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Improve your English Vocabulary by Using Adjectives with “en” to Create Verbs

Improve your English vocabulary in order to describe changes more effectively with a new set of verbs.

You may be familiar with the phrase “make + (noun) + (adjective)”. This phrase describes a situation when the subject causes the object to become like the adjective. For example, if you say: “sugar makes food sweet”, it means that sugar causes food to become sweet.

A common mistake for students is putting the adjective first before the noun, because this is the common order in English grammar, but not in this case:

  • Lightbulbs make a room bright. – correct

  • Lightbulbs make bright a room. – incorrect

You can also use the adjective in comparative form to express that the noun has more of this adjective quality than it did before:

  • Glasses make your vision clearer (than before).

  • Soap makes your hands cleaner (than before).

  • A massage makes your body more relaxed (than before).

There are some adjectives that are short and only one syllable, such as “soft” and “straight”. Many of these short adjectives can be changed into a verb by adding the suffix “en” at the end: “soften” and “straighten”, which means to make something more of the adjective quality:

  • To soften something = to make something softer

  • To straighten something = to make something straighter

In the examples below, the verbs “soften” and “straighten” are used to express this meaning:

  • I use a special laundry soap to soften my clothes when I wash them.

  • In the morning, I have to straighten my hair because it’s naturally curly.

Some other examples of these verbs that come from the combination of an adjective + “en” are below:

  • Brighten = to make something brighter: “We added lights to brighten the room.”

  • Darken = to make something darker: “The smoke darkened the sky.”

  • Whiten = to make something whiter: “This toothpaste can whiten your teeth.”

  • Blacken = to make something blacker: “The fire from the barbecue blackened the steak a little bit.”

  • Tighten = to make something tighter: “You should tighten your seatbelt so it's close to your body.”

  • Loosen = to make something looser: “I want to loosen my shoelaces. They are too tight.”

  • Sweeten = to make something sweeter: “I add sugar to my coffee to sweeten it.”

  • Thicken = to make something thicker: “He added honey to thicken the sauce.”

  • Harden = to make something harder: “The ground hardens during the winter.”

  • Widen = to make something wider: “They plan to widen the highway to add an extra driving lane.”

  • Sharpen = to make something sharper: “The chef was sharpening his knives in the kitchen.”

  • Deepen = to make something deeper: “I want to deepen my knowledge about this.”

  • Quicken = to make something quicker: “She had to quicken her pace to keep up with him.”

  • Weaken = to make something weaker: “The flu can weaken your body.”

  • Dampen = to make something damper: “He used a wet cloth to dampen her forehead.”

  • Freshen = to make something fresher: “Bringing some flowers into the house can freshen the air.”

  • Toughen = to make something tougher: “His time in the military toughened him.”

  • Flatten = to make something flatter: “I'll flatten the cardboard boxes before we move them.”

  • Shorten = to make something shorter: “The school shortened the summer break to just one week.”

  • Lessen = to make something less (in amount or strength): “a helmet will lessen the impact when hitting the ground.”

There are cases where a noun instead of an adjective connects with “-en” to create a verb:

  • Lengthen = to make something longer: “If we remove that wall, we can lengthen the room.”

  • Strengthen = to make something stronger: “I want to strengthen my communication skills.”

  • Frighten = to make someone scared: “The cat frightened me when it jumped on the table.”

It's important to note that these verbs can also be used as part of a metaphor instead of their literal meaning. For example, we might say: "you brightened my day" which means you made my day brighter, but this is not literal - it means that you made my day better. Another example is when people say: "the government tightened the regulations" it means they made the regulations more strict.


Lastly, many products that create the results described above are created by adding “-er” to the end of the verb word:

  • Hair straightener: a product to make your hair straighter

  • Teeth whitener: a product to make your teeth whiter

  • Fabric softener: a product to make your clothes softer

  • Sharpener: a product to make your pencil sharper

  • Sweetener: a product to add to your coffee to make it sweeter

Practice

1. The chain on his bicycle was too loose, so he had to _______________________ it.

2. The street has a lot of bumps in it. They need to ____________________ it.

3. The ground was really hard before, but the rain has ________________ it.

4. My teeth used to be crooked, so I wore braces for a few years to _____________________ them.

5. My day was dark before I saw you, but you have really ___________________ it!

6. Doing squats at the gym will ___________________ your legs.

7. The storm has _______________ the foundation of the building so we need to reinforce it.

8. The meeting was going to be an hour but the director _________________ it to thirty minutes.


Use It

Change the following adjectives/nouns into verbs and use them with the object provided:

a) wide / gap (between two things)

b) straight / hair

c) tight / screw

d) flat / curve (covid)

e) length / duration (make something longer in time duration)

f) strength / economy


Answers

1. Loosen

2. Flatten

3. Softened

4. Straighten

5. Brightened

6. Strengthen

7. Weakened

8. Shorten


a) widen the gap

b) straighten your hair

c) tighten the screw

d) flatten the curve

e) lengthen the duration

f) strengthen the economy

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