A Guide to What Adjective Phrases Modify

Most people understand what an adjective is but get confused when discussing an adjective phrase. It gets even more challenging to grasp what adjective phrases modify and how they function. Here’s a quick guide to improving your understanding of adjectival phrases and how they complement a sentence.

What Is an Adjective Phrase?

An adjective phrase is a set of words comprising adjectives that describes a noun or pronoun in a sentence. Essentially, an adjectival phrase functions as an adjective to modify a noun by adding or enhancing the description of the noun.

You don’t need to be a grammar guru to understand what an adjective phrase is and how it works. Adjective phrases are common everyday expressions.

How Do You Identify an Adjective Phrase?

To find an adjective phrase, look for a group of words that describe a noun or pronoun within a sentence.

When one adjective isn’t enough to describe a noun, a series of adjectives might form an adjectival phrase. It can be tricky to identify an adjectival phrase if the sentence is lengthy and complicated. We’ll take you step-by-step to make it easier to understand.

  • Locate the adjective that describes a noun or pronoun in a sentence. For example, ‘The food was delicious.’ Here, the adjective deliciousis used to describe the noun food.
  • Check to see if the adjective is the only word that describes the noun or if it is in conjunction with other words.
  • If the adjective works independently in a sentence, then it is the head of the adjective phrase.

If you see numerous words describing the noun, these words must be adverbs, other adjectives, or prepositions that are part of the adjective phrase. For example, ‘Our new trainer is young, energetic, and enthusiastic.’ The words bold and italicized form an adjective phrase.

A pile of blue colored assorted-title books kept on a table
Photo by Clarissa Watson on Unsplash

Forming Adjective Phrases

There are different ways to form an adjective phrase. Learning through examples is one of the best ways to understand this. Adjective phrases can be formed by grouping multiple adjectives in a sequence.

They can also be formed by starting the phrase with a preposition or adverb intensifier. Three ways to create an adjective phrase are as follows:

1. Adjective Combined with Adverb Intensifier:You can form an adjective phrase by connecting an adverb intensifier with an adjective in a sentence.

Example: He is an incredibly talented artist. In this sentence, ‘incredibly‘ is the adverb intensifier and ‘talented‘ is an adjective.

2. Preposition-Based Adjective Phrase: A preposition or prepositional phrase can be combined with another word to describe a noun, resulting in an adjective phrase.

Example: I kept the book on the wooden table. In this sentence, ‘on the wooden table‘ is the prepositional phrase that modifies the noun ‘book.’

3. Multiple Adjectives in a Row: When one adjective isn’t enough to describe something, multiple adjectives can be combined to form an adjective phrase.

Example: She had silky, shiny, and smooth hair. In this sentence, the words in bold and italicized come together to form an adjective phrase.

Difference Between a Noun & Adjective Phrase

There is a very slight difference between a noun phrase and an adjective phrase. So, differentiating between the two can be tricky. The distinction is vital when determining the function of each phrase in a sentence.

A noun phrase serves as the subject, whereas an adjective phrase serves to modify a noun in the sentence. A noun phrase can occur anywhere in a sentence, but an adjective phrase will only precede or follow a noun.

Noun Phrase Example: She was worried about her little sister.

In the above sentence, little sister is the noun phrase that follows the adjective worried.

Adjective Phrase Example: I bought a shiny silver gown.

In the above sentence, the adjective phrase shiny silver is used to describe the noun gown.


Understanding what adjective phrases modify and how to identify them is key to enhancing your writing. This article will give a quick run-through of adjective phrases and how they function.

It further explains how they differ from noun phrases and the process of forming adjective phrases that can help to improve your English.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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