Adjectives and its grammatical specifics

The general definition of an adjective as parts of speech and its research both with theoretical, and from the practical point of view. Definition of use of an adjective, its syntactic functions, positions in the offer, and grammatical specific features.

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The Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Kazakh Abylai Khan University of International Relation and World Languages

Chair of Grammar

Course paper

The theme: Adjectives and its grammatical specifics.

Done by: Kalybayeva Assem (220)

Supervisor: Dzapparova Nailyam Polatzhanovna

Almaty, 2009


I. Introduction

II. Theoretical part

1.1 Definition of the adjective

1.2 Degrees of comparison

1.3 Classification of adjectives

1.4 Substantivization of adjectives

1.5 Syntactic functions

1.6 Position of adjectives

1.7 Order of adjectives

III. Practical part

IV. Conclusion

V. Literature


The theme of the course paper is “The adjective and its grammatical specifics”. This theme arouse my interest as the adjective is one of the constituent traditional eight parts of speech, which modify a noun or a pronoun and give more information about its referent like its material, color, state, dimension.

The aim of my course paper is to investigate the adjectives as from theoretical point of view, so from practical, and define the use of adjective, its syntactic functions, position in the sentence. Moreover to give general definition of the adjective and compare with those languages which don't have adjectives.

The object of the course work is that, in practical part I observed the information that was given in theoretical part and showed their usage in tables and slides.

The subject of my course paper is the adjective.

Methods of investigation are the method of observation, the method of comparing the adjectives of English language with the adjectives of other languages. Also I used Deductive-Inductive, Inductive-Deductive methods to introduce the usage of adjectives.

The tasks of the course paper:

1) To give general information about the adjective.

2) To solve the problematic issue about the degrees of comparison.

3) To dwell on the classification of the adjectives.

4) To dwell on the question of adjectivids.

5) To define syntactic functions, position, and order of adjectives in the sentence.

Theoretical value is that I investigated the viewpoint of different scholars about the adjectives and its grammatical specifics.

Practical value is that having observed all the information, I showed the usage of adjectives in tables and slides.

Theoretical part

1 1 Definition of the adjective

In grammar, an adjective is a word whose main syntactic role is to modify a noun or pronoun, giving more information about the noun or pronoun's referent such as it's material, color, dimensions, position, state and other characteristics both permanent and temporary. Collectively, adjectives form one of the traditional English eight parts of speech. Not all languages have adjectives, but most, including English, do. (English adjectives include big, old, and tired, among many others.) Those that do not, typically use words of another part of speech, often verbs, to serve the same semantic function; for example, such a language might have a verb that means "to be big", and would use a construction analogous to "big-being house" to express what English expresses as "big house". Even in languages that do have adjectives, one language's adjective might not be another's; for example, while English uses "to be hungry" (hungry being an adjective), French uses "avoir faim" (literally "to have hunger"), and where Hebrew uses the adjective "жчеч" (zaqыq, roughly "in need of"), English uses the verb "to need".

1.2 Degrees of comparison

The category of adjectival comparison expresses the quantitative characteristic of the quality of a nounal referent, i.e. it gives a relative evaluation of the quantity of a quality. The purely relative nature of the categorial semantics of comparison is reflected in its name. The category is constituted by the opposition of the three forms known under the heading of degrees of comparison: the basic form (positive degree), having no features of comparison; the comparative degree form, having the feature of restricted .superiority (which limits the comparison to two elements only); the superlative degree form, having the feature of unrestricted superiority. It should be noted that the meaning of unrestricted superiority is in-built in the superlative degree as such, though in practice this form is used in collocations imposing certain restrictions on the effected comparison; thus, the form in question may be used to signify restricted superiority, namely, in cases where a limited number of referents are compared. Cf.:

Johnny was the strongest boy in the company.

