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What Is an Adjective Phrase?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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An adjective phrase is a group of words within a sentence or clause that function together to describe or modify another word. While a single word can be categorized this way, the term is often used to refer to phrases in which two or more words work together. These words take the place of a basic adjective in order to describe another noun or pronoun, or a phrase functioning as a noun. An adjective phrase often uses either prepositions or participles to extend the adjectival function to a longer group of words.

One of the most important elements of an adjective phrase is that it still serves the basic function of an adjective within a sentence. As a single word, adjectives describe other words such as nouns and pronouns. For example, in expressions like “big car” or “happy gentleman,” the words “big” and “happy” are adjectives that describe the words “car” and “gentleman” respectively. These are simple, single-word adjectives, but an adjective phrase serves much the same purpose.

A sentence like “The man wears a strange hat,” can be broken down into its basic components through a sentence diagram or analysis. This example has three basic elements: a subject in the form of the noun phrase “The man,” a predicate as the verb “wears,” and a direct object consisting of the noun phrase “a strange hat.” In this last phrase, the word “strange” is an adjective but it is part of the larger noun phrase that acts as an object.

More complex sentences can use longer adjectives that become an adjective phrase. An example of this can be found in the sentence, “The man wears a hat of strange size and shape.” In this sentence, the subject and predicate are the same, but the object is now simply “a hat.” The final part of this example is the adjective phrase “of strange size and shape.” This is not a clause because it does not have a subject or verb, and the phrase functions as an adjective to describe the “hat” in much the same way “strange” did before.

Prepositions are often used in an adjective phrase, as can be seen by the use of the word “of” in the previous example. This indicates that the following words provide information regarding the preceding word or phrase. Participles can be used in much the same way, such as the sentence “The woman has a job importing rare books.” In this example, the word “importing” is a participle that is part of the adjective phrase that describes the type of “job” she has.

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