Parts of speech – nouns and adjectives

Nouns and adjectives, verbs and adverbs – how can you tell the difference?

The most frequent AQE test question about parts of speech involves a table. You will be given four words that appear in the passage you’ve read. You will need to tick which type of word each one is, based on reading the passage. Is it a noun, verb, adjective or adverb? Usually there will be one word of each type in the  question.

This is all about identifying nouns and adjectives. These two parts of speech go together, because adjectives are used to describe nouns. Here’s how to tell the difference.



Nouns mostly describe things you can SEE or TOUCH. It makes sense to put a, an or the in front of a noun.

For AQE English, you don’t need to be able to say WHAT TYPE of noun a word is. However, these three categories below will help you remember that there are different kinds of noun.

For example, some nouns need a capital letter (proper noun). The trickiest nouns name things we can’t touch or see (abstract noun).

Concrete nouns

Name a person, place or thing you can touch or see.

These are all (concrete) nouns – cup, glove, sun, chair, food.

Proper nouns

Name one-of-a-kind things, and begin with a capital letter.

These are all (proper) nouns – New York, Justin Bieber, Harry Potter, France, River Lagan.

Abstract nouns

These are the trickiest ones to identify, as they name things or concepts that you can’t see or touch.

These are all (abstract) nouns – bravery, sadness, intelligence, glory.



Adjectives describe nouns. They make writing more descriptive and vivid, by telling you more about a noun.

If the word you’re looking at describes a thing, idea or living being, then it’s an adjective.

Top tip – adjectives are very often written BEFORE the noun, for example – the clever pupil, the fastest car.

If you find it difficult to decide which type of word you’re looking at, then remember that there are often useful clues to help you. Remember this –

  • colours are adjectives – the amber traffic light, the blue eyes.
  • adjectives can compare things – the smallest mouse, the younger sister.
  • many adjectives have these endings – -able, -ible, -ful, -ive, -less, -est, -al, -ic, -ish.


Try our parts of speech quiz, and see how many nouns and adjectives you can identify.

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