Words and Adjectives to Describe a Person

Adjectives to Describe a Person

Adjectives are to key developing one’s language vocabulary especially in early lexical learning. There are various types of adjectival categories and descriptive language is immensely rich with all kinds of predicates. However, in today’s post, I want to particularly focus on words and adjectives to describe a person.

There are tons of lists of adjectives published online on the topic and instead of re-inventing the wheel I tried to approach the topic from a different angle, one that hopefully adds value to this discussion. My approach to this topic is steeped in a rigorous exploration of academic research.

Drawing on insights from scholars like Davies et al. (2022) and Becker (2015), this post ventures beyond a mere compilation of adjectives to describe a person. It aims to enrich your understanding of why these descriptive tools are foundational to language learning and how they contribute to our narrative competence and academic success. For those keen to delve deeper, references to seminal works in the field offer a pathway to further exploration.

Here is a free downloadable PDF version of all the adjectives in this post.

Importance of Adjectives

Research emphasizes the pivotal role of adjectives in enhancing vocabulary and conceptual understanding from an early stage in language development (Davies et al., 2022). Beyond enriching language, adjectives are instrumental in fostering linguistic skills such as classifying, describing, and comparing, which are crucial for academic and communicative success.

They not only improve narrative competence and reading comprehension (Griffin et al., 2004) but are also essential across various academic disciplines, necessitating a firm grasp of their meanings and uses in sentences. Adjectives help articulate observations and differentiate between similar items, underscoring their importance in effective communication and in meeting educational standards, such as the Common Core (Ricks & Alt, 2016). Thus, learning adjectives is fundamental for comprehensive language proficiency, enriching both academic performance and everyday communication.

For academic success across all subjects, a firm understanding of adjective meanings and their various morphosyntactic forms (i.e., their internal structure and how they can appear in sentences) is not only advantageous, but required”

(Davies et al, 2022, p. 3)

Why Adjectives Are Hard to Learn?

Ricks and Alt (2016), drawing on various research papers, explore the multifaceted challenges of learning adjectives, emphasizing their unique properties that set them apart from nouns and verbs. The key challenges include:

  1. Semantic Diversity: Adjectives cover a broad spectrum of concepts, from colors and emotions to physical states and traits, making them difficult to categorize uniformly.
  2. Complex Categorization: Unlike nouns, adjectives require understanding abstract or relational concepts, challenging the basic categorization skills typically used by children.
  3. Syntactic and Morphological Variability: Learning adjectives involves mastering their placement in sentences and their comparative and superlative forms, adding a layer of grammatical complexity.
  4. Pragmatic Use: Children must also learn the appropriate contexts for using adjectives, balancing grammatical correctness with social norms.
  5. Polysemy and Generalizability: The meaning of adjectives can change based on context, and their applicability varies widely across objects, demanding a nuanced understanding of language.

Adjectives are so diverse and do not easily fall into a single class. Rather, students need to learn the semantic concepts described by adjectives. Another challenge is that the properties to which adjectives refer vary widely. There is not a consistent categorization system for adjectives. Some categories include perceptual properties (e.g., red), transient emotional states (e.g., happy and upset), transient physiological states (e.g., hungry and sleepy), and stable traits (e.g., friendly; Graham, Cameron, & Welder, 2005). This highlights the wide variety of concepts needed for a child to learn adjectives.

(Ricks & Alt, 2016, p. 182)

Becker (2015) highlights the inherent challenge children face in learning predicates, that is, adjectives and verbs compared to nouns. He partly attributed this difficulty to the fact that while nouns typically refer to tangible, salient entities like objects and people, adjectives and verbs represent abstract concepts like events, states, and properties that lack physical form and are less frequently labeled in clear contexts for young learners. This abstractness and the infrequency of explicit labeling make predicates significantly more challenging for children to grasp, underscoring the need for targeted educational strategies to bridge this conceptual gap.

