Adjective Phrases. Free English Lesson with Test and Certificate.

Adjective Phrases & Present Participle study for SAT, IELTS, TESOL and other exams.

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How to use adjective phrases with present participles in English

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Suzy says:


This is the third of our three adjective tests and includes the advanced use of 'adjective phrases' and 'adjective clauses'.


For example, if I say "the cat IN OUR GARDEN belongs to our neighbor," ...the words "IN OUR GARDEN" are an adjective phrase, because that group of three words acts as an adjective.

An adjective clause is similar to an adjective phrase, but it contains a subject and a verb, and it will begin with a relative pronoun like WHO or WHICH.


For example, in the sentence ... "My sister, WHO IS YOUNGER THAN I AM, is a nurse" ... the adjective clause is the group of words WHO IS YOUNGER THAN I AM.


Your English lesson about adjective phrases with present participles


Welcome to the third Adjective lesson! The use of adjective phrases and clauses can be a great way to improve your writing. Many major English tests want to see more complex sentences in the writing portion. Adjective clauses are an effective way of showing the examiner that you can use many different types of sentences.

Adjectives with the present participle is a common mistake that even advanced English learners make. This is a relatively simple rule, but it is best if you can listen for it and practice it so that it really sinks in. As with any grammar principle, it is best if you can use it naturally and fluently without having to remember the rule every time.


So, let’s start with a general overview what adjectives are. Adjectives are important parts of the English language. There are four parts of speech, in other words four basic types of words in English: 

- Nouns are people, places, things and ideas. 
- Verbs are action words. 
- Adjectives describe or modify (change) nouns
- Adverbs describe or modify verbs (they can also modify adjectives and other adverbs). 


An adjective phrase is a group of words that acts as an adjective.
The car in our driveway belongs to our neighbor.
In the above sentence, the adjective phrase is “in our driveway”.

An adjective clause is similar to an adjective phrase, but it contains a subject and a verb, and it will begin with a relative pronoun [who, whom, whose, that, or which] or a relative adverb [when, where, or why]. An adjective clause will function as an adjective, answering the questions What kind? How many? or Which one?
My sister, who is much younger than I am, is a nurse.
The adjective clause is “who is much younger than I am”.

The house that I grew up in was very small.
The adjective clause is “that I grew up in”.

Punctuating adjective clauses can be difficult. You must decide if the clause is “essential” or “nonessential”. If the adjective clause is “nonessential” you should surround it with commas. Look at the following examples:

Jerry, who is younger than me, is going to Spain next week.
My boss, who is going to Japan next week, wants me to finish the project by Friday.
Fish curry, which is too spicy for many people, is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand.

The above examples are all “nonessential” adjective clauses. You can take them out of the sentence completely without changing the meaning of the sentence.  For example, we can say, “My boss wants me to finish the project by Friday.” The fact that the boss is going to Japan next week doesn’t impact the overall message of the sentence.


If we need the adjective clause to identify the noun, then the clause is considered “essential”, and we do not use commas. Let’s look at some examples:

My brother who is a doctor will go to Japan next week. 
The punctuation here shows that I have more than one brother. If I only have one brother, then I will use commas before and after ‘who is a doctor’.

Foods that are high in protein are good for weightlifters.
Foods is not specific. We need to identify which foods with the phrase, “that are high in protein”. If we remove the adjective clause, it will read like this, “Foods are good for weightlifters.” As you can see, this changes the meaning of the sentence significantly. The revised sentence just means that all food is good for weightlifters. So, in this case, the adjective clause is “essential” to the overall meaning of the sentence.


More adjective phrases exercises

Lastly, it is important to remember that the adjective clause should follow the noun it is modifying. To borrow from the previous example, we can’t say, “Foods are good for weightlifters that are high in protein.” The literal meaning of this sentence is that food is good for weightlifters … and it is the weighlifters who are high in protein. To write this sentence clearly, we need to place the adjective clause, “that are high in protein” after the noun “foods”, so the meaning of the sentence is clear to the reader.

Using adjectives with the present participle
Adjectives that are really participles (verb forms ending with -ing and -ed) can be difficult for many students. Do you want to go up to your teacher after class and say that you are confused or that you are confusing? 


Generally, the -ed ending means that something is making you (or the noun) feel a certain way. So, in this example, you would tell your teacher that you are confused.

I am confused. 

In contrast, the -ing ending means that the noun described (you) is acting on everyone else. So, if you tell your teacher that you are confusing, that means that you are making everyone else feel confused.  

I am confusing.
The -ed ending modifiers are often accompanied by prepositions.
I was amazed by the low prices at the market. 
The prices at the market were amazing.

He was excited to see the new movie.
The new movie was exciting.

She was amused by the small children.
The small children were amusing.

They were annoyed by the crying baby.
The crying baby was annoying.

We were bored at the meeting.
The meeting was boring.

We were surprised by the loud noise.
The loud noise was surprising.

It’s story time

Now that we’ve learned a lot about adjectives and adjective phrases with present participle, let’s see how they are used in a short story.  As you read the following story, pay attention to how the adjectives are used.

The house that I grew up in was located on a small street, and there were many interesting neighbors. 


The Johnsons lived next door to us on the left side of our house. They had a son who was a few years older than me, and a daughter who was just a year or two younger than my sister. They were very friendly and they continued to live next door to my parents for many years.


On the other side was Jim and Ellen Bantam. They were an older couple who always paid me to shovel the snow in the winter. Jim Bantam, who liked sports, was very interested in my success as a Little League baseball player.


Across the street, we had the Waltons. Mr. Walton, who wore a leather jacket all the time, was a member of a motorcycle club. He would often throw wild parties that were noisy late into the night.


Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, it is really amazing how many different people have lived on our little street.

That’s the end of the lesson on adjective phrases with present participles.

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