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The Magic Lens. Level One: The Eight Parts of Speech ADJECTIVES. ADJECTIVE (adj.). A word that modifies a noun or pronoun. n. adj. Modify?. To modify is to change. In what way do adjectives modify nouns? Imagine a frozen summit.

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the magic lens

The Magic Lens

Level One: The Eight Parts of Speech


adjective adj

A word that modifies a noun or pronoun.




To modify is to change.

In what way do adjectives modify nouns? Imagine a frozen summit.

Think about the frozen summit of the mountain until you see it in your mind.

Now, imagine a political summit.

Does the second adjective modify (change) the image that you have in your mind?

why use adjectives
Why use adjectives?
  • We need adjectives to help us describe things for which no exact noun exists, and to describe all the things for which we do not know the exact noun.
  • Adjectives also help us to express the subtle differences between very similar things.

Some definitions say that an adjective describes a noun, but modify is better because nouns truly are modified or changed by their adjectives.


Notice that an adjective is always part of a binary system, like a double star or a planet with one moon. The presence of an adjective implies the presence of a noun or pronoun.

Every modifier modifies a modified.

If you see the in a sentence, look for the noun. A noun can do without an adjective, but an adjective can not exist without a noun or pronoun. If it isn’t modifying a noun or pronoun, it isn’t an adjective.

So we can say that an adjective modifies its noun, because there is a belonging, a connectedness.

three degrees of adjectives
Three degrees of adjectives
  • Adjectives have a wonderful property: they can change degree.

A fire can be hot, hotter, or hottest.

Ice can be cold, colder, coldest.

  • These three degrees of adjective intensity are known as positive (good), comparative (better), and superlative (best) degrees.
  • These degrees allow us to make clear comparisons between similar nouns.
proper adjectives
Proper adjectives:
  • Proper adjectives are made out of proper nouns.

England makes English.

Rome makes Romans.

  • When we convert the proper noun Spain into the proper adjective Spanish, we retain the capitalization.
  • The reason a school subject such as English or Spanish is capitalized and a subject such as history or mathematics is not is that English and Spanish are proper adjectives made from proper names of countries.
  • The articles are the three adjectives a, an, and the.
  • The definite article is the, and the indefinite articles are a and an.
  • Notice how logical these names are: we are being definite when we ask for the book, but we are being indefinite when we ask for a book.

The articles are little noun-alerts, that sound like little bleeps right before nouns, letting us know that what comes next is probably a noun.

These little articles break the sentence into nouny segments, like an insect’s jointed leg, each segment beginning with a noun alert!

good or well
Good or well?
  • The word good is an adjective that may be used to modify nouns or pronouns.
  • The word well is usually an adverb that modifies verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.

The good athlete runs well.

good or well1
Good or well?

We should not say, “I don’t feel well,” which means that one has no talent for feeling things!

We should say, “I don’t feel good,” which uses the adjective good to modify the pronoun I.

adjectives from james m barries peter pan
Adjectives from James M. Barries Peter Pan

In Peter Pan, which he wrote in 1904, James M. Barrie used adjectives such as rakish, tedious, delectable, unwonted, deft, placid, amiable, elegant, tremulous, debonair, genial, cadaverous, profound, amorous, indomitable, plaintive, fastidious, exquisite, succulent, incisive, impassive, vivid, dodgy, sublime, subtle, aloof, phlegmatic and nether to convey the dreamlike, imaginative images of Never Never Land.

Which of these adjectives do you not know?

Which ones would best describe Peter?

a classic adjective serene
A classic adjective: SERENE

The adjective serene has been an important modifier in English and American literature, giving an important twist to hundreds of nouns. Coming from a Greek word meaning dry, serene refers to things that are calm, peaceful, and clear, such as a blue sky.

Milton referred to serene angels in Paradise Lost, in Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s monster observed that “A serene sky and verdant fields filled me with ecstasy.” In Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, he describes the moon as “serene and detached in a cloudless sky.”

four level analysis
Four-level Analysis

From Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World:

He had a long chin and big, rather prominent teeth.

Parts of


pron. v. adj. adj. n. conj. adj. adv. adj. n.

Huxley’s sentence has a cold objectivity that is brought to the sentence by the adjectives. Notice how boring the sentence is if we leave out the modifiers: He had a chin and teeth!

Adjectives can transform a sentence.