How to analyse adjectives

Analysing Adjectives

Introduction

We were all taught adjectives are describing words and we know instinctively what moods they can create. Unfortunately, most candidates limit their analysis to a simple comment. For example:

Analysing Adjectives

Many students will quote a phrase or a line of poetry and then offer a straightforward comment on the writer’s depiction of the character, setting or object. However, this analysis will often lack precision and detail.

Using Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, this guide will help you focus more securely on the key words of the text and improve the style of your response to an essay question.

Frost’s presentation of the weather in the line “of easy wind and downy flake” creates a very calm and peaceful tone.

While this interpretation is valid, it does not explain how the quotation actually informs the comment. In other words, how does “easy wind” suggest a quiet and calm atmosphere? You try to be more precise and identify the important words:

The adjectives in the line “of easy wind and downy flake” create a very calm and peaceful tone.

You should underline the specific words you are referring to in your comment because it demonstrates your confident approach to understanding the text. In order to develop your analysis further, you should define or describe these adjectives. For example:

Frost’s presentation of the weather creates a very calm and peaceful tone. The simple adjective “easy” used to describe the “wind” suggests the atmosphere is carefree and comfortable. This is reinforced by the soft-sounding adjective “downy” because it describes the “flake” of snow as soft and feathery.

It is also important to evaluate the adjective because lots of mark schemes will not reward the basic identification of the word class. In the previous example, the candidate defines the adjective as “soft-sounding”. This will certainly improve your grade.

Put simply, do not race through your essay and onto the next image. Make sure you concentrate on the key words in the text that really help the poet convey their message.

Final Advice

The analysis in the last example might seem excessive, but the adjective is not always found neatly before the noun so you should make it explicit how the word is being modified.

If you are going to explain individual words, you should try divide the quotation into the most important parts. For example:

Frost describes the “woods” as “lovely”, “dark” and “deep”. The first adjective draws the reader’s attention to how the words are alluring and beautiful. The alliterative adjectives “dark” and “deep” suggest they are also mysterious and worthy of investigation.

You could also refer to the type of adjective used:

The poet describes the setting as “the darkest evening of the year”. The superlative “darkest” could suggest the poem takes place during the winter solstice when the sun is low in the sky…

Practice

Try analysing these adjectives from the poem:

  • My little horse must think it queer
  • Between the woods and frozen lake
  • He gives his harness bells a shake

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Thanks for reading!