Topic 14 – Expression of quality. Degree and comparison

Topic 14 – Expression of quality. Degree and comparison





1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.


2.1. Linguistic levels involved in the notion of quality.

2.2. On defining quality: what and how.

2.3. Grammar categories: open vs. closed classes.


3.1. Adjectives: main features.

3.2. Quality in terms of other grammatical categories.

3.3. A classification of adjectives: main functions.

3.2.1. The semantic function. Stative vs. dynamic adjectives. Gradable vs. non-gradable adjectives. Inherent vs. non-inherent adjectives.

3.2.2. The morphological function. Adjective formation by means of affixation. Adjective formation by means of compounding.

3.2.3. The syntactic function. The notion of adjectival phrase. Attributive adjectives. Adjectives preceding the noun: one-word adjective phrases. Adjectives following the noun: postpositive position. Predicative adjectives. Adjectives with complementation or postmodification. Other type of constructions.


4.1. The expression of degree.

4.1.1. Types of degree specification.

4.1.2. By means of pre-modifiers: intensifying adverb phrases.

4.1.3. By means of associative semantic fields.

4.1.4. By comparison: degree specification.

4.2. The expression of comparison.

4.2.1. Types of comparison: definition. The lower degree: inferiority. The same degree: equality. The higher degree: superiority.

4.2.2. Formation processes. Regular formation processes: short and long adjectives. One and two-syllable adjectives. Adjectives with three or more syllables. Comparison of adverbs. The notions of quantity and quality in comparison. Adjectives which do not function as adjectives. Semantic properties of adjectives in comparison. Irregular formation processes.

4.2.3. Spelling and pronunciation changes.





1.1. Aims of the unit.

Unit 14, untitled The Expression of Quality , is primarily intended to serve as an introduction to the different ways of expressing quality in English, namely achieved by means of adjectives, and also by means of adverbs and other grammatical structures. In doing so, the study will be divided into six main chapters. Thus, Chapter 2 provides a theoretical framework for the notion of quality, and in particular, of those grammatical categories which are involved in it. Moreover, within the field of grammar linguistic theory, some key terminology is defined in syntactic terms so as to prepare the reader for the descriptive account on the expression of quality in subsequent chapters.

Chapter 3, then, presents and defines the notion of quality regarding adjectives and the other grammatical categories involved in it, such as adverbs, past participles, and other means. Moreover, adjectives are classified according to their three main functions: semantic, in terms of opposite pairs (stative vs. dynamid; inherent vs. non -inherent; gradable vs. non-gradable ); morphological, in terms of adjective formation processes (affixation and compounding); and syntactic, which is introduced by the notion of adjectival phrase, and moves on to examine adjectives in attributive and predicative positions.

Once this key terminology and key notions are presented, we are ready to move on to next section, Chapter 4, which offers a descriptive account of the different ways of expressing quality through the expression of degree and comparison. Thus, we shall divide this section in two subsections. The first part introduces the expression of degree, by examining types of degree specification by means of pre-modifiers (intensifying adverb phrases), by associative semantic fields (scalar measurements), and by comparison (degree specification).

Once introduced, the second part examines the expression of comparison, which is divided into three subsections: first, types of comparison (inferiority, equality, superiority ); second, formation processes (regular and irregular); and third, spelling and pronunciation changes. different grammatical categories and by other means. Chapter 5 provides an educational framework for the expression of quality within our current school curriculum, and Chapter 6 draws a conclusion from all the points involved in this study. Finally, in Chapter 7, bibliography will be listed in alphabetical order.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

In order to offer an insightful analysis and survey on the expression of quality in English, we shall deal with the most relevant works in the field, both old and current, and in particular, influential grammar books which have assisted for years students of English as a foreign language in their study of grammar. For instance, a theoretical framework for the expression of quality is namely drawn from the field of sentence analysis, that is, from the work of Flor Aarts and Jan Aarts (University of Nijmegen, Holland) in English Syntactic Structures (1988), whose material has been tested in the classroom and developed over a number of years; also, another essential work is that of Rodney Huddleston, English Grammar, An Outline (1988).

Other classic references which offer an account of the most important and ce ntral grammatical constructions and categories in English regarding the expression of quality, are Quirk & Greenbaum, A University Grammar of English (1973); Thomson & Martinet, A Practical English Grammar (1986); and Greenbaum & Quirk, A Student’s Grammar of the English Language (1990).

Current approaches to notional grammar and, therefore, the expression of quality are Angela Downing and Philip Locke, A University Course in English Grammar (2002); Gerald Nelson, English: An Essential Grammar (2001); Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002); and Sidney Greenbaum, The Oxford Reference Grammar (2000).


Before describing in detail the different ways of expressing quality in English (mainly achieved by means of adjectives, and also adverbs, past participles, and other means), it is relevant to establish first a theoretical framework for the notion of quality, since it must be described in grammatical terms. In fact, this introductory chapter aims at answering questions such as where the notion of quality is to be found within the linguistic level, what it describes and how, and which grammar categories are involved in its description at a functional level. Let us examine, then, in which linguistic level the notion of quality is found.

2.1. Linguistic levels involved in the notion of quality.

In order to offer a linguistic description of the notion of quality, we must confine it to particular levels of analysis so as to focus our attention on this particular aspect of language. Yet, although there is no consensus of opinion on the number of levels to be distinguished, the usual description of a language comprises four major components: phonology, grammar, le xicon, and semantics, out of which we get five major levels: phonological, morphological and syntactic, lexical, and semantic (Huddleston, 1988).

First, the phonology describes the sound level, that is, consonants, vowels, stress, intonation, and so on. Secondly, since the two most basic units of grammar are the word and the sentence, the component of grammar involves the morphological level (i.e. the internal structure of words) and the syntactic level (i.e. the way words combine to form sentences). Third, the lexicon, or lexical level, lists vocabulary items, specifying how they are pronounced, how they behave grammatically,

and what they mean. Finally, another dimension between the study of linguistic form and the study of meaning is semantics, or the semantic level, to which all four of the major components are related. We must not forget that a linguistic description which ignores meaning is obviously incomplete.

Therefore, we must point out that each of the linguistic levels discussed above has a corresponding component when analysing the notion of quality. Thus, phonology deals with pronunciation of comparative and superlative forms (i.e. easier, the easiest); morphology deals with comparative and superlative markers (i.e. –er, -est); and syntax deals with the establishment of rules that specify which combinations of words constitute grammatical strings and which do not (i.e. shorter than; the shortest in the world).

On the other hand, lexis deals with the expression of quality by means of affixes (i.e. long-haired, loud mouthed) or suffixes (i.e. –ful as in careful, -less as in careless, and so on ); the choice between adjectives or adverbs (i.e. He is a good driver vs. He drives well), lexical choices regarding intensifying adjectives (i.e. funny vs. really funny vs. hilarious), the use of emphatic determiners (i.e. very/ quite/really nice), past participles and present participles (i.e. bored vs. boring) or other means such as idiomatic expressions (i.e. the sooner, the better); and finally, semantics deals with meaning where syntactic and morphological levels do not tell the difference (i.e. ‘You are nice’ – you, 2 nd person singular or you, 2nd person plural).

2.2. On defining quality: what and how.

On defining the term ‘quality’, we must link the notion of quality (what it is) to the grammar categories which express it (how it is showed). Actually, the term ‘quality’ is taken from a list where adjectives are classified according to the main types: thus, demonstrative (this, these), distributive (each, every; either, neither), quantitative (some, any; little, much; one, twe nty), interrogative (which, what, whose), possessive (my, your, his, her, and so on ), and finally, adjectives which denote quality (clever, golden, good).

These qualitative adjectives are words denoting ‘properties or states’, among which the most frequent and salient are those relating to size, shape, colour, age, evaluation (i.e. good, bad, nice, etc ) and the like when answering to questions such as How…? and What ……. like? They are often gradable and are manifested through comparison and other means. Also, they are usually expressed by means of antonyms, as in the pairs big vs. small, old vs. young. (Huddleston, 1988).

Quality adjectives are intended to give information about something/someone by either offering a description or identification with a wide range of properties in order to provide a detailed report of the item we are describing (colour, shape, weight, height, material, age, overall impression and so on).

