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What Is an Adjectival Phrase?

A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

An adjectival phrase is commonly defined as a phrase that plays the role of an adjective, where a single word that describes a noun is changed into a longer phrase. The adjectival phrase, also called an adjective phrase, is a group of words that serves to describe something. There are a number of these kinds of phrases, but any phrase that is descriptive can properly be called an adjectival phrase.

One type of adjectival phrase is simply, as mentioned above, the creation of a longer phrase from a single adjective. For example, the adjective “big” can be changed to a comparative phrase like “bigger than me” and be called an adjectival phrase. An adjective like “small” can get added modifiers, i.e. “really, really small,” where again, the single word is made into a phrase that still includes an adjective.

"She wasn't as polite to the salesman as her friend was that morning," is an example of an adjectival phrase.
"She wasn't as polite to the salesman as her friend was that morning," is an example of an adjectival phrase.

Some adjectival phrases do not actually include adjectives. For example, changing an adjective like famous, educated, or civic minded to something like “a person of substance” takes all of the adjectives out of the phrase, but leaves something that can be called an adjectival phrase because it still describes the person. These phrases effectively illustrate the grammatical ways that a phrase can change, yet still provide the same description of a person or other noun.

Along with the above, there’s another type of phrase that plays the role of an adjective. This one sometimes has to be treated more carefully, because it contains compound elements that need specific punctuation. For example, take the phrase “bright-orange sun.” Here, if the writer did not use the hyphen, the phrase would be understood as a sun that has a brilliant light and is also orange in color. With the hyphen, the meaning changes to a sun that displays a vibrant bright-orange color and does not assess the intensity of the actual light.

In general, the adjective is a very important element of the English lexicon. The adjectival or adjective phrase compliments the adjective as a grammatical “sub-set” that is useful in more detailed analysis of the language. Descriptive elements such as adjectival or descriptive phrases play an important role in helping to enhance the communicative power of the English language, and many linguists find it worth looking at how adjectives or descriptors are used to provide information to listeners or readers.

Discussion Comments


Finding adjectives in a sentence is one of the easier parts of English for me. This was one thing I excelled at in school. I just remember that the adjectives describe something, a noun. However, phrases like "a person of substance" do make the whole process of naming the parts of the sentence more difficult.


@Drentel - Normally, I would agree with you about not needing to use the terms adjective phrase and adjectival phrase both, but I think adjectival phrase is a better way of talking about the phrases like were mentioned in paragraph number three. The phrases I'm talking about are the phrases that act as adjective phrases, but don't actually have an adjective in the phrase. Any phrase that is referred to as an adjective phrase should have an adjective in it somewhere.


Isn't English hard enough to learn without terms like adjectival phrase? We always used the term adjective phrase in school when I was coming along. Adjective phrase is the term I recognize, and this term is simpler. You know exactly what it means, or at least you have a good idea what the term is referring to.

One of the reasons English is one of the the most difficult languages to learn -- and it might be the most difficult -- is because of little things like what to call a phrase that acts like an adjective. Why do we have to make this more complicated than it has to be? Why learn two things when one is all you need?

In case you haven't figured it out. English was never my favorite subject and did well to pass the course my senior year of high school. Fortunately, I had to have only one course of it in college.

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    • "She wasn't as polite to the salesman as her friend was that morning," is an example of an adjectival phrase.
      By: Andres Rodriguez
      "She wasn't as polite to the salesman as her friend was that morning," is an example of an adjectival phrase.