Topic 14 – Expression of quality. Expression of degree and comparison.


1.1. Characteristics. 3

1.1.1. Form.. 3

1.1.2. Inflection. 3

1.1.3. 4 criteria (central & peripheral). 3

1.2. Syntactic functions. 4

1.2.1. Head of the Adj. Phrase. 4 Attributive. 4 Predicative. 4 Postpositive. 5

1.2.2. Head of the Noun Phrase. 6 Classes of people. 6 Nationalities. 6 Abstract reference. 6

1.2.3. Supplementative adjective-clauses. 7 Contingent 7 Exclamatory. 7

1.3. Syntactic classification. 7

1.3.1. Attributive only (noninherent). 7 Intensifying adjectives. 8

Emphasizers. 8

Amplifiers. 8

Downtoners. 8 Restrictive adjectives. 8 Other adjectives. 9

Related to adverb. 9

Related to nouns. 9

1.3.2. Predicative only. 9

1.4. Semantic classification. 10

1.4.1. Stative/dynamic. 10

1.4.2. Gradable/Nongradable. 10

1.4.3. Inherent/Noninherent. 10


2.1. Defining relatives. 11

2.2. Nondefining relatives. 12

3. DEGREE. 12

To what degree?. 12

3.1. Degree with scale words. 13

3.2. Degree with limit words. 13


4.1. Irregular forms of comparison. 14

4.2. Changes in spelling. 14

4.3. Changes in pronunciation: 14

4.4. Inflectional or periphrastic comparison?. 15



In this unit we are going to study 4 main ways to qualify reality:

1. By means of adjectives

2. By means of relative or adjectival c1au~s

3. By means of degree expressions

4. By means of comparison;


2.1. Characteristics.

2.1.1. Form

The typical adjectival suffixes are: -able, -ful, -ish, -ous, -al, -ic, -less. However, it’s not enough to identify an adjective because many of them have no identifying form, as for example: good, hot, little, young, fat.

2.1.2. Inflection

There are many potentialities for inflection:

Many adjectives inflect to form the comparative and the superlative (great-er). However, others do not (disastrous), and besides, adverbs may also be inflected, as in hard-er, and there are many adjectives from which adverbs are derived, as in great-ly. But again, not all: ٭oldly.

2.1.3. 4 criteria (central & peripheral)

We usually make use of 4 criteria to decide whether an element is an adjective or not:

1. Attributive use: an ugly painting.

2. Predicative use:

· Subject complement: the painting is ugly

· Object complement: he thought the painting ugly.

Some are either attributive or predicative only.

3. They can be premodified by very: the children are very happy.

4. The comparative and superlative forms are inflected (-er and -est) or periphrastic (more and most).

We will now apply these criteria to adjectives:

٭ afraid people: 1

٭ that nonsense is utter: 2

٭ god’s mercy is very infinite: 3

٭ it’s more infinite than…: 4

Hungry: 1,2,3,4

Utter: 1

Infinite: 1,2

Asleep: 2

Main: 1, 3,4

Soon: 3,4

Afraid: 2,3,4


· Central adjectives: those which fulfil characteristics 1 and2.

· Peripheral adjectives: those which fulfil characteristics 1 or 2.

2.2. Syntactic functions

2.2.1. Head of the Adj. Phrase. Attributive

They premodify the head of a noun phrase/nominal group. Predicative

Adjectives are predicative when they function as subject or object complement. Adjectives are subject complements not only to noun phrases/nominal groups, but also to clauses, which may be finite clauses (1, 2) or nonfinite clauses (3, 4).

1. That you need a car is obvious.

2. Whether he will resign is uncertain.

3. Driving a bus isn’t easy.

4. Playing chess is enjoyable.

The adjectives functioning as object complement often express the result of the process denoted by the verb (causative meaning):

He pulled his belt tight (he caused his belt to be tight by pulling it).

He pushed the window open (he caused the window to be open by pushing it) Postpositive

They follow the item they modify. A postposed adjective usually is regarded as a reduced relative clause: something (that is) useful.

Compound indefinite pronouns and adverbs ending in –body, –one, –thing and –where, can be modified only postpositively: Anyone (who is) intelligent can do it.

Some adjectives have a different sense when they occur attributively or predicatively: elect (soon to take office) and proper (as strictly defined):

The President elect.

The City of London proper.

There are also some institutionalised expressions in which the adjective is postposed: president elect, court martial, from time immemorial, postmaster general, body politic…

Some adjectives will change their meaning depending on whether they are used attributively or predicatively: at the present time, John is present.

Adjectives ending in –able or –ible (after a superlative: the best possible use) retain the basic meaning in attributive position but convey the implication that what they are denoting has only a temporary application:

The stars visible: visible at a time specified or implied

The visible stars: category of stars

When we have an adjective with complementation we may postpose this A.P, or prepose the adjective and postpose the complementation:

*The easiest to teach boys-The boys easiest to teach-the easiest boys to teach

An actor suitable for the past

A house larger than yours

Soldiers timid or cowardly

But if the adjective is modified by enough, too or so, these may be placed before the article:

It was too boring the book to read

He’s no brave enough a student to take the course

*Brave enough students to attempt the course deserve to pass.

