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What Are Personality Adjectives?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Personality adjectives are words frequently used to describe the character of people, though they can describe other things as well. Much like other types of adjectives, these are words that are descriptive of a noun, which is a person, place, thing, or idea. There are positive adjectives that are used to describe people in a way that is “good” such as “smart,” “creative,” and “vivacious.” Negative adjectives, however, can also be used, which describe people in a negative or “bad” way and include words like “lazy,” “rude,” and “immoral.”

Proper use of personality adjectives can have a tremendous impact on someone’s résumé or curriculum vitae (CV) used to apply for work, and can also be used in job interviews. Adjectives, in general, are words that are used to describe something else, specifically a noun such as a person, place, thing, or idea. In the sentence, “This is a good book,” the word “good” is an adjective that describes the noun “book.” Personality adjectives function in much the same way, though they specifically refer to words used in a certain context to describe a person. Rather than describing someone’s appearance, however, these words are used to indicate a person’s character or personality.

Positive personality adjectives are those words that can be used to describe a person’s character in a way that is “good” or seen by others in a positive way. A word like “caring” can be used in such a way, since it indicates that a person is sympathetic or cares about other people. There are different types of these adjectives that can be used, and some may be more powerful than others. While both “giving” and “generous” mean roughly the same thing, a word like “generous” is often more powerful, so strong adjectives should be used whenever possible.

There are also negative personality adjectives, which are typically used to describe a person in a way that is “bad” or which portrays them in a negative manner. These types of adjectives can include words like “cruel,” “greedy” and “obnoxious,” which all indicate different aspects of a person’s character. Someone using these types of personality adjectives to describe a person should choose words that are strong and precise, like “abrasive” rather than just “unpleasant.” While some adjectives can be used to describe both a personality and a different type of object, such as “warm,” many words describe features, such as “tall” or “pretty,” rather than someone’s personality.

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Discussion Comments

By stl156 — On Jul 24, 2012

@Emilski - The only addition that I would make to your comment about resumes is to use descriptive language, but don't make the manager run to a dictionary, either. Words like "considerate," "understanding," or "energetic" should be fine, because everyone should understand their meaning. I am guessing if you laced your resume with "magnanimous" and "assidious" the person reading it could very well know the meaning of those words but could also pass you up in favor of someone a little less extravagant language.

I think the same thing would go for using those types of words in job interviews. It's often important to make your point with as much direct language as possible, but if you start using vocabulary that the interviewers don't understand, you could talk yourself right out of a job. It's unfortunate, but a lot of people in those situations would be very intimidated by someone who came in using too many personality adjectives.

By Emilski — On Jul 23, 2012

@jcraig - You are right. You never get too old to stop reading and learning new words. Obviously, some words you find in books to describe people are rarely used in everyday conversation, but it's much more effective to label some people as rapacious rather than just greedy.

I do like that the article mentions the importance of using personality adjectives in a resume. As many resources as there are on the internet telling people how to write an effective resume, I find it amazing how many bad ones you can find.

By weaving in descriptive words about yourself and your abilities, a hiring manager should be much more familiar with your specific qualifications. Besides that, having effective adjectives in the resume should also show the manager that you've really taken the time to think about writing the resume.

By jcraig — On Jul 22, 2012

@JimmyT - Good points. In English, like every other language, learning the connotations of words is extremely important to using them effectively. I have seen writing by students where it was clear that they used a thesaurus to look up an alternative word, but did not take the time to look up the normal context of the word.

Keeping "lazy" as an example, the thesaurus comes up with several alternatives including "languid," "apathetic," and "passive." These synonyms are only loosely related to having some quality of laziness, though. If you were to tell me that three different people were languid, apathetic, and passive, I would get the general sense that they are lazy or unmotivated, but would have a different mental image of each person.

I think learning the connotations of words is something that is often difficult to understand from a dictionary definition. That is why it is very important for people of all ages to read and expand their vocabulary.

By JimmyT — On Jul 21, 2012

I think having a good vocabulary of personality adjectives is very important in many cases. I think for a novel writer or any author who is describing people, being able to use exact descriptive terms can be more effective than general terms.

Using the word "lazy" from the article I think can be a good example. General words like lazy can mean a lot of different things in different circumstances. If I called a person lazy, I could mean anything from them being a couch potato to a poor worker. If you were writing a book, the word lazy probably wouldn't convey the exact meaning that was desired.

On the other hand, if you wanted to describe a couch potato, a word like "lethargic" would probably give an immediate picture of someone who doesn't move from one spot. On the other hand, saying someone was "lackadaisical" would probably apply more to someone who was lazy and careless with their actions.

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