A widely accepted property of language acquisition is that predicates (including verbs and adjectives) are harder for children to learn than nouns (e.g., Gentner 1982; Gleitman 1990; Gleitman et al. 2005, among many others). Nouns, especially the earliest ones acquired, label discrete entities (objects, animals, people) that are tangible and salient, and some of them talk to, hold, and feed the young language learner. Predicates, on the other hand, denote events, states, and properties. Most of them are not discrete, cannot be touched, and certainly do not speak. Morover, while objects and people might be labeled for infants with some frequency, events are not so often labeled ostensively.

(Becker, 2015, p. 68)

Words and Adjectives to Describe a Person

Here are some examples of adjectives to describe a person. I arranged these into three distinct categories to make it easier to navigate through the various aspects of human personality and appearance. Whether you’re crafting characters for a story, describing someone in a blog post, or simply expanding your vocabulary, these groups cover a broad spectrum.

From the negative adjectives that might describe someone’s less admirable traits, like being ‘spiteful’ or ‘obnoxious’, to positive ones that highlight virtues such as ’empathetic’ and ‘diligent’, and not forgetting the physical descriptors—ranging from ‘athletic’ to ‘youthful’. Each word paints a vivid picture, offering a nuanced approach to characterization and description.

The Visuals in this post are available for free download in PDF format.

Negative Adjectives to Describe a Person

Negative Adjectives to Describe a Person

  1. Spiteful – showing or caused by malice.
  2. Petty – of little importance; trivial.
  3. Obnoxious – extremely unpleasant.
  4. Cantankerous – bad-tempered, argumentative, and uncooperative.
  5. Vindictive – having or showing a strong or unreasoning desire for revenge.
  6. Dishonest – behaving or prone to behave in an untrustworthy or fraudulent way.
  7. Pompous – affectedly and irritatingly grand, solemn, or self-important.
  8. Belligerent – hostile and aggressive.
  9. Negligent – failing to take proper care in doing something.
  10. Miserly – of, relating to, or characteristic of a miser; frugal to the point of stinginess.
  11. Cowardly – lacking courage.
  12. Deceitful – guilty of or involving deceit; deceiving or misleading others.
  13. Slovenly – messy and dirty; carelessly untidy.
  14. Morose – sullen and ill-tempered.
  15. Quarrelsome – inclined to argue or fight readily; argumentative; contentious.
  16. Ruthless – having or showing no pity or compassion for others.
  17. Stubborn – having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.
  18. Sarcastic – marked by or given to using irony in order to mock or convey contempt.
  19. Impulsive – acting or done without forethought.
  20. Jealous – feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages.

Positive Adjectives to Describe a Person

Positive Adjectives to Describe a Person

  1. Empathetic – showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
  2. Magnanimous – generous or forgiving, especially towards a rival or less powerful person.
  3. Diligent – having or showing care and conscientiousness in one’s work or duties.
  4. Altruistic – showing a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others; unselfish.
  5. Resilient – able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.
  6. Innovative – featuring new methods; advanced and original.
  7. Courageous – not deterred by danger or pain; brave.
  8. Prudent – acting with or showing care and thought for the future.
  9. Gregarious – fond of company; sociable.
  10. Articulate – having or showing the ability to speak fluently and coherently.
  11. Compassionate – feeling or showing sympathy and concern for others.
  12. Loyal – giving or showing firm and constant support or allegiance to a person or institution.
  13. Witty – showing or characterized by quick and inventive verbal humor.
  14. Industrious – diligent and hard-working.
  15. Versatile – able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities.
  16. Gracious – courteous, kind, and pleasant.
  17. Astute – having or showing an ability to accurately assess situations or people and turn this to one’s advantage.
  18. Charming – pleasant or attractive.
  19. Earnest – resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction.
  20. Insightful – having or showing an accurate and deep understanding; perceptive.