As is evident from the example, superiority restriction is shown here not by the native meaning of the superlative, but by the particular contextual construction of comparison where the physical strength of one boy is estimated in relation to that of his companions. Some linguists approach the number of the degrees of comparison as problematic on the grounds that the basic form of the adjective does not express any comparison by itself and therefore should be excluded from the category. This exclusion would reduce the category to two members only, i.e. the comparative and superlative degrees. However, the oppositional interpretation of grammatical categories underlying our considerations does not admit of such exclusion; on the contrary, the non-expression of superiority by the basic form is understood in the oppositional presentation of comparison as a pre-requisite for the expression of the category as such. In this expression of the category the basic form is the unmarked member, not distinguished by any comparison suffix or comparison auxiliary, while the superiority forms (i.e. the comparative and superlative) are the marked members, distinguished by the comparison suffixes or comparison auxiliaries. That the basic form as the positive degree of comparison does express this categorial idea, being included in one and the same calegorial series with the superiority degrees, is clearly shown by its actual uses in comparative syntactic constructions of equality, as well as comparative syntactic constructions of negated equality.

Cf.: The remark was as bitter as could be

The Rockies are not so high as the Caucasus.

These constructions are directly correlative with comparative constructions of inequality built around the comparative and superlative degree forms.

Cf.: That was the bitterest remark I have ever heard from the man.

The Caucasus is higher than the Rockies.

Thus, both formally and semantically, the oppositional basis of the category of comparison displays a binary nature. In terms of the three degrees of comparison, on the upper level of presentation the superiority degrees as the marked member of the opposition are contrasted against the positive degree as its unmarked member. The superiority degrees, in their turn, form the opposition of the lower level of presentation, where the comparative degree features the functionally weak member, and the superlative degree, respectively, and the strong member. The whole of the double oppositional unity, considered from the semantic angle, constitutes a gradual ternary opposition. The synthetical forms of comparison in -er and -(e)st coexist with the analytical forms of comparison effected by the auxiliaries more and most. The analytical forms of comparison perform a double function. On the one hand, they are used with the evaluative adjectives that, due to their phonemic structure (two-syllable words with the stress on the first syllable ending in other grapho-phonemic complexes than -er, -y, -le, -ow or words of more than two-syllable composition) cannot normally take the synthetical forms of comparison. In this respect, the analytical comparison forms are in categorial complementary distribution with the synthetical comparison forms. On the other hand, the analytical forms of comparison, as different from the synthetical forms, are used to express emphasis, thus complementing the synthetical forms in the sphere of this important stylistic connotation. Cf.: The audience became more and more noisy, and soon the speaker's words were drowned in the general hum of voices. The structure of the analytical degrees of comparison is meaningfully overt; these forms are devoid of the feature of "semantic idiomatism" characteristic of some other categorial analytical forms, such as, for instance, the forms of the verbal perfect. For this reason the analytical degrees of comparison invite some linguists to call in question their claim to a categorial status in English grammar. In particular, scholars point out the following two factors in support of the view that the combinations of more/most with the basic form of the adjective are not the analytical expressions of the morphological category of comparison, but free syntactic constructions: first, the more/most-combinations are semantically analogous to combinations of less/least with the adjective which, in the general opinion, are syntactic combinations of notional words; second, the most-combination, unlike the synthetic superlative, can take the indefinite article, expressing not the superlative, but the elative meaning (i.e. a high, not the highest degree of the respective quality). The reasons advanced, though claiming to be based on an analysis of actual lingual data, can hardly be called convincing as regards their immediate negative purpose. Let us first consider the use of the most-combillation with the indefinite article. This combination is a common means of expressing elative evaluations of substance properties. The function of the elative most-construction in distinction to the function of the superlative most-'construction will be seen from the following examples: The speaker launched a most significant personal attack on the Prime Minister. The most significant of the arguments in a dispute is not necessarily the most spectacular one. While the phrase "a most significant (personal) attack" in the first of the two examples gives the idea of rather a high degree of the quality expressed irrespective of any directly introduced or implied comparison with other attacks on the Prime Minister, the phrase "the most significant of the arguments" expresses exactly the superlative degree of the quality in relation to the immediately introduced comparison with all the rest of the arguments in a dispute; the same holds true of the phrase "the most spectacular one". It is this exclusion of the outwardly superlative adjective from a comparison that makes it into a simple elative, with its most-constituent turned from the superlative auxiliary into a kind of a lexical intensifier. The definite article with the elative most-construction is also possible, if leaving the elative function less distinctly recognizable (in oral speech the elative most is commonly left unstressed, the absence of stress serving as a negative mark of the elative).