This adjectival description is often embedded in adjectival phrases where adjectives may be placed in two positions: in attributive position, before nouns to qualify the head of a noun phrase (i.e. a small table ), or in predicative sentences after the verb, functioning as subject complement (i.e. It seems small) or object complement (i.e. I find the table small).

It is worth pointing out that not all languages have a distinct adjective class. In those languages which do, there is a tendency for verbs to be dynamic (denoting actions, events, etc) and for adjectives to be static. Note in this connection that in English adjectives generally occur more readily in the non-progressive constructions than in the progressive (i.e. Edward is tall vs. Edward is being tall), but we shall review this aspect in detail in the section devoted to semantic classification of adjectives.

2.3. Grammar categories: open vs. closed classes.

In order to confine the notion of quality to particular grammatical categories, we must review first the difference between open and closed classes. Yet, grammar categories in English can be divided into two major sets called open and closed classes. The open classes are verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs, and are said to be unrestricted since they allow the addition of new members to their membership, whereas the closed classes are the rest: prepositions, conjunctions, articles (definite and indefinite), numerals, pronouns, quantifiers and interjections, which belong to a restricted class since they do not allow the creation of new members.

Then, as we can see, when expressing quality we are mainly dealing with adjectives that, when taken to phrase and sentence level, may be substituted by other grammatical categories, expressions and special structures (nouns, idioms, or paraphrasing ). The classification of phrases reflects an established syntactic order which is found for all four of the open word classes (i.e. verb, noun, adjective, and adverb ) where it is very often possible to replace open classes by an equivalent expression of another class (i.e. noun as adjective, adding certain suffixes) as we shall see later.


As stated before, the expression of quality will be first examined through the category of adjectives, and then we shall offer a descriptive approach through other grammatical categories related to it, such as adverbs, past and present participles, and other grammatical structures like prepositional phrases, idiomatic expressions or verbless sentences as possible answers to questions such as How ? and What ……. like?

Moreover, before we continue, we must note that, although adjectives are mainly classified in two groups: determinatives (possessive, demonstrative, numerals, interrogative, and indefinite) which determine nouns as in ‘this book ’ or ‘your house’, and qualitative, to add qualities to a noun as in ‘this interesting book ’ or ‘your nice house’, our study will be primarily based on the notion of qualitative adjectives since it is this category that is gradable and will lead us to the expression of degree and comparison further on.

In the following chapters, then, we shall examine the main issues that will provide the base for the whole unit. Thus, (1) main features of adjectives; (2) the expression of quality in terms of other grammatical categories, (3) a classification of adjectives according to their main functions, thus semantic, syntactic, and morphological. First, within the semantic function, we shall examine three intrinsic aspects of adjectives. Second, within the morphological function, we shall examine the formation of adjectives by different means, among which we highlight affixation and compounding.

Third, within the syntactic function, we shall examine first compounding in depth since it is in this process that other phrase structures shall function as adjectives acting like modifiers (attributive positions) and complements (predicative positions). Once these notions have been stated, we shall examine the order of adjectives in order to introduce next chapter on the expression of degree and comparison.

3.1. Adjectives: main features.

According to Huddleston (1988), the main features of adjectives overlap their main functions. For him, the term ‘adjective’ is applied to a grammatically distinct word class in a language which has the following properties: (1) first, its most central members are words (adjectives) denoting aspects such as age, general evaluation, colour, value, shape, and so on; (2) second, its members are characteristically used either predicatively (as complement of the verb ‘to be’ or other copula verbs) or attributively, modifying a noun.

(3) Third, adjectives belong to a class to which the inflectional category of grade applies most characteristically in langua ges having this category. Note that adjectives often carry such other inflections as case, gender, and number by agreement. However, in English we find no markers of number or gender in adjectives since they have the same form for singular and plural, and for masculine and feminine. The only exceptions are the demonstrative adjectives this and that which change to these and those before plural nouns (i.e. this car/these cars; that house/those houses ).

Quirk & Greenbaum (1973; 1990) add two more characteristics to adjectives. The first one is that most adjectives can be premodified by intensifiers (adverbs) such as very, really, quite, enough, too, so, etc. and the second one refers to the expression of grade or gradability, on saying that most of them can take comparative and superlative forms by the addition of pre-modifiers (more, the most) and post-modifiers (…than, …in the world ).

3.2. Quality in terms of other grammatical categories.

Qualitative adjectives, then, play their role within a larger linguistic structure in order to qualify nouns by means of other categories as well. For instance, the answer to What is the book like? may be drawn not only from the grammatical category of adjectives (i.e. thick, fiction), but also from other categories, such as nouns (i.e. a leather cover), past participles (i.e. far-fetched), present participles (boring, amusing ), adverbs (i.e. He read it fast, just in one week vs. He is a fast reader).

There are also other grammatical structures to express quality, such as idiomatic expressions (i.e. the longer the better). Within this type we can find (a) two comparatives together (i.e. more and more frequent), (b) two comparatives together preceded by the article ‘the’ (i.e. the sooner the better ), and (c) comparative phrases (i.e. He’s so old that…; He’s such a good boy!) using discontinuous modifiers (i.e. as/so … as, not so … as, and so on).

As we can see, all these items have the same function but belong to different grammatical categories or class (i.e. noun, present participle, adverb, and so on ). Both function and word class are relevant for our present purposes since we must examine the expression of quality through them. These expressions can be grouped together into word classes (also called parts of speech) following morphological, syntactic, and semantic rules.

In doing so, we may assign words to the same class we imply that they share a number of properties, for instance, on morphological grounds (i.e. adding suffixes to nouns in order to make adjectives: stress-stressful) or on the syntactic ground (i.e. nouns functioning as adjectives: blue- eyed boy). We must not forget the semantic criteria when dealing with adjectives (i.e. He is a sick man (mental illness) vs. He’s sick (physical illness) or the phonological one when pronouncing comparatives and superlatives (older-the oldest).

3.3. A classification of adjectives: main functions.

Adjectives can also be classified according to their main functions whereby we may find three main types: (1) the semantic function, which is related to intrinsic aspects of adjectives; (2) the morphological function, by which adjectives are formed from other means such as affixation and compounding processes, and finally, (3) the syntactic function, which is related to the structure and position of adjectival phrases at the sentence level. We shall follow three main figures in this field in order to develop this section, thus Quirk & Greenbaum (1973), Thomson & Martinet (1986), and Huddleston (1988).

3.2.1. The semantic function.

In general, the semantic function distinguishes two main types of adjectives: first, the so-called qualitative adjectives (also called descriptive) which denote general qualities of a noun (i.e. red hair), and second, classifying adjectives (also called limiting) which denote certain qualities of a noun in order to frame the item into a certain category (i.e. polar, atomic, industrial). Not often, some adjectives may refer to both types at the same time (i.e. a sensitive woman –in general- vs. sensitive people should not see horror films –a certain group of people –), but have different meaning (i.e. He is a sick man (mental illness) vs. He’s sick (physical illness ).

Following Quirk & Greenbaum (1973), these two types of adjectives are embedded into three semantic contrastive pairs: (1) stative vs. dynamic, (2) gradable/non-gradable, and (3) inherent vs. non-inherent. Stative vs. dynamic adjectives.

As mentioned before, the first pair, stative vs. dynamic adjectives, refers to the non-progressive or progressive aspect of a qualitative adjective and that they may be susceptible to subjective measurement. In English, most adjectives are characteristically stative (i.e. tall, sad, expensive ) but many can be seen as dynamic (i.e. careful, brave, calm, funny, good, jealour, rude, shy).

The rule to tell the difference is to use them with the progressive aspect of verbs (i.e. He’s being tall) or in the imperative (i.e. Be tall). Note that stative verbs do not make sense into this structure whereas dynamic do (i.e. He’s being careful; Be careful). In this case, both qualitative and classifying adjectives may be used. Gradable vs. non-gradable adjectives.

The second pair, gradable vs. non-gradable adjectives , refers to the degree of intensity of an adjective (positive, comparative, superlative) and is manifested through comparison (i.e. tall-taller- the tallest ). The prototypical adjective is gradable and contains numerous and simple pairs of opposites (i.e. hot-cold, light-dark, wide-narrow, and so on ), and as such takes degree expressions through modification by intensifiers (i.e. almost, as, how, much, pretty, quite, rather, so, this, that, too, very and such –ly adverbs). All dynamic and most stative adjectives are gradable (i.e. old, short, loud), although some stative adjectives denoting specific features and provenance are not (i.e. atomic scientist and hydrochloric acid ).