Adjectives for Physical Appearance

Adjectives for Physical Appearance

  1. Athletic – physically strong, fit, and active.
  2. Slender – gracefully thin.
  3. Bearded – having a growth of hair on the chin and cheeks.
  4. Bald – lacking hair on the head.
  5. Chiseled – (of facial features) sharply defined.
  6. Curvy – having an attractively curved shape.
  7. Petite – (of a woman) attractively small and dainty.
  8. Tall – of great or more than average height.
  9. Stocky – broad and sturdily built.
  10. Plump – having a full rounded shape.
  11. Fair-skinned – having light-colored skin.
  12. Tanned – having a skin darkened or tanned by the sun.
  13. Freckled – covered with spots of melanin.
  14. Glowing – having a look of good health and vitality; radiant.
  15. Rugged – (of a man’s face) having attractively rough and weather-beaten features.
  16. Svelte – (of a person) slender and elegant.
  17. Wiry – resembling wire in form and texture; lean but strong.
  18. Youthful – appearing young or younger than one is.
  19. Piercing – (of eyes) very intense and penetrating.
  20. Statuesque – attractively tall and dignified.

Personality Traits Adjectives

Adjectives for Physical Appearance

  1. Conscientious – wishing to do what is right, especially to do one’s work or duty well and thoroughly.
  2. Sagacious – having or showing keen mental discernment and good judgment; wise or shrewd.
  3. Tenacious – tending to keep a firm hold of something; clinging or adhering closely.
  4. Meticulous – showing great attention to detail; very careful and precise.
  5. Impetuous – acting or done quickly and without thought or care.
  6. Benevolent – well-meaning and kindly.
  7. Irreverent – showing a lack of respect for people or things that are generally taken seriously.
  8. Unflappable – having or showing calmness in a crisis.
  9. Inquisitive – curious or inquiring.
  10. Nonchalant – (of a person or manner) feeling or appearing casually calm and relaxed; not displaying anxiety, interest, or enthusiasm.
  11. Philanthropic – seeking to promote the welfare of others, especially by donating money to good causes; generous and benevolent.
  12. Stoic – enduring pain and hardship without showing one’s feelings or complaining.
  13. Vivacious – (especially of a woman) attractively lively and animated.
  14. Jovial – cheerful and friendly.
  15. Narcissistic – having an excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.
  16. Perspicacious – having a ready insight into and understanding of things.
  17. Quixotic – exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.
  18. Tactful – having or showing tact; able to say or do the right thing without offending.
  19. Candid – truthful and straightforward; frank.
  20. Capricious – given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior.

Emotional States Adjectives

Adjectives for Physical Appearance

  1. Euphoric – characterized by or feeling intense excitement and happiness.
  2. Melancholic – feeling or expressing pensive sadness.
  3. Apathetic – showing or feeling no interest, enthusiasm, or concern.
  4. Rancorous – characterized by bitterness or resentment.
  5. Tranquil – free from disturbance; calm.
  6. Exasperated – intensely irritated and frustrated.
  7. Blissful – extremely happy; full of joy.
  8. Foreboding – fearful apprehension; a feeling that something bad will happen.
  9. Sanguine – optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation.
  10. Disconsolate – without consolation or comfort; unhappy.
  11. Incredulous – (of a person or their manner) unwilling or unable to believe something.
  12. Placid– not easily upset or excited; calm and peaceful.
  13. Wrathful – full of or characterized by intense anger.
  14. Elated – ecstatically happy.
  15. Wistful – having or showing a feeling of vague or regretful longing.
  16. Trepidatious – feeling fear or anxiety about something that may happen.
  17. Serene – calm, peaceful, and untroubled; tranquil.
  18. Lugubrious – looking or sounding sad and dismal.
  19. Jubilant – feeling or expressing great happiness and triumph.
  20. Pensive – engaged in, involving, or reflecting deep or serious thought.