2.2.2. Head of the Noun Phrase.

Adjectives do not inflect for number or for the genitive case and they require a definite determiner. Classes of people

The poor are causing great concern

…lack of communication between the young and the old.

They appear in the plural and are generic reference. The adjective can itself be pre or post modified:

The emotionally disturbed

The young in spirit.

We can usually add a word such as people and retain the generic reference, in which case the definite determiner is generally omitted. Nationalities

They take the endings: –ish, –sh, –ch, –ese. They have generic reference and take plural concord. They can’t be modified by adverbs: ٭the very English. They can be modified by adjectives which are normally non-restrictive:

The industrious Dutch.

Ethnic names are nouns. Abstract reference

They are usually superlatives, in which case we can sometimes insert a general noun like thing in an abstract sense. The latest (thing/news)…They take singular concord. A few are modifiable by adverbs:

The very best (part) is yet to come

2.2.3. Supplementative adjective-clauses

Rather nervous, the man opened the letter; the man, rather nervous, opened the letter; the man opened the letter, rather nervous

The clause is mobile, though it usually precedes or the subject. The implied subject is usually the subject of the sentence. However, if the clause contains additional clause constituents, its implied subject can be other than the subject of the sentence:

She glanced with disgust at the cat, now quiet. As now appears in the sentence, quiet refers to cat. If it wasn’t there the sentence wouldn’t be possible.

Most important, she’s rich: the adjective here applies to the whole superordinate sentence. Contingent

It expresses the circumstance or condition under which what is said in the superordinate clause applies. The contingent clause is elliptical with ellipsis of an appropriate form of be, and sometimes of the subordinator:

You must think it (when) fresh: .the condition under which the superordinate applies.

If wet, these shoes should never be placed too close to the heat. Exclamatory

They can appear with or without an initial wh-element. They may refer to an extralinguistic element:

(How) Wonderful!

(How) Good!

2.3. Syntactic classification

2.3.1. Attributive only (noninherent).

They do not characterize the referent of the noun directly.

An old friend: is one you have known for a long time.

My friend’s quite old: you can only be talking about the person’s age.

Adjectives that characterize the referent of the noun directly (that old man, my friend is old) are termed inherent; those that do not (an old friend of mine) are termed noninherent. Intensifying adjectives.

A true scholar

Plain nonsense

A real hero


They are central adjectives if they are inherent and denote a high or extreme degree:

A complete victory

Great destruction

On the other hand, when they are noninherent, they are attributive only:

A complete fool

A firm friend


They have a lowering effect, and they are generally central adjectives. They are relatively few, e.g.:

A slight effort

A feeble joke Restrictive adjectives.

Restrictive adjectives restrict the reference of the noun exclusively:

A certain person

The principal objection

The same student


A certain person is a restrictive (a particular person),

A certain winner is an intensifier (a sure winner). Other adjectives
Related to adverb.

Some noninherent adjectives that are attributive only can be related to adverbs:

My former friend

An old friend

Past students

A possible friend

Related to nouns

Many denominal adjectives are nongradable and restricted to attributive position, e.g.:

An atomic scientist

A polar bear

Musical comedy

A criminal court/lawyer

A metheal school

2.3.2. Predicative only.

They tend to refer to a possibly temporary condition. We find three different groups:

1. The health:

He felt ill/poorly/well/faint/unwell

2. Adjectives beginning with a-:.

She’ s awake







Most a-adjectives can occur attributively when they are modified:

A somewhat afraid soldier

The fast asleep children

A really alive/lively student

3. Adjectives that take complementation:

Conscious that

Fond of

Aware of

Subject to (the preposition is compulsory here)

2.4. Semantic classification.

2.4.1. Stative/dynamic

Stative adjectives (tall) cannot appear with the progressive or imperative aspect.

A general semantic feature of dynamic adjectives is that they denote qualities that are controlled by the possessor and can be restricted temporally:









2.4.2. Gradable/Nongradable.

Some denominal adjectives are not gradable: atomic scientist.

2.4.3. Inherent/Noninherent.

Adjectives that characterize the reference of the noun directly are termed inherent:

A wooden cross (inherent)

A wooden actor (noninherent.)

If the adjective is inherent, it is often possible to derive a noun from it:

Her soft touch – the softness of her touch

However, with a noninherent adjective such derivation isn’t usually possible. Compare:

A firm handshake – the firmness of the handshake

A firm friend / the firmness of the friend


They are functionally parallel to attributive adjectives:

A man who is lonely-A lonely man

Relative pronouns refer to the antecedent (which determines gender selection), and function as all of, or part of, an element in the relative clause (which determines the case).