Semantically speaking, gradability means that they denote properties that can be possessed in varyin g degrees whereas syntactically it is reflected in their abitility to take degree expressions as modifiers. The expression of degree and comparison is included here since adjectives can be modified by adverbs or intensifiers (really, as….as, more, the most, less, the least).

Note that most qualitative (or gradable) adjectives are suitable for comparison since they include modifiers in their syntactic structures (i.e. a formal report/more formal than/the most formal) whereas classifying adjectives (or non-gradable) do not allow any modifiers in their structure since they refer to more ‘technical adjectives’ or denote ‘provenance’ (i.e. an atomic/British report/a more atomic/British report/the most atomic/British report). Inherent vs. non-inherent adjectives.

The third pair, inherent vs. non -inherent adjectives, involves the relation of the adjective to an implicit or explicit standard noun in the phrase or sentence. For instance, the adjective ‘big’ is inherent in ‘a big elephant’. This noun phrase is gradable since we can say ‘a very big elephant’. However, ‘enormous’ as a synonym of ‘big’, is not gradable, and therefore, is not- inherent in the same structure: ‘a very enormous elephant’. Moreover, an adjective as ‘silver’ is inherent in ‘a silv er bracelet’ but not in ‘a silver woman’. Note that most adjectives are inherent, both qualitative and classifying.

3.2.2. The morphological function.

According to Quirk and Greenbaum (1973), we cannot tell whether a word is an adjective by looking at it in isolation since the form does not necessarily indicate its syntactic function. Yet, many members of the class of adjectives are identifiable on the basis of typical derivational suffixes, such as –ous (i.e. generous, serious) and –ful (i.e. wonderful, fearful) whereas other common adjectives have no identifying shape (i.e. hot, good, little, young, fat, big, etc).

In fact, they are also characterized by the fact that they inflect for the comparative and superlative with the inflectional suffixes –er and –est respectively (i.e. fat-fatter-the fattest) whereas other do not allow inflected forms (i.e. disastrous-disastrouser-disastrousest). Moreover, similar features apply to adverbs, which can be inflected (i.e. hard-harder-hardest), and also, many of them are derived from adjectives, adding the suffix -ly to the adjective base (i.e. nice-nicely, coward- cowardly) although not all of them allow this derivational process (i.e. old -oldly ).

The adjective class is, then, the main repository for the morphologically simplest pairs of gradable opposites (i.e. hot-cold, tall-short, ugly -beautiful, light-dark, and so on ) which are the most common in English. However, these adjectives are primary words which do not derive from any other (i.e. long, short, big, tall, etc) whereas most adjectives are derived from other words (i.e. noun, other adjectives, verbs or adverbs) by certain morphological processes.

Huddleston (1988) uses the term ‘adjectivalisation’ for this variety of grammatical processes that create adje ctives or expressions that bear significant resemblances to adjectives or adjectival phrases among which we namely distinguish two processes: (1) affixation and (2) compounding which are the most straightforward type of creating an adjective by morphologic al processes. Adjective formation by means of affixation.

Regarding affixation, we may find two types: prefixes and suffixes. With respect to prefixes, we may mention a number of prefixes that create adjectives from more elementary adjective stems: un- (unkind), non- (non -negotiable), in- (inattentive), dis- (dishonest), super- (superhuman), and over- (overconfident). However, we shall namely deal in this section with suffixes added to a base form (base form + suffix ) in which the base is formed by different types of grammatical categories and the suffix may indicate different types of quality (i.e. concrete or abstract) or nationality. Therefore, we may find adjectives derived:

(a) from nouns, adding suffixes like –ful (i.e. hope-hopeful, fear-fearful, wonder-wonderful), and less (i.e. harm-harmless, hope-hopeless, fear -fearless, childless); -like (i.e. child -childlike), –ish (child -childish; fool-foolish ), and –ian (i.e. crime-criminal, preferent-preferential). Note that to indicate nationality, we also use –ish (i.e. Spain -Spanish), –ese (i.e Japan-Japanese; Portugal- Portuguese ), -(i)an (i.e. Italy -Italian; America-American), –esque (i.e. Arabia -Arabesque) and –ite (i.e. Israel-Israelite); moreover, -en and –y (i.e. wood-wooden, gold -gold en; worth-worthy, silk – silky, rain-rainy), and also –ly (i.e. friend -friendly) and –ic (i.e. atom-atomic, problem-problematic ). Finally, -ous (i.e. caution-cautious) and –ible (i.e. contempt-contemptible ).

Special mention should be made of the suffix –ed, which can be added to nouns, as in a walled- garden, but more often is added to an adjective + noun phrasal expression, as in dark -haired, simple-minded, blue-eyed (Huddleston, 1988).

(b) from other adjectives, adding suffixes like –some (i.e. full-fulsome, whole-wholesome); -al (i.e.comic -comical); -ish (i.e. pale -palish, red-reddish ); and –ly (i.e. dead -deadly, nice-nicely ).

(c) from verbs, adding suffixes –less (i.e. care-careless, cease -ceaseless); -some (i.e. tire-tiresome ) ive (i.e. attract-attra ctive, product-productive); and –able (i.e. unforget-unforgettable, unsuffer- unsufferable ).

(d) and finally, from adverbs, adding suffixes like –er (i.e. in-inner, out-outer, up- upper). Adjective formation by means of compounding.

Regarding compounding, the most productive type of compound adjective has a participial form of a verb as the second stem, as in the structure formed by noun + present particiciple: ‘a record- breaking swim’, ‘a good -looking girl’, ‘water-drinking’, and ‘fruit-picking’; and that of noun + past participle: ‘home -made pizza, ‘tongue-tied’, ‘sun-burnt‘, and self -addressed envelopes’. Moreover, we also find compounds made up of other different categories. For instance:

(a) noun + adjective, as in ‘tax-free’, ‘blood-red’, ‘sky-blue’, ‘air-tight’, ‘foot-sore’, ‘snow-white’, and ‘stone-cold’.

(b) adjective + adjective, as in ‘red-hot (chilly peppers)’, ‘blue-green’, ‘dark-blue’, and ‘light- green’. (c) adjective or adverb + noun + ending –ed, as in ‘blue-eyed’, ‘bare-footed’, ‘long-legged’, and ‘wellmannered.

(d) adverb + past participle, as in ‘so-called’, ‘far-fetched’, ‘ill-bred’, ‘well-dressed’ or ‘well- known’.

(e) adverb + present participle, as in ‘hard-working’ or ‘easy -going’.

(f) other types of compounding and phrasal expressions will be dealt with in next section, under the heading of syntactic functions.

3.2.3. The syntactic function.

Qualitative adjectives, as seen, play their role within a larger linguistic structure in order to qualify nouns by means of other categories as well. For instance, the answer to What is the book like? may be drawn not only from the grammatical category of adjectives (i.e. thick, fiction), but also from other categories, such as nouns (i.e. a leather cover), past participles (i.e. far-fetched), present participles (boring, amusing ), adverbs (i.e. He read it fast, just in one week vs. He is a fast reader), and also from other grammatical structures such as idiomatic expressions (i.e. the more I read, the more I got interested) or phrasal structures. As we can see, all these items have the same function but belong to different grammatical categories or class.

Both function and word class are relevant for our present purposes since we must examine the expression of quality through them. These expressions can be grouped together into word classes (also called parts of speech ) following syntactic rules. In doing so, we may assign words to the same class which implies they share a number of properties, for instance, on the syntactic ground (i.e. nouns functioning as adjectives: blue –eyed boy) since, according to Huddelston (1988), the syntactic clausal construction allows for the expression of much more complex and varied meanings that can be expressed in a single adjective.

Then, we have seen that adjectives function as the head of adjectival phrase structures with two main functions, in turn being (a) attributive adjectives, functioning as modifiers or constituents of the noun phrase, preceding the noun phrase head (i.e. a green door, many witty remarks, or John’s beautiful wife), and in some cases, however, following it as in ‘something good ’; and (b) predicative adjectives, which function as subject or object complements placed after a linking verb (i.e.