Sociability and Interpersonal Skills Adjectives

Adjectives for Physical Appearance

  1. Affable – friendly, good-natured, or easy to talk to.
  2. Charismatic – exercising a compelling charm that inspires devotion in others.
  3. Eloquent – fluent or persuasive in speaking or writing.
  4. Empathic – showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
  5. Gregarious – fond of company; sociable.
  6. Diplomatic – skilled in dealing with sensitive matters or people; tactful.
  7. Amiable – having or displaying a friendly and pleasant manner.
  8. Collaborative – produced by or involving two or more parties working together.
  9. Persuasive – good at persuading someone to do or believe something through reasoning or the use of temptation.
  10. Conciliatory – intended or likely to placate or pacify.
  11. Ingenious – (of a person) clever, original, and inventive.
  12. Intuitive – using or based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning; instinctive.
  13. Articulate – having or showing the ability to speak fluently and coherently.
  14. Cordial – warm and friendly.
  15. Disarming – (of manner or behavior) having the effect of allaying suspicion or hostility, especially through charm.
  16. Mediative – of or relating to mediation or mediators.
  17. Accommodating – fitting in with someone’s wishes or demands in a helpful way.
  18. Convivial – (of an atmosphere or event) friendly, lively, and enjoyable.
  19. Cultured – characterized by refined taste and manners and good education.
  20. Perspicuous – clearly expressed and easily understood; lucid.

Work Ethic and Professional Qualities Adjectives

Adjectives for Physical Appearance

  1. Assiduous – showing great care and perseverance.
  2. Indefatigable – (of a person or their efforts) persisting tirelessly.
  3. Punctilious – showing great attention to detail or correct behavior.
  4. Resourceful – having the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties.
  5. Scrupulous – (of a person or process) diligent, thorough, and extremely attentive to details.
  6. Enterprising – having or showing initiative and resourcefulness.
  7. Meticulous – showing great attention to detail; very careful and precise.
  8. Innovative – (of a product, idea, etc.) featuring new methods; advanced and original.
  9. Dedicated – devoted to a task or purpose; having single-minded loyalty or integrity.
  10. Efficient – (especially of a system or machine) achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.
  11. Reliable – consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted.
  12. Proactive – creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.
  13. Competent – having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully.
  14. Diligent – having or showing care and conscientiousness in one’s work or duties.
  15. Adaptable – able to adjust to new conditions.
  16. Strategic – relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them.
  17. Accountable – required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible.
  18. Persevering – continuing in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.
  19. Methodical – done according to a systematic or established form of procedure.
  20. Visionary – (especially of a person) thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom.

Moral and Ethical Qualities Adjectives

Adjectives for Physical Appearance

  1. Altruistic – showing a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others; unselfish.
  2. Compassionate – feeling or showing sympathy and concern for others.
  3. Principled – (of a person or their behavior) acting in accordance with morality and showing recognition of right and wrong.
  4. Righteous – (of a person or conduct) morally right or justifiable; virtuous.
  5. Honorable – deserving of respect or high regard; of high rank, dignity, or distinction.
  6. Ethical – relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these.
  7. Just – based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.
  8. Empathetic – showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
  9. Generous – showing a readiness to give more of something, especially money, than is strictly necessary or expected.
  10. Humble – having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s importance.
  11. Philanthropic – seeking to promote the welfare of others, especially by donating money to good causes; generous and benevolent.
  12. Responsible – having an obligation to do something, or having control over or care for someone, as part of one’s job or role.
  13. Selfless – concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own.
  14. Truthful – telling or expressing the truth; honest.
  15. Unbiased – showing no prejudice for or against something; impartial.
  16. Courageous – not deterred by danger or pain; brave.
  17. Forgiving – ready and willing to forgive.
  18. Loyal – giving or showing firm and constant support or allegiance to a person or institution.
  19. Prudent – acting with or showing care and thought for the future.
  20. Equitable – characterized by fairness and impartiality; just and right.