Cf.: I found myself in the most awkward situation, for I couldn't give a satisfactory answer to any question asked by the visitors.

Now, the synthetical superlative degree, as is known, can be used in the elative function as well, the distinguishing feature of the latter being its exclusion from a comparison.

Cf.: Unfortunately, our cooperation with Danny proved the worst experience for both of us. No doubt Mr. Snider will show you his collection of minerals with the greatest pleasure. And this fact gives us a clue for understanding the expressive nature of the elative superlative as such the nature that provides it with a permanent grammatico-stylistic status in the language. Indeed, the expressive peculiarity of the form consists exactly in the immediate combination of the two features which outwardly contradict each other: the categorial form of the superlative on the one hand, and the absence of a comparison on the other. That the categorial form of the superlative (i.e. the superlative with its general functional specification) is essential also for the expression of the elative semantics can, however paradoxical it might appear, be very well illustrated by the elative use of the comparative degree. Indeed, the comparative combination featuring the dative comparative degree is constructed in such a way as to place it in the functional position of unrestricted superiority, i.e. in the position specifically characteristic of the superlative.

E.g.: Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to greet you as our guest of honour.

There is nothing more refreshing than a good swim

1.3 Classification of adjectives

All the adjectives are traditionally divided into two large subclasses: qualitative and relative. Relative adjectives express such properties of a substance as are determined by the direct relation of the substance to some other substance.

E.g.: wood - a wooden hut; mathematics - mathematical precision; history - a historical event; table - tabular presentation; colour-coloured postcards; surgery -surgical treatment; the Middle Ages- mediaeval rites. The nature of this "relationship" in adjectives is best revealed by definitional correlations.

Cf.: a wooden hut - a hut made of wood; a historical event -an event referring to a certain period of history; surgical treatment- treatment consisting in the implementation of surgery; etc. Qualitative adjectives, as different from relative ones, denote various qualities of substances which admit of a quantitative estimation, i.e. of establishing their correlative quantitative measure. The measure of a quality can be estimated as high or low, adequate or inadequate, sufficient or insufficient, optimal or excessive.

Cf.: an awkward situation- a very awkward situation; a difficult task- too difficult a task; an enthusiastic reception- rather an enthusiastic reception; a hearty welcome- not a very hearty welcome; etc.

In this connection, the ability of an adjective to form degrees of comparison is usually taken as a formal sign of its qualitative character, in opposition to a relative adjective which is understood as incapable of forming degrees of comparison by definition.

Cf.: a pretty girl --a prettier girl; a quick look -a quicker look; a hearty welcome -the heartiest of welcomes; a bombastic speech- the most bombastic speech.

