What is a Limiting Adjective? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Limiting Adjectives: Articles
  • 0:55 Possessive, Cardinal,…
  • 2:01 Indefinite and Proper
  • 3:01 Relative and Interrogative
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

Adjectives are used to describe something. We usually think of them as words like 'big' or 'sticky.' However, there are also adjectives that are a little trickier. They are called 'limiting adjectives.' In this lesson, we will take a look at the types of limiting adjectives and an example of each.

Limiting Adjectives: Articles

A limiting adjective defines the noun rather than describes it. Most of the time we think of adjectives as describing or adding detail to a noun. Limiting adjectives help to limit a noun.

The first types of limiting adjectives are called articles. The words 'the,' 'a,' and 'an' are limiting adjectives because they tell us that the speaker or writer is referring to a specific thing. Take a look at this sentence; 'We adopted the dog just yesterday, and he already owns the couch.' The phrase 'the dog' contains a limiting adjective in the form of the word 'the.' We know that the author is referring to a specific dog since it helps describe our noun, 'dog.' 'A' and 'an' work in the exact same way; they limit the noun so that we know which specific noun is being discussed.

Possessive, Cardinal, and Ordinal

Another type of limiting adjective is the possessive adjective. These adjectives are words that show possession. 'My,' 'our,' 'its,' 'their,' 'his,' 'her,' and 'your' are possessive adjectives. In the sentence, 'The dog chewed up my new sneakers,' the word 'my' is a possessive adjective that tells us who owns the shoes. It limits the noun to the ownership of a specific person, even if the dog would disagree.

Cardinal and ordinal adjectives both have to do with numbers. Cardinal adjectives literally just tell us how many of something we have. So a sentence with a cardinal adjective might read, 'After 12 days, I will come back to Thailand to visit my best friend.' The number 12 describes or limits the number of days until I visit my friend. The number 12 is a cardinal adjective. Similarly, the sentence could read 'On the sixth day of March, I will visit my friend in Thailand.' The word 'sixth' is an ordinal adjective. First, second, third and so on, are also ordinal adjectives.

Indefinite and Proper

Indefinite adjectives tell us how many of a noun there are, but it does not give the specific amount in the way that cardinal and ordinal adjectives do. Indefinite adjectives are words like 'few,' 'many,' 'some,' or 'any.' 'Can you grab some milk on your way home?' This sentence contains an indefinite adjective, the word 'some.' We might not know whether to grab a gallon or a pint, but the adjective gives us enough information that we know to get milk. Indefinite adjectives are not specific, but they do limit the noun and add information.

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