Final thoughts

In wrapping up our exploration of adjectives and their profound impact on how we describe and perceive individuals, we’ve journeyed through the intricacies of language acquisition, the hurdles learners encounter, and the undeniable value these descriptive words hold in enriching our communication. Drawing from the wealth of academic research, we’ve seen how adjectives stretch far beyond simple descriptors, embedding themselves deeply in the fabric of our cognitive and social development. Whether you’re a linguist, educator, or simply a language enthusiast, I encourage you to further explore the works cited and beyond, to deepen your grasp of the art and science behind the words we use to describe one another.


  • Becker, M. (2015). Animacy and the Acquisition of “Tough” Adjectives. Language Acquisition, 22(1), 68–103. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24763824
  • Davies, C., Syrett, K., Taylor, L., Wilkes, S., & Zuniga‐Montanez, C. (2022). Supporting adjective learning across the curriculum by 5–7 year‐olds: Insights from psychological research. Language and Linguistics Compass, 16(11). https://doi.org/10.1111/lnc3.12476
  • Griffin, T. M., Hemphill, L., Camp, L., & Wolf, D. P. (2004). Oral discourse in the preschool years and later literacy skills. First Language, 24(2), 123–147. https://doi.org/10.1177/0142723704042369
  • Ricks, S. L., & Alt, M. (2016). Theoretical Principles to Guide the Teaching of Adjectives to Children Who Struggle with Word Learning: Synthesis of Experimental and Naturalistic Research with Principles of Learning Theory. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools, 47(3), 181–190. https://doi.org/10.1044/2016_LSHSS-15-0034.

Further Readings

  • Becker, Misha & Bruno Estigarribia. 2013. Harder words: Learning abstract verbs with opaque syntax. Language Learning and Development. 9. 211-244
  • Blackwell, A. A. (2005). Acquiring the English adjective lexicon: Relationships with input properties and adjectival semantic typology. Journal of Child Language, 32(3), 535–562. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000905006938
  • Cambon, Jacqueline and Hermine Sinclair. 1974. Relations between syntax and semantics: Are they “easy to see”? British Journal of Psychology 65. 133-14
  • Cremin, T. (2015). Teaching English creatively. Routledge.
  • Davies, C., Lingwood, J., Ivanova, B., & Arunachalam, S. (2021). Three-year-olds’ comprehension of contrastive and descriptive adjectives: Evidence for contrastive inference. Cognition, 212, 104707. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.
  • Ebeling, K., & Gelman, S. (1998). Children’s use of context in interpreting “big” and “little”. Child Development, 65(4), 1178–1192. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1994.tb00811.x
  • Gentner, Dedre. 1982. Why nouns are learned before verbs: Linguistic relativity versus natural partitioning. In Stan A.
  • Kuczaj (ed.), Language development: Language, thought and culture, 301-334. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Gillette, Jane, Henry Gleitman, Lila Gleitman & Anne Lederer. 1999. Human simulations of vocabulary learning. Cognition 73. 135-176.
  • Gleitman, Lila. 1990. The structural sources of verb meanings. Language Acquisition 1. 3-55.
  • Gleitman, Lila, Kimberly Cassidy, Rebecca Nappa, Anna Papafragou & John C. Trueswell. 2005. Hard words. Language Learning and Development 1. 23-6.
  • Landau, B., & Gleitman, L. (1985). Language and experience. Harvard University Press.
  • Landau, B., Smith, L. B., & Jones, S. S. (1988). The importance of shape in early lexical learning. Cognitive Development, 3(3), 299–321. https://doi.org 10.1016/0885-2014(88)90014-7
  • Rule, A. C., Barrera, M. T., & Stewart, R. A. (2004). Using descriptive adjective object boxes to improve science vocabulary. Montessori Life, 3, 28–34.
  • Syrett, K. (2014). Adjectives. In P. J. Brooks & V. Kempe (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language development (pp. 1–3). SAGE Publications, Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781483346441.n1

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Title: Words and Adjectives to Describe a Person
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Date: March 9, 2024 at 06:36PM
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