‘Claire’s car is new’, ‘It is getting dark’, and ‘This coffee tastes good’). In this case, they function as syntactic clausal constructions in copulative and complex-transitive structures, as in ‘My tea is hot(subject attribute) and ‘I prefer my tea hot’ (object attribute). Similarly, examine: ‘He looks tired’, ‘This film is really interesting’ or ‘It is difficult to do it now’.

Note, however, that apart from the majority of adjectives which can be used both attributively and predicatively, there are adjectives that can only be used in one of these ways. This aspect will be dealt with in the same section on attributive and predicative adjectives.

Hence, following Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), adjectives are classified into two main types according to their syntactic function in the sentence: thus (1) attributive and (2) predicative adjectives. (3) adjectives with complementation or postmodification, (5) adjectives as head of noun- phrases, (6) verbless clauses, (7) contingent verbless clauses, and (8) exclamatory clauses. The notio n of adjectival phrase.

Before classifying adjectives according to their syntactic function, we must address the notion of adjectival phrase since it is an essential element in syntactic analysis. An adjectival phrase is a constituent which can be identified on the basis of the word class membership of adjectives, in this particular case, and the relationship it holds among its immediate constituents is referred to as sentence level.

Following traditional nomenclature, we call the element that gives its name to an adjectival phrase the head of the phrase, an adjective for our purposes. Apart from the adjectival head we distinguish only one other function in the adjective phrase, that of modifier. Similarly to the modifier in the noun phrase, it is called premodifier when the constituent realizing this function preces the head (i.e. an extremely interesting book), and postmodifier when this constituent follows it (i.e. Peter felt doubtful about the exam).

Both of them may occur in combination (i.e. You shouldn’t be so impatient with him) and also realized more than once (i.e. It is difficult to be loyal to the company and to your friends). We must not forget that modifiers are non-essential elements in the structure of the phrase. However, there are two exceptions to this rule that only apply to certain groups of words. First, when pre- or postmodification is not allowed (i.e. former, latter, mere, upper) and second, when postmodification is required (i.e. apt to, fond of, subject to, and so on ). Yet, we shall discuss these aspects in the following sections. Attributive adjectives.

The attributive position is a central feature of adjectives, being one of the major syntactic functions of adjectives together with the predicative position. In general, attributive adjectives do not characterize the referent of the noun directly. For instance, the word ‘old’ can be either a central adjective (an old man) in opposition to ‘young’ or predicative (that man is old). However, in the usual sense of ‘an old friend of mine’, ‘old’ is restricted to attributive position. This implies the notion of inherent and discussed before. e usually find the attributive position when one or more adjectives premodify the head of a noun phrase, as in a small garden, or an old Swiss watch appearing between the determiner (including the zero article) and the head of a noun phrase, but occassionally we may also find it after the noun, as in ‘someone sensible to talk to’. Therefore, we can distinguish between adjectives that are placed (1) before and (2) after the noun. Adjectives preceding the noun: one-word adjective phrases.

Regarding adjectives which precede the noun, in principle there are no restrictions on the number of adjectives that may occur before the head. However, we can further distinguish two types according to Aarts (1988): (1) when the noun is preceded by one attributive adjective, also called one-word adjective phrases or (2) when the noun is preceded by more than one attributive adjective.

(1) In the case of one-word adjective phrases (only one adjective + noun), we refer to those adjectives which usually precede the noun and that can only be used attributive position. This type of adjectives do not allow either pre- or postmodification by means of adverbs, phrasal structures, or specific expressions, and consequently, always constitute one-word adjective phrases (i.e. the former president). However, some examples show that one-word adjective phrases used in premodification may also consist of an adjectival head preceded by a one-word intensifier (i.e. your extremely sensible decision, a highly volatile solution, his very young wife).

On modifying the noun, we distinguish four types of adjectives which can only be used in attributive position: (i) intensifying, (ii) restrictive, (iii) adjectives related to adverbs, and finally, (iv) adjectives related to nouns.

(i) The first type are intensifying adjectives which have a heightening or lowering effect on the noun they modify. Within this class, we distinguish three further types: emphasizers amplifiers, and downtoners. The first amplifies upwards from an assumed norm (a true scholar, a certain winner, the simple truth); the second denotes the upper extreme of the scale and denote an extreme degree (a complete victory, a firm friend, total destruction); and the third has a lowering effect, usually scaling downwards (a slight effort, a feeble joke).

(ii) The second type are restrictive adjectives, which limits the reference of the noun exclusively, particularly, or chiefly (i.e. former – the former president; certain – a certain person ). Note that some of these have homonynyms. For example, ‘certain’ in ‘a certain person’ is a restrictive adjective equivalent to ‘a particular person’ while in ‘a certain winner ’ it is an intensifier.

Here are some examples of one-word adjective phrases which are restrictive adjectives, that is, that restrict the reference of the noun exclusively, particularly, or chiefly: inner (the inner circle ), latter (his latter yea rs), live (a live wire), main (the main road ), mere (a mere girl ), outer (the outer space ), outdoor (outdoor activities), principal (the principal characters), chief (his chief excuse), sheer (sheer luck ), upper (the upper storeys ), only (the only problem), elder (my elder sister ), eldest (my eldest cousin ), same (the same house), particular (this particular case), exact (the exact amount), sole (the sole argument), specific (the specific point), very (the very man ), among others.

(iii) The third type are adjectives related to adverbs , which are non-inherent, even though they are not intensifying or restrictive in attributive position, as in ‘my former friend’ (formerly my friend),

an old friend’ (a friend of old ), ‘past students’ (students in the past), ‘the present king’ (the king at present). Some adjectives need implications additional to the adverbial: ‘the late president’ (‘the person who was formedly the president but now is dead). Moreover, if the adjectives premodify agentive nouns, the latter also suggest a relationship to an associated verb (i.e. a heavy smoker, a sound sleeper, a clever liar).

(iv) Finally, the fourth type refers to adjectives related to nouns, which are adjectives derived from nouns, restricted now to attributive position (i.e. an atomic scientist, a criminal court, a medical school, a musical comedy, a tidal wave, a polar bear, a golden ring ). Note that these adjectives are formed with the suffixes –ic (atomic), -al (criminal), -en (golden).

The formation of comparatives and superlatives that, often, has an element preceding the first constituent (i.e. more interesting than – the most interesting in…) shall be examined in the section of predicative adjectives, in relation to postmodifier constituents.

(2) When the noun is preceded by more than one attributive adjective (i.e. beautiful sunny weather, a big black horse), the order in which adjectives appear is not always free. According to Thomson

& Martinet (1986), several variations are possible, but a fairly usual order is generally established in terms of semantic properties, whereby descriptive adjectives precede the limiting ones, from the most general to the most specific features.

Moreover, in the premodification structure, Quirk (1973) distinguishes four main zones: (a) precentral, where non-gradable and intensifying adjectives are placed (certain, definite, complete ), (b) central, where central adjectives are placed (funny, pretty, windy), (c) postcentral, where participles and colour adjectives are included (retired, pink), and finally (d) prehead, where adjectives derived from nouns are placed, like nationality (English, French ), ethnic background (Midwestern, southeast), with the meaning of ‘consisting of’, ‘relating to’ (experimental, political, statutory ).

Hence, the order of the adjectives is to a large extent determined by the semantic class to which the adjectives belong. In fact, it is possible to distinguish a large number of semantic classes, but we shall confine ourselves to adjectives whose positional be haviour shows some regularity. Therefore, following Quirk (1973), Thomson & Martinet (1986), Aarts (1988), and Eastwood (1999), we shall distinguish:

First of all, general opinion, on how good something is (wonderful, nice, great, terrible ); most other qualities (order, temperature); size, on how big things are (large, small, enormous, tiny) and shape, on what shape things are (round, square, triangular); age, on how old someone or something is (new, old, ten years old ); colour (red, blue, black, pink ); origin, on where things/people are from (American, British, Irish, Italian), material, on what things are made of (stone, plastic, paper, steel); type, on what kind? (electric kettle, political meeting); and finally, nouns functioning as adjectives which answer to the question ‘What for?’(summer, spring, a bread knife, a bath towel). Adjectives following the noun: postpositive position.

