Adjectives are words that describe the qualities or states of being of nouns, such as huge, pretty, stupid, blue, exciting, and fast. They can also describe the quantity of nouns, like many, few, billions, and eleven.
Below is a list of the twenty-five most common adjectives from the OEC (Oxford English Corpus — a very large collection of English texts). Writers in the English language must be very optimistic as the most-used adjective is good whereas bad doesn’t show up until the 23rd slot!
In the past, it’s been brought to America’s collective attention that its use of fewer and less was often incorrect. Being a good grammar maven, I’ve taken note of public signage and it appears that we’re doing much better now with fewer errors. Nonetheless, there are other adjectives that continue to be misused and abused. Here is a shortlist of adjectives that we need to be more vigilant about using correctly!
1. ironic/sarcastic/coincidental: An ironic statement is something that happens in the opposite way to what is expected, typically causing wry amusement. A sarcastic statement can be ironic, but generally refers to something said facetiously and meant to ridicule. Coincidence is the unexpected occurrence of one or more events.
Irony: The fire inspector’s house burned down due to bad electrical wiring.
Sarcasm: “It takes a whole lot of money to look this cheap.” – Dolly Parton
Coincidence: Skipping work, I went to a bar and ran into my boss!
2. arrant/errant: Arrant means “immoderate or extreme” whereas errant means “meandering, straying or misbehaving.”
I have never heard more arrant nonsense in my life.
Her errant son tripped in the front door drunker than a skunk.
3. ambiguous/ambivalent: Ambiguous is to be open to more than one interpretation or having a double meaning. To be ambivalent means expressing uncertainty or having contradictory opinions.
The end of the movie was left intentionally ambiguous and open to a sequel.
John was so ambivalent to any kind of relationship, it left everyone wondering.
4. desirable/desirous: Something desirable is attractive or advantageous; desirous refers to being driven by desire.
Electric cars have become a desirable status symbol among California’s elite.
He is desirous of her hand in marriage.
5. abstruse/obtuse: Abstruse refers to something not easily comprehended because of its complexity. Obtuse has several meanings which is likely the reason for its misuse. Obtuse can mean something that is unclear because of careless or imprecise information. It also describes a person who is dull or insensitive and an object that is blunt or round. In mathematics, an obtuse angle is one that is greater than 90 degrees.
The scientist’s work is too abstruse for most people to understand.
She is being intentionally obtuse about her finances.
The obtuse young man had a hard time understanding the simplest instructions.
Children are often given obtuse instruments for their own safety.
The wonky modern building was designed with many obtuse angles.
Though adjectives are wonderful descriptors, it’s recommended that we limit their use, otherwise you’ll have to do some stacking! To learn more, check out Teaching Stacked Adjectives on the Kinney Brothers Publishing blog. Click here to test your knowledge about stacked adjectives or learn why Big Bad Wolf follows a different adjectival order!
Check out this post where you can start introducing stacked adjectives before your students even learn to read! A good set of flashcards is worth its weight in gold. Check out all the flashcards available in Donald’s English Classroom! Need to spice up your flashcard routines? Download 50+ Flashcard Activities you can start using today.