However, in actual speech the described principle of distinction is not at all strictly observed, which is noted in the very grammar treatises putting it forward. Two typical cases of contradiction should be pointed out here. In the first place, substances can possess such qualities as are incompatible with the idea of degrees of comparison. Accordingly, adjectives denoting these qualities, while belonging to the qualitative subclass, are in the ordinary use incapable of forming degrees of comparison. Here refer adjectives like extinct, immobile, deaf, final, fixed, etc. In the second place, many adjectives considered under the heading of relative still can form degrees of comparison, thereby, as it were, transforming the denoted relative property of a substance into such as can be graded quantitatively. Cf.: a mediaeval approach rather a mediaeval approach a far more mediaeval approach; of a military design of a less military design of a more military design; a grammatical topic ~ a purely grammatical topic the most grammatical of the suggested topics. In order to overcome the demonstrated lack of rigor in the definitions in question, we may introduce an additional linguistic distinction which is more adaptable to the chances of usage. The suggested distinction is based on the evaluative function of adjectives. According as they actually give some qualitative evaluation to the substance referent or only point out its corresponding native property, all the adjective functions may be grammatically divided into "evaluative" and "specificative". In particular, one and the same adjective, irrespective of its being basically (i.e. in the sense of the fundamental semantic property of its root constituent) "relative" or "qualitative", can be used either in the evaluative function or in the specificative function. For instance, the adjective good is basically qualitative. On the other hand, when employed as a grading term in teaching, i.e. a term forming part of the marking scale together with the grading terms bad, satisfactory, excellent, it acquires the said specificative value; in other words, it becomes a specificative, not an evaluative unit in the grammatical sense (though, dialectically, it does signify in this case a lexical evaluation of the pupil's progress). Conversely, the adjective wooden is basically relative, but when used in the broader meaning "expressionless" or "awkward" it acquires an evaluative force and, consequently, can presuppose a greater or lesser degree ("amount") of the denoted properly in the corresponding referent. E.g.: Bundle found herself looking into the expressionless, wooden face of Superintendent Battle (A. Christie). The superintendent was sitting behind a table and looking more wooden than ever.

1.4 Substantivization of adjectives

As is widely known, adjectives display the ability to be easily substantivized by conversion, i.e. by zero-derivation. Among the noun-converted adjectives we find both old units, well-established in the system of lexicon, and also new ones, whose adjectival etymology conveys to the lexeme the vivid colouring of a new coinage. For instance, the words a relative or a white or a dear bear an unquestionable mark of established tradition, while such a noun as a sensitive used in the following sentence features a distinct flavour of purposeful conversion:

He was a regional man, a man who wrote about sensitives who live away from the places where things happen.

Compare this with the noun a high in the following example:

The weather report promises a new high in heat and humidity.

From the purely categorial point of view, however, there is no difference between the adjectives cited in the examples and the ones given in the foregoing enumeration, since both groups equally express constitutive categories of the noun, i.e. the number, the case, the gender, the article determination, and they likewise equally perform normal nounal functions. On the other hand, among the substantivized adjectives there is a set characterized by hybrid lexico-grammatical features, as in the following examples: The new bill concerning the wage-freeze introduced by the Labour Government cannot satisfy either the poor, or the rich (Radio Broadcast). A monster. The word conveyed the ultimate in infamy and debasement inconceivable to one not native to the times (J. Vance). The train, indulging all his English nostalgia for the plushy and the genteel, seemed to him a deceit (M. Bradbury). The mixed categorial nature of the exemplified words is evident from their incomplete presentation of the part-of speech characteristics of either nouns or adjectives. Like nouns, the words are used in the article form; like nouns, they express the category of number (in a relational way); but their article and number forms are rigid, being no subject to the regular structural change inherent in the normal expression of these categories. Moreover, being categorially unchangeable, the words convey the mixed adjectival-nounal semantics of property. The adjectival-nounal words in question are very specific. They are distinguished by a high productivity and, like statives, are idiomatically characteristic of Modern English. On the analogy of verbids these words might be called "adjectivids", since they are rather nounal forms of adjectives than nouns as such. The adjectivids fall into two main grammatical subgroups, namely, the subgroup pluralia tantum {the English, the rich, the unemployed, the uninitiated, etc.), and the subgroup singularia tantum (the invisible, the abstract, the tangible, etc.). Semantically, the words of the first subgroup express sets of people (personal multitudes), while the words of the second group express abstract ideas of various types and connotations.