The postpositive position makes reference to those adjectives that can immediately follow the noun or pronoun they modify. This process is referred to as ‘discontinuous modifier’ since part of the modifier precedes the noun head (attributive position), and the rest follows it in postmodification (i.e. a different house from Peter’s and as rich as my father).

Yet, it is placed in between attributive and predicative position because it belongs to the attributive position, on post-modifying the noun (i.e. something fascinating ), and also to the predicative position (i.e. This book is fascinating). Usually, a postposed adjective can be further regarded as a reduced relative clause, as in ‘I want to try on something nicer(=something which is nicer). Yet, according to Aarts (1988), adjective phrases may follow the noun head in the following cases:

(1) when noun head and adjective form an idiomatic expression, as in Lords spiritual, Lords temporal, heir apparent, Attorney General, Solicitor General, court martial, time immemorial, China proper, the sum total, and the amount due, among others.

(2) When the postmodifying adjective is one of a limited number of items, including present, alive, involved, concerned, as in the people present (=who are present), the happiest man alive, the information available, the factors involved, all people concerned, and the greatest dif ficultry imaginable.

(3) Also, a few adjectives ending in –able and –ible can be postpositive, as well as attributive, when they are modified by another adjective in the superlative degree or by certain other modifiers, as in the greatest insult imaginab le, the only person suitable, the best use possible.

(4) When the noun phrase head is a compound indefinite pronoun or an adverb (i.e. –body, -one, – thing, -where), they can be modified only postpositively, as in anyone intelligent to talk to, I want something cooler.

(5) For other few adjectives, postposition is obligatory since they have different meaning when occurring attributively or predicatively. For instance, the stars visible refers to stars that are visible at a time specified or implied, while the visible stars refers more to a category of stars that can be seen. Other examples are attorney general, the president elect, body politic, heir apparent, the people involved. Predicative adjectives.

Regarding predicative adjectives, we must say they refer to those adjectives which are placed after a linking verb (i.e. feel, be, get, sound, seem, look like, looks as if, taste , among others) and can function as subject complement of copulative verbs (i.e. This horse is black, They are nice) as well as object complement after other verbs (i.e. He thought the horse black, He put the cloth straight, he sounded serious, she felt cold ).

Note that adjectives are subject complement not only to noun phrases, but also to finite clauses and nofinite clauses (i.e. That she is angry is obvious, it is obvious to complain). We must say that most of them function like verbs and adverbs, and they tend to refer to a condition rather than to characterize.

It is worth noting that some adjectives change their meaning when moved from attributive position to the predicative one. Yet, bad/good, big/small, heavy/light and old, cannot be used predicatively without changing the meaning, for instance, compare ‘a small farmer’ vs. ‘the farmer is small’. Here the former refers to ‘a man who has a small farm’ whereas the latter means that ‘he is a small man physically’.

We must bear in mind that, as constituents of clauses or sentences, adjective phrases can only realize the functions subject attribute (i.e. The new edition will be available on Monday, He is becoming quite big for his boots ) and object attribute (i.e. It made him very sad to see his son abroad, We’d like the sheets a little cleaner). Yet, in predicative positions, it is usual to find more complex adjective phrases modifying a noun phrase head, especially those with longer postmodifiers. Here we are five examples which illustrate the predicative use of adjectives. Adjectives with complementation or postmodification.

Adjectives with complementation or postmodification cannot normally have attributive position but require postposition. The complementation may be realized by:

(1) The adverb enough, which is the only adverb that can postmodify an adjectival head (i.e. clever enough). Note that eno ugh may be followed by an infinitive clause (i.e. quick enough to be in time ).

(2) A prepositional phrase, formed by adjective + preposition + noun (i.e. suitable for me, good at Maths, larger than yours, a car similar to yours, ), except for some cases such as averse ( i.e. people averse to hard work) and fond (i.e. He is fond of skiing ), which require postmodification. In other cases postmodification is optional. Thus, afraid of (mice), good at (poker), glad of (a change), loyal to (one’s principles), qualified for (the job), able to (swim), capable of (murder), full of (water), furious with (his friend), green with (envy), and worried about (you), among many others.

(3) A finite clause refers to the clausal postmodification of adjectival heads that is usually realized by that-clauses, as in ‘I am very worried that he might come late’ or I am glad that you come’. Also, clauses postmodifying adjectival heads may also be introduced by WH- words (or by if ), as in ‘I am doubtful whether (if) I should go’ or ‘He is not sure who did it’.

After comparative adjectives in –er, the finite clause is introduced by than, as in ‘The trip was longer than I expected’. Moreover, note that the sentence ‘Jim is prouder than his brother (was)’ has an optional element at the end, which is an alternative construction with a reduced comparative clause.

(4) In a non-finite clause, the adjectival head can be followed by an infinitive clause (i.e. afraid to go, anxious to leave, interested to hear about it, or eager to please ). Moreover, there are cases (i.e. The boys easiest to teach were in my class) where the adjective may be preceded by too or followed by enough (in some cases obligatorily so), as in This is a theory too difficult to explain and He is not brave enough to jump .

Furthermore, the infinitive clause may be introduced by a WH- word, as in ‘She feels uncertain what to tell her husband’ or I do not know what to do next’. If the infinitive clause has an overt subject, it is introduced by for, as in ‘I am quite willing for this plan to be submitted’ or ‘I shall be sorry for Esther to leave us’. Moreover, the adjectives worth and busy are followed by an –ing participle clause, as in ‘This problem is worth looking into’ or ‘They were busy packing’.

However, if the noun phrase is generic and indefinite, we can postpone coordinated adjectives with some clause element added, although such constructions are formal and rather infrequent (i.e. Soldiers timid or cowardly do not fight well), using premodification (i.e. Timid or cowardly soldiers do not fight well) or by using a relative clause (i.e. A man who does not fight well is timid). Other type of constructions.

Within other type of constructions, we shall deal with six different types, among which we shall mention adjectives that can function as head of noun-phrases, verbless clauses, adjectives phrases replaced by adverb phrases where we shall examine the semantic correspondences of adjectives and adverbs, contigent adjective clauses, exclamatory clauses, and finally, that of ‘discontinuous modifier’ that will provide the base for us to enter next section on degree and comparison.

(1) Adjectives can function as head of noun-phrases, which can be subject of the sentence, complement, object, and prepositional complement. When this occurs, adjectives do not inflect for number or for the genitive case, and they usually require the definite determiner ‘the’. Most of these structures have personal reference or refer to certain fairly well-established classes of entities. For instance, groups of people (i.e. the brave, the rich, the poor), nationalities (i.e. the Dutch, the British, the Spanish ), and abstract reference (i.e. the mystical, the supernatural, the unreal).

(2) Verbless clauses, in addition, can function as the sole realization of a verbless clause or as the head of an adjective phrase realizing the clause. For instance, in a sentence like ‘The man, enthusiastic, read the letter’ the clause is mobile, though it usually precedes or follows the subject of the supe ordinate clause. For instance, ‘Enthusiastic, the man opened the letter’ and ‘The man opened the letter, enthusiastic ’.

(3) Sometimes the adjective phrase can be replaced by an adverb phrase with little change of meaning by means of the suffix (-ly) as in nice-nicely or zero marker as in hard-hard , substituting the prepositional structure ‘in a(n) + adjective + way/manner. For instance, ‘Melanie was very friendly’ and ‘She spoke to us in a friendly way’. Note that also a few adjectives end in – ly and are not adverbs (i.e. elderly, likely, lonely, silly, ugly), and there is a group of words that can function as both (i.e. deep, early, fast, hard, high, late, long, low, near, right, straight, wrong).

We must pay attention to irregular adjectives, such as good and bad. In this pair, ‘good’ is an adjective, and ‘well’ is its adverb. The opposites are ‘bad’ and ‘badly. For instance, ‘Natasha is a good violinist’ (adjective) and ‘She plays the violin very well’ (adverb). ‘Well’ can also be an adjective meaning ‘in good health’, the opposite of ‘ill’, as in ‘My father was ill, but he’s quite well now’.

