Characteristic of the adjective:
Four features are commonly considered to be characteristic of adjectives:
- They can freely occur in attributive function, that is, they can premodify a noun, appearing between the determiner and the head of a noun phrase.
– An ugly painting
– The round table
– Dirty linen
- They can freely occur in predicative function, that is, they can function as subject complement (1) or as object complement (2)
– The painting is ugly (1)
– He thought the painting ugly (2)
- They can be premodified by the intensifier very
– The children are very happy
- They can take comparative and superlative forms. The comparison may be by means of inflection –er and –est or by the addition of the premodifiers more and most.
Not all words that are traditionally regarded as adjectives possess all these 4 features. For instance the adjective “atomic” in atomic scientist is not gradable and therefore we do not find very atomic or more atomic.
The ability to function attributively and the ability to function predicatively are central features of the adjective, so adjectives like happy are central adjectives. Those like utter that can only be attributive and those like afraid that can only be predicative are peripheral adjectives.
Some suffixes are only found in adjectives:
- –able: comfortable
- –ful: playful
- –ish: greyish
- –ous: dangerous
- –al: seasonal
- –ic: scientific
- –less: useless
- – y: dirty
- –ible: forcible
- –like: childlike
However, many common adjectives have no identifying form: good, hot, little, fat, youg.
The adjective and other word classes:
- Adjective and adverb homomorphs:
Normally there is a regular difference of form between an adjective and a corresponding adverb in that the adverb is distinguished by its –ly suffix
– A rapid car (adjective)
– He drove rapidly (adverb)
However there are some words that have the same form without the –ly suffix in adjective and adverb functions
– Bill has a fast car (adjective)
– Bill drove fast (adverb)
Sometimes there is also an –ly adverb form but with a different meaning
– Norma arrived in the late afternoon (adjective)
– Norma arrived late in the afternoon (adverb)
– Have you ever seen her lately? (recently)
Sometimes there are 2 forms: one may be used as either adjective or adverb and the other one is an adverb with an –ly suffix.
– Take a deep breath (adjective)
– Breath deep/deely (adverb)
Finally there are some words in –ly that can function both as adjective and as adverb.
– I caught an early train (adjective)
– We finished early today (adverb)
They include a set of words denoting time: daily, hourly, monthly, weekly
- Adjectives and adverbs beginning with a-:
Some words beginning with a- are adjectives and can be used predicatively with both be and other copular verbs, but the a-adverbs can be used only with be.
Another difference is that a- adjectives refer to temporary states and cannot be part of the predication after verbs of motion, a- adverbs on the other hand denote direction after such verbs
– Jean went asleep (adjective)
– Jean went abroad (adverb)
Common a-adjectives include: ablaze, afloat, afraid, alert, alone, ashamed, asleep, aware, awake.
- Adjectives and nouns:
Nouns commonly function as premodifiers of other nouns
– The bus station
However, they do not share other characteristics of most adjectives
a) There is no corresponding predicative function
– The station is bus
b) They cannot be modified by very
– A very bus station
c) They cannot take comparison
– A busser station
Nouns have other features which distinguish them from adjectives f.i: article contrast (the/ a bus), number contrast (one bus/ two buses), genitive inflection (the student´s books), pemodification by an adjective (the youngest student).
Some items can be both adjectives and nouns, f.i: criminal
– A criminal attack
– The criminal pleaded guilty.
- Adjectives and participles:
There are many adjectives that have the same suffixes as participles in –ing or –ed. These are participal adjectives. They include forms in –ed that have no corresponding verbs
– The results were unexpected
There is no corresponding verb to unexpect
When there is a corresponding verb, attributively used –ed forms have a passive meaning
– Lost property
– Property that has been lost
Often the difference between the adjective and the participle is not clear-cut. The verbal force of the participle is explicit for the –ing form when a direct object is present.
– You are frightening the children
Similarly the verbal force is explicit for the –ed verb form when a by-agent phrase with a personal agent with a personal agent is present.
– The man was offended by the policeman.
For both participle forms, premodification by the intensifier very is an explicit indication that the forms have achieved adjective status.
– You are very frightening
– The man was very offended
In absence of any explicit indicator, the status of the participle form is indeterminate.
– The man was offended
The participle interpretation focuses on the process, while the adjective interpretation focuses on the state resulting from the process.
Syntactic functions of adjectives:
- Attributive and predicative
Adjectives are attributive when they premodify the head of a noun phrase
– A small garden
They are predicative when they function as subject complement or object complement
– He seems careless
When they immediately follow the noun or pronoun they modify. So we have 3 positions:
- The information is useful (predicative)
- useful information (attributive)
- something useful (postpositive)
A postpositive adjective can usually be regarded as a reduced relative clause
– something that is useful
Compound indefinite pronouns and adverbs ending in –body, -one, -thing, -where can be modified only postpositively.
– We are not going anywhere very exciting
- Adjectives with complementation
They normally cannot have attributive position but require postposition. The complementation can be a prepositional phrase or a to-infinitive clause.
– I know an actor suitable for the part.