Relative pronouns include two series:

1. Wh-pronouns: who, whom, whose, which

It has case contrast between subjective ‘who’, objective ‘whom’, and genitive ‘whose’.

We must also distinguish them according to:

Ø Personal: who (S), whom (O)

Whom appears always in a formal style and after preposition.

Ø Non personal, which.

Ø Unmarked: whose (of which)

2. That/ø


This is a person whom/ who/that/ø you should avoid.

This is the person to whom you spoke.

This is the person whom/who/that…to.

3.1. Defining relatives.

They are used in order to specify who or what is being referred to. We use: which, who(m) and that. The relative is not needed when it’s NOT the clause subject.

The relative pronoun may have the following functions:

1. Subject. The relative pronouns can only be omitted in the following cases:

· With ‘there’ as formal subject of the subordinate clause, e.g.:

That’s the last book that there’s on the subject.

· When the main clause is introduced by it/that +be:

It isn’t everybody can do that

There was a man asked for you

It was Mary did it

· Progressive tenses or a prepositional complement

The flowers (that are) on the table are beautiful

The man (who is) sitting in front of you reminds me of your father

2. Subject complement:

He still speaks like the man (that) he was when I met him

3. Direct object:

The man (who/whom/that) you met yesterday is coming to tea

The cigarette (which/that) you are smoking is a Player’s

4. Prepositional complement:

This is the man (that/who) you spoke to/ to whom

3.2. Nondefining relatives.

Nondefining relatives are not very common in speech, but occur quite frequently in the written language. They give information (essential or otherwise) about something that is identifiable. Nondefining expressions are often separated from the rest of the sentence by pauses (or intonation changes) in speech, and by commas in writing. There are also important grammatical differences between defining and nondefining:

That’ cannot be used and the relative pronoun must always appear.


Degree expressions usually modify the meaning of a word by indicating different levels of intensity. It’s expressed by adverbs, which premodify adverbs, adjectives or verbs.

I’m very hungry.

Or by adverbials within the clause structure:

She loves him passionately.

We usually make three questions to know whether it’s modifying an adjective, an adverb or a verb:

How: adjective and adverb

How much: verb

And the more formal question would be:

To what degree?

To what extent?

We can only make modifications in respect of degree with gradable words. We can distinguish two main types of degree words:

· Scale words (large/small)

· Limit words (black/white)

4.1. Degree with scale words.



Extreme position

He’s very friendly

I like him very much

Slight intensification

It’s quite expensive

He was rather annoyed

Fairly, pretty

Prices have increased considerable

I rather like him

Quite a lot

Toning down

It’s slightly uncomfortable

A bit, a little

Prices have fallen slightly

I know him a little

A bit


He’s quite rich

It’s quite true.

4.2. Degree with limit words.

· Fullest extent: absolutely, altogether, completely, entirely, quite totally

· Near the limit: almost, nearly, practically, virtually


Comparison is possible in relation:

1. To a higher degree: cleverer– cleverest, more clever, most clever.

2. To the same degree: as….as, not so….as

3. To a lower degree: less than, the least

5.1. Irregular forms of comparison.

Good: better, best

Bad: worse, worst

Far: further, furthest (physical distances)

Far: farther, farthest (metaphorical concepts)

Old: elder-eldest (elder can’t take than, so it isn’t a true comparative)

Well (in good health) and ‘ill’ (in bad health) are inflected like ‘good’ and ‘bad’, respectively for the comparative:

He feels better/worse

5.2. Changes in spelling.

1. Double consonants: (British: crueller, American: crueler) bigger, biggest, sadder, saddest

2. y>-ier: angry-angrier-angriest, early-earlier-earliest

3. –e>-r: pure-purer-purest, nice-nicer-nicest, free-freer-freest

5.3. Changes in pronunciation:

1. A disyllabic base ending in /l/ normally loses its second syllable before the inflection, eg:

Simple – simpler

/simpl/-/simpl r/

2. Final /r/ is pronounced before the inflection, e.g.:

Rare- rarer

/re /-/re r /

3. / / is pronounced /ng/ before the inflection, e.g.:

long- longer

/l / /l g /

strong- stronger

/str / /str g /

young- younger

/j / /j g /

5.4. Inflectional or periphrastic comparison?

1. 1 syllable→inflected

The exceptions are: real, right, wrong, worth, like

2. 2 syllables→inflected or periphrastic

· Inflected: -y (happy),-ow (narrow), -er (clever), -le (gentle)

3. 3 or more syllables→periphrastic

Adjectives with the negative prefix un- are exceptions:



Some adverbs can also take the comparative.


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2. Eckersley, C. E. and Eckersley, J. M. A Comprehensive Grammar of The English Language. Longman. London, 1972.

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6. Quirk, R. et al. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Longman. London, 1984.

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Publicado: marzo 13, 2019 por Laura Gonzalez

Etiquetas: tema 14 inglés secundaria