As we can see, there is a regular correspondence between adjectival and adverbial phrases regarding semantic properties, as in ‘We did some hard work’ (adjective) and ‘We worked hard’ (adverb). In this correspondence, according to Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), most intensifying adjectives may be related to adverbs (i.e. certain -certainly, clear-clearly, complete -completely) as well as restrictive adjectives (i.e. main-mainly, particular-particularly, exact-exactly). Thus, ‘Rather enthusiastic, the man opened the letter ’ and ‘Rather enthusiastically, the man opened the letter’. In this function, the adverb phrase is like the adjective phrase in referring to an attribute of the subject: ‘The man, who was rather enthusiastic, opened the letter’.

(4) A contingent adjective clause is one type of verbless clause, which is often introduced by a subordinator, expressing the circumstance or condition of what is said. For instanc e, in the sentences ‘(Whether) right or wrong, he always does what he wants’; ‘When fit, the Labrador is an excellent retriever’, ‘If wet, do not place those shoes near the heat’. When the contingent clause refer to the object of the clause, this appears in final position, as in ‘You must eat it when ready’.

(5) Another type refers to exclamatory clauses, which deals with adjectives that function as the head of an adjective phrase that is an exclamation. For instance, ‘How good of you! / How interesting! / Brilliant!

(6) Finally, within other predicative constructions, we must highlight that of discontinuous modifier, which refers to comparative and superlative forms directly. This type, together with that of finite clauses will be dealt with in next section under the heading of ‘the expression of degree and comparison’.


The expression of degree and comparison is to be drawn from the grammatical category of adjectives and adverbs, apart from other type of constructions related to them. As stated before, the prototypical adjective is gradable (i.e. beautiful, long, wide ), and as such takes degree expressions, that is, by means of adverbs functioning as modifiers (i.e. almost, as, how, much, pretty, quite, rather, so, this, that, too, very and such –ly adverbs). Moreover, a special case of degree specification is comparison, which is expressed either inflectionally (-er/-est) or analytically (more/most) by means of degree adverbs.

Following Quirk (1973), gradable adjectives refer to qualitative adjectives where we measure ‘the amount of quality’ someone or something has by comparison (i.e. Anna is more/less talkative than Susanne), and also by scalar correspondences (i.e. funny-hilarious, tiny-little). It is worth pointing out that restrictive adjectives are non-gradable (i.e. atomic, anthropological) and therefore, not submitted to the expression of degree or comparison. Hence, in next sections we shall examine the different ways of expressing degree and comparison in terms of modifiers, morphological formation processes, and many more aspects.

4.1. The expression of degree.

Following Huddleston (1988) on the expression of degree, it should be borne in mind that not all adjectives permit degree modification since there are a significant number of non-gradables like anthropological, linguistic, or parliamentary which denote categorial as opposed to scalar properties. Moreover, very often an adjective that is non-gradable in its central, most basic sense can be used in an extended sense as gradable.

For instance, nationality adjectives like Spanish, for example, are primarily categorial since someone or something either belongs to this category or not; but they can be used in a secondary sense denoting a gradable property, as in ‘He’s very Spanish’, meaning ‘very much like the Spanish stereotype’. Similarly golden is categorial in its primary sense (‘made of gold’), but gradable in a metaphorical sense (‘valuable, significant, worth’).

So far, since gradability is mainly drawn from adjectives and adverbs, and consequently adverbials of degree add a special semantic component to the value of a sentence, we may distinguish three main types of expressing degree: (1) by means of modifiers, (2) by means of semantic fields in scalar associations, and (3) by comparison, either inflectionally or analytically.

4.1.1. By means of pre-modifiers: intensifying adverb phrases.

The use of modifiers implies the use of adverbs in pre-modifier position, and therefore, the use of intensifying adverb phrases which are broadly concerned with the semantic category of degree. They indicate an increase or decrease of the intensity with which a predication (usually containing an attitudinal verb) is expressed in middle position (very useful, extremely difficult, fairly easy, surprisingly honest, so utterly banal, far more interesting, quite exceptionally brave, and hardly unbelievable ).

According to Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), on the one hand, increased intensification to various degrees is realized by amplifiers, as in ‘They fully appreciate the problem, ‘He has completely ignored me’, ‘She was badly injured’, and ‘How much they must have gone through!’. On the other hand, decreased intensification to various degrees is realized by downtoners, as in ‘They have practically forced him to eat’, ‘In spite of his manners, I rather like him’, ‘She sort of laughed at me’, ‘I was only joking’, and ‘He didn’t in the least enjoy the party’, among others.

Other adverb phrases as modifiers may indicate frequency (i.e. usually, frequently, occassionally, rarely, seldom, and so on); time (i.e. previously, normally, recently, permanently ); manner (i.e. coldly, surgically, microscopically, accidentally ); respect (i.e. legally, formally ); courtesy (i.e. kindly, cordially, politely); intentionality (i.e. consistently, intentionally, reluctanctly); emphasis (i.e. really, just, simply, certainly ); and also, focusing items (i.e. merely, not, only, also ). Moreover, qualitative adjectives may pre-modify adjectives as well (i.e. She has got long dark curly hair).

4.1.2. By means of associative semantic fields.

Regarding the expression of degree by means of semantic associative groups in a scale, we may find it in almost all grammatical categories. For instance, in nouns (i.e. baby, child, boy, teenager, adult, old people); in adjectives (i.e. ugly, pretty, beautiful, stunning); in verbs (i.e. whisper, chat, talk, shout, shriek, roar); in adverbs (i.e. never, sometimes, often, usually, always ) and prepositions (i.e. in-out, from-to, up -down).

4.1.3. By comparison: degree specification.

And finally, the expression of degree by means of comparison, which is a special case of degree specification. On comparing people or things, as bearers of a certain quality or characteristic, we do it by means of degree specification, thus in terms of positive, comparative, and superlative comparison. In order to carry out comparison, we need that at least two people or things are involved, either individually or in groups (Greenbaum & Quirk, 1990).

First of all, the positive degree of comparison expresses quality in its most simple form (i.e. a good man, a tall boy); second, the comparative degree expresses quality in a higher degree, comparing

implicitly or explicitly at least two things (i.e. a better man, he is better than me/us ); third, the superlative expresses quality in its highest degree, even by comparing more than one thing (i.e. He is the best man in the world/of the family ) or not comparing, just by expressing an absolute superlative (i.e. It is most interesting). Note that the prepositional phrase following it is ‘in’ when we deal with places, and ‘of’ when it is anything else.

Comparison by degree specification may be expressed either inflectionally, as in bigger and biggest, the comparative and superlative forms of big , or analytically, by means of the degree adverbs more and most, as in ‘more relevant, most relevant’. For the most part only stems of one or two syllables inflect, and indeed not all of these permit inflectional comparison. But we shall examine this issue in depth in next section.

4.2. The expression of comparison.

The expression of comparison shall be examined in terms of: types of comparison and definition, formation processes (inflectional and analytic al ones), and spelling and pronunciation rules. We will refer to comparative and superlative forms, both formed on the positive form, which accounts for providing a base form and for the comparison of equality. With these formation rules, then, we shall provide a firm basis to the analysis of the expression of comparison in English adjectives.

4.2.1. Types of comparison: definition.

Following Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), gradable adjectives and adverbs are defined in terms of three types of comparison: (1) to a lower degree, (2) to the same degree, and (3) to a higher degree. The lower degree: inferiority.

The first type, the lower degree is also called comparative of inferiority. As the name indicates, this type of comparison means that one of the two items compared is explicitly inferior in degree than the other one (i.e. My car is less expensive than yours).

In this case, in English we rather use another structure referred to as the comparative of inequality, thus ‘not so/as + adjective in positive form + as’, as in ‘My car is not so expensive as yours’ (Zandvoort, 1972). As we may note, the usual structure is formed by the adverb ‘less + adjective + than + (reduced) comparative clause or noun phrase’ (i.e. …than your car is/yours).

4.2.1. 2. The same degree: equality.

The second type, the same degree is also called comparative of equality. As the name indicates, this type of comparison means that the two items compared are equal in degree (i.e. He is as tall as she is/her ). The structure is formed by the discontinuous modifiers ‘so/as + adjective in positive degree + as + (reduced) comparative clause or noun phrase (i.e. She is as pretty as her sister/her).

