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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Adjective

ADJECTIVE


Adjectives can be identified using a number of formal criteria. However, we may begin by saying that they typically describe an attribute of a noun:

cold weather
large windows
violent storms


Some adjectives can be identified by their endings. Typical adjective endings include:

-able/-ible

achievable, capable, illegible, remarkable

-al

biographical, functional, internal, logical

-ful

beautiful, careful, grateful, harmful

-ic

cubic, manic, rustic, terrific

-ive

attractive, dismissive, inventive, persuasive

-less

breathless, careless, groundless, restless

-ous

courageous, dangerous, disastrous, fabulous

However, a large number of very common adjectives cannot be identified in this way. They do not have typical adjectival form:

bad
bright
clever
cold
common
complete
dark
deep
difficult

distant
elementary
good
great
honest
hot
main
morose
old

quiet
real
red
silent
simple
strange
wicked
wide
young


As this list shows, adjectives are formally very diverse. However, they have a number of characteristics which we can use to identify them.


Characteristics of Adjectives

Adjectives can take a modifying word, such as very, extremely, orless, before them:

very cold weather
extremely large windows
less violent storms


Here, the modifying word locates the adjective on a scale of comparison, at a position higher or lower than the one indicated by the adjective alone.

This characteristic is known as GRADABILITY. Most adjectives are gradable, though if the adjective already denotes the highest position on a scale, then it is non-gradable:

my main reason for coming

~*my very main reason for coming

the principal role in the play

~*the very principal role in the play



As well as taking modifying words like very and extremely,adjectives also take different forms to indicate their position on a scale of comparison:

big bigger biggest


The lowest point on the scale is known as the ABSOLUTE form, the middle point is known as the COMPARATIVE form, and the highest point is known as the SUPERLATIVE form. Here are some more examples:

Absolute

Comparative

Superlative

dark

darker

darkest

new

newer

newest

old

older

oldest

young

younger

youngest

In most cases, the comparative is formed by adding -er , and the superlative is formed by adding -est, to the absolute form. However, a number of very common adjectives are irregular in this respect:

Absolute

Comparative

Superlative

good

better

best

bad

worse

worst

far

farther

farthest

Some adjectives form the comparative and superlative using moreand most respectively:

Absolute

Comparative

Superlative

important

more important

most important

miserable

more miserable

most miserable

recent

more recent

most recent

Attributive and Predicative Adjectives

Most adjectives can occur both before and after a noun:

the blue sea

~ the sea is blue

the old man

~ the man is old

happy children

~ the children are happy

Adjectives in the first position - before the noun - are called ATTRIBUTIVE adjectives. Those in the second position - after the noun - are called PREDICATIVE adjectives. Notice that predicative adjectives do not occur immediately after the noun. Instead, they follow a verb.

Sometimes an adjective does occur immediately after a noun, especially in certain institutionalised expressions:

the Governor General
the Princess Royal
times past

We refer to these as POSTPOSITIVE adjectives. Postposition is obligatory when the adjective modifies a pronoun:

something useful
everyone present
those responsible

Postpositive adjectives are commonly found together with superlative, attributive adjectives:

the shortest route possible
the worst conditions imaginable
the best hotel available

Most adjectives can freely occur in both the attributive and the predicative positions. However, a small number of adjectives are restricted to one position only. For example, the adjective main (themain reason) can only occur in the attributive position (predicative: *the reason is main). Conversely, the adjective afraid (the child wasafraid) can only occur predicatively (attributive: *an afraid child).

Inherent and Non-inherent Adjectives

Most attributive adjectives denote some attribute of the noun which they modify. For instance, the phrase a red car may be said to denote a car which is red. In fact most adjective-noun sequences such as this can be loosely reformulated in a similar way:

an old man

~a man who is old

difficult questions

~questions which are difficult

round glasses

~glasses which are round

This applies equally to postpositive adjectives:

something understood ~something which is understood
the people responsible ~the people who are responsible

In each case the adjective denotes an attribute or quality of the noun, as the reformulations show. Adjectives of this type are known as INHERENT adjectives. The attribute they denote is, as it were, inherent in the noun which they modify.

However, not all adjectives are related to the noun in the same way. For example, the adjective small in a small businessman does not describe an attribute of the businessman. It cannot be reformulated as a businessman who is small. Instead, it refers to a businessman whose business is small. We refer to adjectives of this type as NON-INHERENT adjectives. They refer less directly to an attribute of the noun than inherent adjectives do. Here are some more examples, showing the contrast betwen inherent and non-inherent:

Inherent

Non-inherent

distant hills

distant relatives

a complete chapter

a complete idiot

a heavy burden

a heavy smoker

a social survey

a social animal

an old man

an old friend




Stative and Dynamic Adjectives

As their name suggests, STATIVE adjectives denote a state or condition, which may generally be considered permanent, such asbig, red, small. Stative adjectives cannot normally be used in imperative constructions:

*Be big/red/small

Further, they cannot normally be used in progressive constructions:

*He is being big/red/small

In contrast, DYNAMIC adjectives denote attributes which are, to some extent at least, under the control of the one who possesses them. For instance, brave denotes an attribute which may not always be in evidence (unlike red, for example), but which may be called upon as it is required. For this reason, it is appropriate to use it in an imperative:

Be brave!

Dynamic adjectives include:

calm
careful
cruel
disruptive
foolish
friendly
good
impatient

mannerly
patient
rude
shy
suspicious
tidy
vacuous
vain


All dynamic adjectives can be used in imperatives (Be careful!,Don't be cruel!), and they can also be used predicatively in progressive constructions:

Your son is being disruptive in class
My parents are being foolish again
We're being very patient with you

The majority of adjectives are stative. The stative/dynamic contrast, as it relates to adjectives, is largely a semantic one, though as we have seen it also has syntactic implications.

Nominal Adjectives

Certain adjectives are used to denote a class by describing one of the attributes of the class. For example, the poor denotes a class of people who share a similar financial status. Other nominal adjectives are:

the old
the sick
the wealthy
the
blind
the innocent

A major subclass of nominal adjectives refers to nationalities:

the French
the British
the Japanese

However, not all nationalities have corresponding nominal adjectives. Many of them are denoted by plural, proper nouns:

the Germans
the Russians
the Americans
the Poles


Nominal adjectives do not refer exclusively to classes of people. Indeed some of them do not denote classes at all:

the opposite
the contrary
the good

Comparative and superlative forms can also be nominal adjectives:

the best is yet to come
the elder of the two
the greatest of these
the most important among them

We refer to all of these types as nominal adjectives because they share some of the characteristics of nouns (hence `nominal') and some of the characteristics of adjectives. They have the following nominal characteristics:

  • they are preceded by a determiner (usually the definite article the)
  • they can be modified by adjectives (the gallant French, the unfortunatepoor)

They have the following adjectival features:

  • they are gradable (the very old, the extremely wealthy)
  • many can take comparative and superlative forms (the poorer, the poorest)

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