If the adjective is alone or merely premodified by an intensifier, postposition is not normally allowed.
– * They have a house (much) larger
The adjective phrase can be discontinuous. The adjective is attributive and its complementation is in postposition
– The easiest boys to teach were in my class
- Adjectives as heads of noun phrases
They can be subject of the sentence, complement, object, and prepositional complement.
Adjectives as noun-phrase heads, unlike nouns, do not inflect for number or for the genitive case and they usually require a definite determiner.
Adjectives are typically used as heads of noun phrases to refer to certain fairly well- established classes of persons: the brave, the weak, the fat, the elderly.
There are 3 types of adj. functioning as noun-phrase heads:
- The innocent:
Adjectives which can premodify personal nouns (the young people) can be noun-phrase heads (the young) with plural and generic reference denoting classes, categories or types of people. The adjective can itself be premodified or pstmodified.
- The Dutch:
Some adjectives denoting nationalities can be noun-phrase heads. These noun phrases normally have generic reference and take plural concord. These adj. in question are restricted to words ending in –(i)sh: British, -ch: French, -ese: Japanese and the adj: Swiss
- The mystical:
Some adj. can function as noun-phrase heads with abstract reference: they include superlatives in which we can insert a general noun like thing:
– The latest (thing/news) is that he is going to run for re-election.
Unlike types 1 and 2, type 3 take singular concord.
- Verbless clauses
Adj. can function as the sole realization of a verbless clause
– Long and untidy, his hair played in the breeze.
Its implied subject is usually the subject of the sentence
- Contingent Verbless clauses
One type of verbless clause, which is often introduced by a subordinator expresses the circumstance or condition under which what is said in the superordinate clause applies
– If wet, these shoes should never be placed too close to the heat.
- Exclamatory adjective clauses
Adjectives can be exclamations, with or without an initial wh-element.
Such clause need not to be dependent on any previous linguistic context, but may be a comment on some object or activity in the situational context.
Syntactic subclassification of adjectives:
- Attributive only:
Adjectives that are restricted to attributive position do not characterize the referent of the noun directly. When adjectives characterize the referent of the noun directly, they are termed inherent (my friend is old) when they don´t they are termed noninherent (an old friend of mine).
- Intensifying adjectives
Some adjectives have a heightening effect on the noun they modify or the reverse a lowering effect. There are 3 subclasses:
a) Emphasizers: They have a general heightening effect and are generally attributive only.
– Sheer arrogance
– The simple truth
– A certain winner
b) Amplifiers: They denote a high or extreme degree
– A complete victory
c) Downtoners: They have a lowering effect:
– A slight effort
- Restrictive adjectives
They restrict the reference of the noun exclusively, particularly or chiefly
– The only occasion
– The same student
- Adjectives related to adverbs
Some noninherent adjectives that are only attributive can be related to adverbs
– An occasional visitor (occasionally a visitor)
– A possible friend (possibly a friend)
- Adjectives related to nouns
Some denominal adjectives are restricted to attributive position.
– A criminal lawyer (a lawyer specialized in cases of crime)
- Predicative only
Adjectives that are restricted to predicative position are most like verbs and adverbs. They tend to refer to a condition rather than to characterize. Perhaps the most common are those referring to the health or lack of health of an animate being
– He felt ill /well
A large group that are restricted to predicative position comprises adjectives which can take complementation
– Able to
– Aware of
– Fond of
Semantic subclassification of adjectives:
- Stative/ Dynamic: Adjectives are characteristically stative. The adjectives that susceptible to subjective measurement are capable of being dynamic.
– * He is being tall
- Gradable/ nongradable: Gradability is manifested through comparison
And through modification by intensifiers:
– very tall
Some adjectives are not gradable, principally denominal adjectives and adjectives denoting provenance.
- Inherent/noninherent: Most adjectives are inherent. The inherent adjective applies to the referent of the object directly.
– A wooden cross
– A wooden actor (not a wooden man)
Ordering of adjectives in premodification:
We usually put the more or most precise adjective nearest the noun
- Both, all, half
- Ordinal number (first, last)
- Cardinal number (one, three)
- General judgement (good, bad, nice, beautiful)
- General judgement (mental) (intelligent, stupid)
- Measurement (big, tall)
- Age or temperature (old, young, hot)
- Shape (round, square)
- Colour (red, green)
- Verb participle form (carved, boiling)
- Material (wooden)
- Origin, nationality (French, Mediterranean)
- Noun in apposition (steel, cigarette)
– All the first three competitors broke the record (1,2,3,4)
– He had a beautiful old carved ivory Chinese chess piece (5,8,12,14)
Nouns used as adjectives:
When a noun is used as an adjective before another noun, it is almost always singular, even if the meaning is plural.
– Cigarette packets
Plural expressions with numbers also become singular when they are used as adjectives
– A five-pound note
– A ten-mile walk
– A three-man expedition
Pronunciation of adjectives ending in –ed:
A few adjectives ending in –ed have a special pronunciation. The last syllable is pronounced /id/ instead of /d/ or /t/: blessed, crooked, dogged, learned, ragged, wicked, wretched, naked, aged.