We also use other structures like ‘as … as ’ in affirmative sentences and ‘not so … as’ and ‘not as … as’ in negative ones. Moreover, we have alternative structures which indicate similar semantic features by means of prepositional phrases, using ‘like’ as a linking verb (i.e. You look like an actor / you are as attractive as an ac tor’). If similarity is so precise, we may also use ‘the same as + pronoun/noun phrase/object) or a special structure to contrast (i.e. The longer I do exercise, the happier I am).

Examine the sentence ‘He is as tall as she/her/she is’. Note that after the second element ‘as’ we may use a personal pronoun (she ), and object (her) or pronoun + verb (she is). We may also use ‘as much … as’ for non-count nouns (i.e. He has as much money as you ), and ‘as many … as’ with count nouns (i.e. He has as many book s as you). The higher degree: superiority.

And finally, the third type, to a higher degree is also called comparative of superiority. As its name indicates, this type of comparison means that the item referred to may be compared (comparative) or not (superlative) with respect to a group of possessors of a quality (i.e. He’s taller than her/He is the tallest).

The structures used are formed, in the comparative and superlative either by suffixes (i.e. ‘adjective + -er + than; adjective + -est + in/of …’) or analytic structures (i.e. ‘more + adjective + than + (reduced) comparative clause or noun phrase’; ‘the most + adjective + in/of …’). It is within this one that we shall develop the rest of the unit, on the formation of comparatives and superlatives forms.

Before moving on to next section, we must point out that comparative and superlative forms also have different types. For instance, regarding comparatives, we may distinguish several types, apart from the comparative of superiority. Thus, first, two comparatives related to idiomatic expressions: the comparative of gradation, which is related t and which denotes a quality that increases gradually (i.e. He is getting more and more impatient everyday) and the comparison of proportion, in which the two qualities increase at the same time (i.e. The more he ran, the more I chased him). And second, the so-called absolute comparative, which makes reference to a ‘contrast’ instead of a

‘comparison’ (i.e. The former idea was better than the latter one).

Regarding superlatives, we mainly distinguish three types. Thus, first, the relative superlative, which addresses to quality measurement within a group, highlighting the quality in one (or more) possessors within that group (i.e. Which is your car? The cleanest). Second, the absolute superlative, which addresses to quality in its higher degree (i.e. Which film did you like most? ). And finally, we refer to the superlative preceded by a possessive structure, which is addressed from the semantic field by using the structure most + positive form (i.e. They sang their loudest=They sang as loud as they could).

4.2.2. Formation processes.

In order to introduce the comparison formation processes, first we must establish two relevant distinctions regarding on the one hand, regular and irregular comparison, and on the other hand, short and long adjectives since the number of syllables a word has shall determine how to apply correctly the inflectional or analytical rules of comparative formation. Regular formation processes: short and long adjectives.

In general, comparison by inflection is characteristic of monosyllabic (tall – taller – tallest) and disyllabic adjectives (pretty-prettier-prettiest) whereas analytic processes are characteristic of adjectives with three or more syllables (more interesting-most interesting). Thus, following Aarts (1988): One and two-syllable adjectives.

One-syllable adjectives (i.e. short, tall, big, hot) and most two-syllable adjectives (i.e. dirty, simple, clever, early ) take inflectional suffixes to form the comparative (-er) and the superlative degrees (– est). Following Huddleston (1988), in regular adjectives the comparative and superlative inflectional forms result respectively from adding to the le xical stem the suffix /schwa + r/ and either /ist/ or /schwa + st/ when these are regional or social variants.

Note that some two-syllable adjectives usually have the alternative of analytical processes to form their comparative and superlative forms (i.e. commoner/more common – commonest/the most common; pleasanter/more pleasant – pleasantest/most pleasant). Often, those ending in –ful or –re take analytical processes (i.e. doubtful – more doubtful – most doubtful; obscure – more obscure – most obscure) and those stressed on the second syllable or ending in –e, –er, -y, –ly, -ow or syllabic /l/, usually add –er or –est (i.e. brave-braver-bravest; clever-cleverer-cleverest; happy-happier- happiest; silly -sillier-silliest; narrow–narrower–narrowest; feeble -feebler-feeblest). Adjectives with three or more syllables.

However, adjectives with three or more syllables (trisyllabic or longer adjectives) only take analytical structures for the comparative (more … than ) and the superlative (the most … in/of ). Adjectives that usually follow analytical processes are those ending in (a) –ful or less (i.e. careful, helpful, useful, hopeless); (b) –ing or –ed (i.e. boring, willing, annoyed, surprised ); (c) and many others, such as afraid, certain correct, eager, exact, famous, foolish, frequent, modern, nervous,

normal, recent and so on. Yet, according to Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), adjectives with the negative un- prefix, such as unhappy and untidy, are exceptions (i.e. unhappier -unhappiest; untidieruntidiest). Comparison of adverbs.

Moreover, following Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), we can also compare adverbs since for the inflected forms used for comparison in adjectives are the same as those for adjectives (i.e. carefully- more carefully-the mo st carefully ). As with adjectives, then, there is a small group of irregular adverbs with comparatives and superlatives formed from different stems.

The comparative and superlative inflections are identical with those for the corresponding adjectives good, bad, and far, and the quantifiers much and little (i.e. badly-worse -worst; well- better -best; little-less (lesser)-least; far-farther/further-farthest/furthest; much-more-most). As we can observe, adverbs are identical in form with adjectives when taking inflections, for instance: fast, hard, late, long and quick. They follow the same spelling and phonological rules as for adjectives (i.e. fast-faster-fastest; long -longer-longest).

We find three forms here that have two comparatives and two superlatives:first, (i) late-later/latter- the latest/the last, in which the comparative form ‘later’ means ‘afterwards’ whereas ‘latter’ means

‘the last one’ (vs. former ‘the first one’), and the superlative form ‘the latest’ means ‘the most recent’ (i.e. His latest novel = he can still write more) whereas ‘the last’ means ‘the last in a lifetime’ (i.e. His last novel = he died and cannot write any more novels) or ‘the previous one’ (i.e. last year=the previous year ).

(ii) Second, old-older/elder-the oldest/the eldest, in which ‘older’ and ‘the oldest’ refer to ‘age’ whereas ‘elder’ and ‘the eldest’ refer to the order of birth of members of a family. Compare the following sentences: ‘Mathew is older than me (=age) vs. Mathew is my elder brother (=order of birth in my family). Note that only ‘older’ is followed by the particle ‘than’.

(iii) Third, far-farther/further -the farthest/the furthest, in which ‘farther’ and ‘the farthest’ refer to ‘space or time in the future’ (i.e. Madrid is farther from Cartagena than Caravaca vs. We need a further meeting’) and ‘further’ and ‘the furthest’ refer to ‘the notion of more, of summation’ (i.e. Have you any further information?). We may observe that farther/further are very similar in the last case. The notions of quantity and quality in comparison.

Moreover, for our purposes (Eastwood, 1999), the notions of quantity and quality, in particular, are reflected in the quantifiers much and little For instance, in the comparative forms of ‘little’ (less/lesser), ‘less’ is related to nouns with uncountable associations, and denotes quantity in a scale of measurement (less vs. more) whereas ‘lesser’ is related to nouns with countable associations and denotes quality or value. Thus, compare the sentences ‘She should eat less food if she wants to be fitvs. ‘She is lesser woman than her sister’. As we may observe, the comparative forms are placed in a scale of measurement regarding count and non-count nouns. Adjectives which do not function as adjectives.

Another point to hightlight in this section is the use of adjectives in comparative forms that do not accept any degree of comparison due to semantic properties or their intrinsic nature (Sánchez Benedito, 1975). We refer to: (a) adjectives regarding ‘time’ (i.e. annual, monthly ); (b) regarding material (i.e. wooden, golden); (c) shape (i.e. square, round); (d) extreme qualities (i.e. perfect, eternal, supernatural). As seen, there are no grammatical reasons involved in these cases, just semantic.

Again, we find those adjectives which, when added –er, cannot be followed by ‘than’ (i.e. former, latter, inner, outer, neither, upper, and so on) since it expresses contrast and not degree, as in ‘my former teacher’, ‘the latter point’, the inner truth’, and so on. Similarly, the superlative ‘most’ indicates ‘placement’ and not a quality (i.e. innermost, outmost, upmost, topmost, and so on) as in ‘The topmost window of the building’. Semantic properties of adjectives in comparison.

