectives do not always have to structurally match the noun. Let’s take Spanish as an example. In Spanish, the adjective usually comes after the noun and must match the noun in number and gender. In English, however, the adjective usually comes before the noun and does not have to match the noun in number and gender.

That’s because in English, nouns don’t have gender. Let’s use the phrase “soft chair” as an example. The word “chair” is neither masculine nor feminine, so the adjective “soft” that is used to describe the chair is also neither masculine nor feminine. It’s just neutral, like every other word in the English language. Even when referring to a woman as the noun of a sentence, the adjective used to describe her still does not follow a feminine structure. Rather, certain words have more feminine connotations, like pretty and beautiful, while others tend to have more masculine associations, such as manly and handsome. However, because there is no structural difference between them, these words can be used interchangeably across any noun (it may not always make sense, but grammatically it’s accurate). The point is, the structure of any word, whether it be “pretty” or “handsome,” is inherently neutral.

Rather than by gender, English nouns are classified as either singular or plural – fire versus fires – but the adjective describing these nouns still doesn’t have to structurally match. It could be a “raging fire” or many “raging fires,” but “raging” stays the same in both cases. Note: the only word that changes in these two examples is the adjective that describes amount, such as “an,” “many,” “few,” “five,” etc. While “an” usually describes a singular noun (i.e., an apple), “five” obviously describes plural nouns (i.e., five couches). That’s it, that’s the only rule!

Below is a list of adjectives that describe amounts, since these are the only ways to tell the difference between a singular and plural noun. Remember, any other adjective remains the same regardless of whether it describes a singular noun or a plural noun. For example, you would say “tall models,” not “talls models.”

Singular Amount Adjectives Plural Amount Adjectives
a, an, one, another, any Many, few, numbers greater than one, some

Another aspect to adjectives to keep in mind is when there are multiple adjectives describing one noun. In such a case, number and gender still are not of concern. For example, if you want to express that the day is hot and sunny, you simply say, “Today is a hot, sunny day.” Just because there are two adjectives, it doesn’t mean their structure or the structure of the noun changes. Even when you want to say the day is hot and sunny and long and windy, you would still write, “Today is a hot, sunny, long and windy day.” The noun stays the same, and the adjectives stay the same.

Finally, possessive adjectives (i.e., my, your, etc.) also follow the same rule: no gender, no number. When you want to refer to a jacket that belongs to you, you would say “my jacket.” If you want to refer to many jackets that belong to you, you would say “my jackets.” The “my” stays the same in both instances. Where it gets trickier is when you want to use the possessive adjective “your.” When referring to one person (second person singular) or referring to many (second person plural), you would use the word “your,” so the adjective itself does not specify to whom you are referring; rather, this would be conveyed via the context of the situation (are you speaking to one person or a group of people?). However, the noun the possessive adjective modifies is not affected either way; whether it’s “your jacket” or “your jackets,” the “your” is unchanged.