1.5 Syntactic functions

Adjectives may serve in the sentence as:

1) an attribute e.g. Do you see the small green boat, which has such an odd shape?

The Lights of the farm blazed out in the windy darkness.

Adjectives used as attributes usually immediately precede the noun. Normally there is no pause between the adjective and the noun. Such attributes are called close attributes.

However an adjective placed in pre-position to the noun may be separated from it by a pause. Then it becomes a loose attribute. e.g. Clever and tactful, George listened to my story with deep concern.

Yet loose attributes are often found in post-position to the noun.e.g. My father, happy and tired, kissed me good night.

2) a predicative e.g. Her smile was almost professional.

He looked mature, sober and calm.

3) part of a compound verbal predicate e.g. He stood silent, with his back turned to the window.

She lay motionless, as if she were asleep.

4) an objective predicative e.g. I thought him very intelligent.

She wore her hair short.

5) a subjective predicative e.g. The door was closed tight.

Her hair was dyed blonde.

It should be noted that most adjectives can be used both attributively and predicatively, but some, among them those beginning with a-, can be used only as predicative ( e.g. afraid, asleep, along, alive, awake, ashamed and also content, sorry, well, ill, due. etc.)

A few adjectives can be used only as attributes (e.g. outer, major, minor, only, whole, former, latter and some others)

1.6 Position of adjectives

1) Most adjectives can be used in a noun group, after determiners and numbers if there are any, in front of the noun. e.g. He had a beautiful smile.

She bought a loaf of white bread.

There was no clear evidence.

2) Most adjectives are normally used only after a link verb:

afraid asleep due ready unable

alive aware glad sorry well

alone content ill sure

for example, we can say “ she was glad”, but you do not talk about “a glad woman”. I wanted to be alone. We were getting ready for bed. I'm not sure. He didn't know whether to feel glad or sorry.

3) Some adjectives are normally used only in front of a noun:

eastern existing neighboring

northern atomic indoor

occasional southern countless

introductory outdoor

For example, we talk about “an atomic bomb”, but we do not say “The bomb was atomic”. He sent countless letters to the newspapers. This book includes a good introductory chapter on forests.

4) When we use an adjective to emphasize a strong feeling or opinion, it always comes in front of a noun.

absolute outright pure true

complete perfect real utter

Some of it was absolute rubbish. He made me feel like a complete idiot.

5) Some adjectives that describe size or age can come after a noun group consisting of a number or determiner and a noun that indicates the unit of measurement.

deep long tall wide

high old thick

He was about six feet tall. The water was several meters deep. The baby is nine months old. Note that you do not say “ two pounds heavy”, you say “two pounds in weight”

6) A few adjectives are used alone after a noun.

Designate ; elect ; galore ; incarnate ;

She was now the president elect. There are empty houses galore.

7) A few adjectives have a different meaning depending on whether they come in front of or after a noun.

concerned; involved; present; proper; responsible

For example, “the concerned mother” means a mother who is worried, but “the mother concerned” means the mother who has been mentioned.

Examples: It's one of those incredibly involved stories.

The people involved are all doctors.

I'm worried about the present situation.

Of the 18 people present, I knew only one.

Her parents were trying to act in a responsible manner.

We don't know the person responsible for his death.

1.7 Order of adjectives

1. We often want to add more information to a noun than you can with one adjective, so we need to use two or more adjectives. In theory, we can use adjectives in any order, depending on the quality you want to emphasize. In practice, however, there is a normal order.

When we use two or more adjectives in front of a noun, we usually put an adjective that express our opinion in front of an adjective that just describes something. e.g. You live in a nice big house. She was wearing a beautiful pink suit.

2. When we use more than one adjective to express our opinion, an adjective with a more general meaning such as “good”, “bad”, “nice”, or “lovely” usually comes before an adjective with a more specific meaning such as “comfortable”, “clean”, or “dirty”. e.g.

