Bitesize STE – Essentials 5: Adjectives

Bitesize STE is written by Ciaran Dodd, course director for Mekon’s Simplified Technical English (STE) training course. In our latest Bitesize STE Ciaran takes a closer look at articles and pronouns.

Since issue 7 of the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English (STE) specification came out in January, I have read it thoroughly while I updated our two-day Introduction to STE course. As part of the course, we review some essentials of grammar that you have to know to understand the rules of STE. In the next few issues of Bitesize, we’ll look at these essentials and explain why you need to know them in order to write well in STE. We’ll also explain any changes in issue 7, 2017.

What is an adjective?

 An adjective is: “A word that modifies a noun or noun phrase. It describes, for example, the type, size, color or number of a noun or noun phrase.” (2-0-4, ASD-STE100, 2017)

In technical writing, we frequently use adjectives to specify:

  • which part an instruction refers to;
  • what kind of fixture you need;
  • how many fixtures you need; or
  • which parts belong to a system or assembly.

So, adjectives are a key part of technical writing.

One issue with adjectives in STE is that many words can be adjectives and another part of speech, such as a noun or verb. For example,

  • A file (noun) is a tool.
  • To file (verb) is the action of using the file.
  • A file blade (adjective) describes what kind of blade we mean. Blade is the noun that we are modifying with the adjective file.

STE tries to give each word one part of speech. So, ‘file’ is permitted as a technical name (rule 1.5) but not permitted as a verb. The approved alternative is ‘remove’. Therefore, you must be able to identify whether a word is an adjective or another part of speech. Ask yourself: “What noun is this word describing?”

It is easier to identify an adjective that comes immediately before the noun it describes. Simple examples are: ‘the large component’ or ‘an approved person’ (adjectives underlined). Adjectives also come after state verbs like ‘to be’ or ‘to become’. For example: ‘The surface is hot’.

Some adjectives use the -ed form of the verb called the past participle. For example:

An approved person must do the important checks.” (2-1-Q1, ASD-STE100, 2017)

In this example, ‘approved’ (the past participle), is an adjective describing the noun ‘person’. An adjective made from the past participle describes the condition of something, in this case the condition of the person. Alternatively, I could write: “I approved that report yesterday.” Here approved is a verb (in italics) and the past participle indicates an action that was completed in the past (simple past tense). In STE, the past participle (-ed form) has two permitted purposes:

  1. To show the simple past tense of a verb.
  2. To be an adjective.

In STE, there are two ways that you can use the past participle as an adjective:

  1. Before a noun.
  2. After a form of the verbs ‘to be’ or ‘to become’.

There are examples of these forms under rule 3.3.

But there is one final twist to this tale of adjectives. You will remember in June’s article on verbs, I mentioned that STE requires the use of the active voice rather than the passive voice:

XYZ authority approved the person. (Active voice)

The person was approved by the XYZ authority. (Passive voice)

To write the passive voice, you use a form of to be and the past participle (in bold). This is the same form that you can use for the past participle as an adjective. So, you have one grammatical structure doing two jobs. For example:

The person is approved. (Past participle as an adjective describes the condition of the person.)

The person is approved by the XYZ authority. (Passive voice describes who approved the person.)

One job (past participle as an adjective) is permitted in STE, the other job (passive voice) is not permitted!

Next time, adverbs.

Looking for Simplified Technical English (STE) Training?

Book your place on one of our Simplified Technical English training courses. Our Simplified Technical English Training course is a practical introduction for those who will use Simplified Technical English (formerly AECMA Simplified English).

The course introduces the philosophy of Simplified Technical English, explains the underlying grammatical principles and gives delegates opportunities to use Simplified Technical English in practical exercises. These exercises can be based on your company’s documentation.

Find out more about our Simplified Technical English Specification: ASD-STE100 training delivered by Ciaran or email

About Ciaran

“Who is your audience and what do they need?”

“How do you meet those needs efficiently, cost effectively and to a high standard?”

Ciaran Dodd has been ensuring that clients address both of these questions using ASD Simplified Technical English (ASD-STE100) since 2002, after being trained by the United Kingdom’s ASD-STE100 co-ordinator in 2001. Ciaran started her career in training at Rolls-Royce, which is where she became involved in training all aspects of writing, including ASD-STE100. After leaving the organisation, Ciaran set up an independent consultancy specialising in communication and learning skills. She has extensive experience of working with major names in engineering; particularly in defence aerospace and the automotive industries.

Ciaran is a qualified trainer, teacher and teacher of English as a foreign language. After completing a law degree at Cambridge University, she taught English in a Chinese university for two years. She has taught all aspects of the English language in commercial and public organisations since 1994.