Adjectives can be used to describe or modify nouns. For example:
A beautiful woman walked down the street.
Here, the adjective ‘beautiful’ has been used to describe the woman; it provides a helpful (albeit abstract) indication of what she looks like. Interesting fact: when an adjective precedes the noun it describes, as in the example above, it is called an attributive adjective. Enough of that for now though… Here’s an example of how adjectives are used in Lord of the Flies, by William Golding:
Inside the floating cloak he was tall, thin, and bony: and his hair was red beneath the black cap. His face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without silliness.
As the novel opens, we learn that an aeroplane transporting a group of young public schoolboys has crash-landed on a tropical island. In the quote above, we are given a description of Jack Merridew; he is one of the older boys and has treked across the beach with a group of his peers, all of whom are choristers, to meet the rest of the survivors. Jack is defined here by his unattractively angular physique and vibrant red hair (a lucky chap, no doubt, but think of all those unfair stereotypes). The adjectives used by Golding imply to us, the readers, that he is likely to be cruel. Golding doesn’t need to state this explicitly: the adjectives do the work for him. Handily, however, if we were in any doubt, this indication of cruelty is amplified for us by the lack of compassion shown in his ‘crumpled’, ‘ugly’ face. Right from the outset, therefore, we can be pretty sure that he’s going to be a proper rotter.
Here’s one more example, this time from As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, an autobiography by Laurie Lee (of Cider with Rosie fame):
I spent the rest of the day climbing a steep terraced valley, then camped for the night on a craggy hilltop. Some primitive instinct had forced me to leave the road and climb to this rocky tower, which commanded an eagle’s view of the distant harbour and all the hills and lagoons around it.
When he was nineteen, Lee decided to leave his sleepy village home in the Cotswolds and travel to Spain. He boarded a ferry at Dover and spent two days sailing down the English Channel and across the Bay of Biscay. The quote above provides us with a brief report on his first foray into the Spanish countryside. The adjectives ‘steep’ and ‘craggy’ help to emphasise the otherness of Vigo (the port where he disembarked) and add a pleasing dramatic flourish to Lee’s achievement of climbing to the top of the hill: he is clearly far, far away from home. Lee helpfully defines the instinct that prompted the climb in the first place as being ‘primitive’. By doing this, he is able to maintain the earnestly heroic tone established in the first sentence. Nice work, Laurie Lee.
Right, that’s it for this week. However, between now and the next exciting instalment of the Literacy Shorts bulletin, why not have a go at the quick test below?
TL;DR: adjectives can be used to describe or modify nouns.