Adjectives are some of the most important words in the English language. While you can absolutely get buy with a basic combination of nouns and verbs, in order to actually start communicating in a more native-like way, adjectives are integral.
Adjectives can add so much more meaning to your students’ sentences and conversations, so it’s important to properly equip them with the tools they need to use these words properly. If you’re looking to brush up on your own knowledge of adjectives or find simple and effective ways to explain the concept to your students, keep reading below!
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What is an Adjective?
Adjectives Defined: In the most basic terms, an adjective is a word that describes a noun or a pronoun. They shouldn’t be confused with adverbs, which modify or describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs (such as sharply, usually, extremely, etc). Adjectives can be possessive, demonstrative, descriptive, or refer to quantity. While adjectives tend to be pretty straightforward, there are a few mistakes that are common in the ESL classroom, which we’ll talk about in a little bit.
A Note on Adjective Sequencing: A lot of grammar books and lesson plans that focus on adjectives spend a decent amount of time discussing the correct sequencing of multiple adjectives. When using multiple adjectives in a sentence, there’s definitely a correct way to order them, but this information often isn’t the most important for ELLs to learn. After all, most native and non-native speakers alike use no more than two adjectives in a row, and the meaning of a sentence is not hindered by improper sequencing. Because of this, we’re not going to touch on adjective sequencing in this article, but rather focus on the different types of adjectives and errors for you, as the teacher, to look out for in your classroom.
Q & A: Each of the 8 parts of speech are used to answer a question, and adjectives are no different. An adjective answers one of four different questions: which, how many, how much, whose, and what kind? When looking for the adjective within a sentence, simply ask the question above that applies.
Joe is eating his bagel. ------ which bagel? -------- his
I have a few of ideas. ------ how many ideas? ------ a few
This is their favorite restaurant. ----- whose favorite? --- their’s
We’re going to a rock concert. ----- what kind of concert? ----- rock
Fill-In-The-Blank Examples: Fill-in-the-blank examples are a great tool to help your learners see exactly how and when to use adjectives, and it’s also a fun activity to help your students use language creatively at a beginner-level. However, in order to use fill-in-the-blanks effectively, you have to be sure that your blank can’t be filled with another part of speech.
While the following sentences and phrases are best suited for adjectives, your students still may attempt to fill the blanks with verbs or adverbs or another type of word. If you’re using these fill-in-the-blanks with your students, start by guiding them to use adjectives and monitoring them before giving your students some more autonomy and independence.
A/an ____ person is running.
We have a/an ______ book.
They are looking for ______ cakes.
This video is _______.
You look _______ today.
I am ________.
Types of Adjectives
There are four main types of adjectives that we use in English: possessive, demonstrative, quantitative, and descriptive. While the types of adjectives may be too advanced for your students, it’s still important information to know as a teacher for a few different reasons. You may need to be familiar with and understand how to use the different types of adjectives for future lessons, to answer your students’ questions, or to prevent specific types of student errors, which we’ll discuss below.
If you think your students are ready to dive into the different types of adjectives, take it slowly and focus on one type of adjective over the course of a few lessons! Remember that while grammar and it’s labels are important, being able to properly understand and use grammar is more important.
A possessive adjective is pretty straightforward. It describes who or what possesses an object. Common possessive adjectives include ‘my,’ your,’ ‘his,’ ‘her,’ ‘its,’ ‘ours,’ and ‘their.’ You can identify a possessive adjective by asking ‘whose?’
Many ESL students may try to use a plural form of the possessive adjective before a plural noun, such as in the case of ‘hers clothes’ or ‘ours houses.’
Where are my keys?
When we went to the park, I borrowed your shoes.
I am baking a cake for his/her birthday party.
Have you seen my car? It’s tires are flat.
I like to think of demonstrative adjectives as demonstrating what the speaker is talking about. Usually when someone is demonstrating something they use a lot of hand motions and, in particular, pointing. So, a demonstrative adjective ‘points’ to the specific noun that the speaker is referencing through the use of the words ‘this,’ ‘that,’ ‘these,’ or ‘those.’ When looking for a demonstrative adjective, ask “which ___” the speaker is talking about.
Your ESL students may confuse the use of this/that with these/those. This/that is used with singular or non-count nouns (this table, that milk). These/those, on the other hand, are used with plural nouns (these teachers, those numbers).
I almost ran into this car with my bike.
These people were helping me fix my car.
That paper is very important.
Are you going to water those plants?
A quantitative adjective describes the quantity of a noun. A number in and of itself can function as this type of adjective, which means that sometimes ‘four’ is an adjective. Other words that qualify as quantitative adjectives are ‘many,’ ‘much,’ ‘a few,’ ‘a little,’ ‘a lot,’ etc. These adjectives answer the question of ‘how many?’
Many English language learners forget to include a plural marker on the noun when using a quantitative adjective (many phone, a few piano). It’s also common to confuse the use of ‘many’ and ‘much.’ ‘Many’ is used for count nouns, while ‘much’ is used for non-count nouns.
I just bought four pens.
I own many dogs.
We have so much stuff.
She wants a few new jeans.
I don’t know that descriptive adjectives are used more commonly than the other three types of adjectives, but they’re usually the first type of adjective that comes to mind when thinking about this part of speech. They simple describe a noun or pronoun, and they answer the questions of ‘what kind?’ and ‘which?’
There are two common mistakes that second language learners usually make. Your students may use a noun as a descriptive adjective, such as in the case of beauty-beautiful, strength-strong, and difference-different. They may also use the wrong suffix to create an adjective, such as in the case of stormy-stormed. It’s important to familiarize your students with the different forms of words in order to prevent or lessen these mistakes.
I have a new, black notebook.
The dinner you made was delicious!
My favorite park has a lot of shady trees.
Our homework is so boring.
Adjectives are, in my opinion, such a stress free part of English grammar. It’s easy to get caught up in the many different verb tenses, conjugations, punctuation marks, and sentence structures. They can be really tough to learn and teach, but adjectives seem to be a little bit more straightforward and fun, and there are a lot of different types of activities that you can use to practice with your students!
While we didn’t have time to dive into the activities today, if you’re interested in seeing an article on that topic, be sure to let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to answer one of the questions below as well!
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We didn’t have time to talk about activities you can use to practice adjectives, so what are your favorite ways to teach about this part of speech?
Do you teach grammatical terms in your classroom or focus more on communication?