And finally, we shall point out the semantic properties of comparative forms in adjectives when these are drawn from Latin sources, ending in –or (i.e. major, minor, exterior, interior, junior, senior, and many more). In these cases, they are not followed by ‘than’ but by the preposit ion ‘to’ (i.e. He thinks he superior to them and he is wrong). Irregular formation processes.

Also, a number of adjectives have irregular degrees of comparison (i.e. bad – worse – worst; far – farther/further – fartherst/furthest; good – better – best) in opposition to the adjectives that do not inflect for comparison and are modified by the adverbs more and most (i.e. expensive – more expensive – most expensive; intelligent – more intelligent – most intelligent; mysterious – more mysterious – most mysterious).

Moreover, there are certain adjectives that are not considered to be a true comparative since first, they function as adverbs, and second, they cannot be followed by ‘than’. For instance, the pairs bad/ill, good/well, and older/elder. Note the sentence ‘My sister is three years elder than me’, in which the adjective ‘elder’ , usually substituted by ‘older’ in attributive sentences, is not correctly used here. It is worth remembering, in addition, that adverbs, as seen above, also have irregular forms (i.e. badly -worse-worst).

4.2.3. Spelling changes.

We note that in some cases suffixation is accompanied by first, spelling changes and second, phonological modification of the stem. Thus, regarding (a) changes in spelling, there are some special spelling rules for the addition of –er and –est to the base form of the adjective:

(1) Adjectives whose positive form ends in –e/-ee, are only added the suffixes –r or –st (i.e. brave- braver-bravest; free-freer-freest).

(2) Adjectives whose positive form ends in a single short vowel letter + single consonant letter, double the consonant (i.e. hot-hotter-hottest; fit-fitter-fittest). However, when the only single consonant at the end is –w, it is not doubled (i.e. new-newer -newest).

This spelling process is characteristic of one-syllable adjectives although the rule about doubling is also true for words of more than one syllable (i.e. permit = per + mit : permitted), but only if the last syllable is stressed. Note that we do not usually double a con sonant when the syllable is unstressed (i.e. open – opened; enter- entering ). An exception is that in British English ‘l’ is usually doubled, even if the syllable is unstressed (i.e. cancel-cancelled; travel-travelled, but traveled (US).

clip_image001(3) Adjectives whose positive form ends in –y, have two possibilities. First, if the sequence is consonant + y, final –y is changed to –i (i.e. happy – happier). However, if the sequence we find is vowel + y, it does not change (i.e. grey-greyer-greyest).

4.2.4. Phonological changes.

It is worth remembering that, suffixation (the addition of –er and –est) is not only accompanied of changes in spelling but also in pronunciation. For instance, we may observe the following changes:

(1) First, the liquid consonant /r/, usually silent in final position and pronounced schwa, is pronounced when the comparative and superlative suffixes are added (i.e. clever-cleverer- cleverest).

(2) Second, the lateral consonant /l/, usually pronounced as dark ‘l’ in the positive degree, turns into clear ‘l’ when comparative and superlative suffixes are added (i.e. noble -nobler-noblest).

(3) And finally, according to Huddleston (1988), stems spelled with final –ng are in most varieties pronounced with final ‘nasal n’ when word-final, but with /nasal n + g/ when followed by an inflectional suffix (i.e. long – longer).


The various aspects of the expression of quality dealt with in this study is relevant to the learning of the vocabulary of a foreign language since differences between the vocabulary of the learner’s native language (L1) and that of the foreign language (L2) may lead to several problems, such as the incorrect use of quality expressions, especially because of the syntactic, morphological, and semantic processes carried out in the formation of comparative and superlative forms, as well as comparison at the same degree still problematic for Spanish students of English.

This study has looked at the expression of quality within lexical semantics, morphology and syntax in order to establish a relative similarity between the two languages that Spanish-speaking students would find it useful for learning English if these connections were brought to their attention. An adult Spanish ESL student generally perceives that there is a great distance from Spanish to English, but a realization of how many words there are in common between current Spanish and English can offer a learner a ‘bridge’ to the new language.

The similarities and differences discussed in this study are based on a search for translation equivalence in order to make student study easier. Current communicative methods may frown on explicit teaching of similarities, but we must remember that learners search for equivalents and translate from the L2 no matter how much teachers preach against it; offering learners metalinguistic information about equivalents in lexical items simply makes it official. Learners use ‘hooks’ no matter how much teachers try to avoid them in a communicatively- based classroom .

It has been suggested that a methodology grounded in part in the application of explicit linguistic knowledge enhances the second language learning process. In the Spanish curriculum (B.O.E.

2002), the expression of quality is understood is envisaged from earlier stages (ESO) up to higher stages (Bachillerato), in terms of simple descriptions of people, things, and places in the lower stages and more complex descriptions in the upper stages.

The expression of quality, that is, comparing items has been considered an important element of language teaching because of its high-frequency in speech. We must not forget that the expression of quality is mainly drawn from closed class categories, such as adjectives and adverbs, which have a high- medium frequency of use when speaking or writing.

Hence, the importance of how to handle these expressions cannot be understated since you cannot communicate without it. Current communicative methods foster the ‘teaching’ of this kind of specific linguistic information to help students recognize new L2 words. Learners cannot do it all on their own. Language learners, even 2nd year Bachillerato students, do not automatically recognize similiarities which seem obvious to teachers; learners need to have these associations brought to their attention.

So far, we have attempted in this discussion to provide a broad account of the expression of quality between Spanish and English that we hope prove successful and complete.


Although the questions What is your house like? or Can you describe me? may appear simple and straightforward, they imply a broad description of the means that make an appropriate answer suitable for students and teachers, which may be so simple if we are dealing with ESO students, using simple grammatical structures and basic vocabulary, or so complex if we are dealing with Bachillerato students, who must be able to describe people, places, and things using more complex vocabulary and grammatical structures. So far, in this study we have attempted to take a fairly broad view of the expression of quality since we are also assuming that there is an intrinsic connexion between its learning and successful communication.

Yet, we have provided a descriptive account of Unit 14, untitled The Expression of Quality and the expression of degree and comparison, whose main aim was to introduce the student to the different ways of expressing quality in English by means of comparison. In doing so, the study provided a broad account the notion of quality, sta rting by a theoretical framework in order to get some key terminology on the issue, and further developed within a grammar linguistic theory, described in syntactic terms as we were dealing with syntactic structures.

Once the notion of quality was presented, we discussed how adjectives, adverbs, and other constructions reflected this notion. Obviously, so many items with so many different terminology can make students feel unable to learn all the rules and exceptions involved in it. However, current communicative methodology is intended to give a better account of the relation between form and speech when communicating.

In fact, lexical items and vocabulary, and therefore, the expresión of quality, is currently considered to be a central element in communicative competence and in the acquisition of a second language since students must be able to describe people, things, and places in their everyday life in many different situations. As stated before, the teaching of quality expressions comprises four major components in our educational curriculum: phonology, grammar, lexicon, and semantics, out of which we get five major levels: phonological, morphological and syntactic, lexical, and semantic.

In fact, for our students to express quality properly, they must have a good knowledge at all those levels. First, on phonology which describes the sound level, that is, how to pronounce the different ways of comparison and adjectives. Secondly, since the two most basic units of grammar are the word and the sentence, they must have good grammatical knowledge, which invoves the morphological level (i.e. the internal structure of adjectives) and the syntactic level (i.e. the way words combine to form comparatives).

Third, the lexicon, or lexical level, lists vocabulary items, that is, different adjectives, adverbs, and other expressions to denote quality, specifying how they are pronounced, how they behave grammatically, and what they mean. Finally, another dimension between the study of linguistic form and the study of meaning is semantics, or the semantic level, to which all four of the major

components are related, specially for those ways of expressing quality since it marks relevant

differences in similar sentences.

Therefore, it is a fact that students must handle the four levels in communicative competence in order to be effectively and highly communicative in the classroom and in real life situations. The expression of quality proves highly frequent in our everyday speech, and consequently, we must encourage our students to have a good managing of it.


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