I sat in a lovely comfortable armchair in the corner. It was a horrible dirty room.

3. We can use adjectives to describe various qualities of people or things. For example: we might want to indicate their size, their shape, or the country they come from.

Descriptive adjectives belong to six main types, but we are unlikely ever to use all six types in the following order:

size / shape / age / color / nationality / material

This means that if we want to use an “age” adjective and a “nationality” adjective, we put the “age” adjective first.

We met some young Chinese girls.

Similarly, a “shape” adjective normally comes before a “color” adjective. E.g. He had round black eyes.

Other combinations of adjectives follow the same order. Note that “material” means any substance, not only cloth. E.g. There was a large round wooden table in the room.

4.We usually put comparative and superlative adjectives in front of other adjectives. e.g. Some of the better English actors have gone to live in Hollywood. These are the highest monthly figures on record.

5. When we use a noun in front of another noun, we never put adjectives between them. We put any adjectives in front of the first noun .e.g. He works in the French film industry.

He receives a large weekly cash payment.

6. When we use two adjectives as the complement of a link verb, we use a conjunction such as “and” to link them. With three or more adjectives, we link the last two with a conjunction, and put commas after the others .e.g. The day was hot and dusty.

The room was large but square.

The house was old, damp and smelly.

We felt hot, tired and thirsty.

Practical part

2.1 Definition of the adjective

to identify things or people

I want the small, red book.

They live in the house with green door.

2.2 Degrees of comparison

(a) Short adjectWith short adjectives, we make the comparative and superlative forms by adding -er, -est to the stem:

1. The cheaper plates are over there.

2. The Rhine is one of the dirtiest rivers

Notes: With adjectives that end in -y, such as in happy or dirty, we change the -y to -i and add -er, -est,as in happier- happiest, dirtier-dirtiest.

With some short adjectives such as big, red, fat, we double the last letter and add -er,-est, as in bigger-biggest, redder-reddest.
















Irregular adjectives

Some short adjectives have irregular comparative and superlative forms. Here are the common ones:
















(b)Long adjectives

With long adjectives, we put more, most before the adjective.

It's more expensive to travel on Fridays.

It's more dangerous on the southern slope.

2.3. Classification of adjectives

2.4 Substantivization of adjectives

Syntactic functions

Adjectives may serve in the sentence as:

2.6Position of adjectives

Order of adjectives


1) Opinion (how good?)

2) Size (how big)

3) Most other qualities

4) Age ( how old)

5) Color

6) Origin(where from)

7) Material( made of)

8) Type (what kind?)

9) Purpose (what for?)

A small green insect (size, color)

A wonderful new face creme. ( opinion, age, purpose)

Japanese industrial designers. ( origin, type)


To sum up my course work, the adjective is a word that describes a person or thing and identifies people and things. In my course paper I gave general definition of the adjective and tried to dwell on the degrees of comparison which consists of positive, comparative, and superlative degrees. Some linguists consider the number of the degree of comparison as problematic on the grounds that the basic form of the adjective does not express any comparison by itself and therefore should be excluded from the category. I also investigated the traditional divisions of the adjectives into qualitative and relative. All the adjective functions may be grammatically divided into evaluative and specificative. In particular, one and the same adjective despite the fact, that it is “relative” or “qualitative”, it can be used either in the evaluative function or in the spesificative.

Another important characteristic feature of the adjective that was investigated is that it can be easily substantivised.

The another task of my course paper was to show the syntactic function of the adjective which can serve in the sentence as attribute so predicative, part of a compound predicative, an objective and a subjective predicative. Moreover, the position and order of adjectives were very interesting issues to be studied.

During my course work I examined the viewpoints of different grammarians given about the adjective and its grammatical specifics. Except the theoretical part, where there was given a lot of information about above mentioned questions, in practical part I tried to show it in slides and diagrams, charts.

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