Ling 131: Language & Style
Topic 2 (session A) - Being creative with words and phrases > More on word classes > Adjectives
|(Semi) Automatic poetry|
|Introducing word classes|
|More on word classes|
|Manipulating word classes|
|Changing word class - affixation|
|Changing word class - functional conversion|
|New words for old|
|Word class problems|
|Word class checklist|
More on word classes - Adjectives
Adjectives prototypically 'refer' to the properties of nouns. They are often described to small children as 'describing words'. Let's take our fun noun, Mr Solid, and apply different adjectives to him. Here he is:
The difficulty with defining adjectives as 'referring' to properties of nouns is that there are plenty of adjectives which do not fit the specification. For example, some express value judgements on the part of a speaker or writer (e.g. 'excellent', 'awful'), some seem to be a mixture of property and value (e.g. 'graceful', 'handsome') and some adjectival 'properties' are not very property-like (e.g. 'ineffable', 'inexorable').
(b) Internal Form
It is possible to compare adjectives: that is to produce comparative and superlative versions of them by (a) adding comparative/superlative morphological endings ('-er' and '-est') or (b) inserting comparative/superlative words ('more', 'most') in front of them:
But not all adjectives can be compared. '*More male', '*maler', '*most male' and '*malest' sound very odd for example. This is because 'male' is a non-gradable adjective. It is easier to compare gradable adjectives (like 'happy') than non-gradable ones.
Other 'adjectival' endings
Many adjectives (but by no means all) end in '-y' (e.g. 'happy', 'rain'). And many nouns can be changed into adjectives by adding '-y'. Other suffixes which do a similar job are '-ous' ('generous') and '-al'('conical'):
But, of course, there are plenty of adjectives which do not have 'adjective endings' (e.g. 'red', 'green').
Functionally, adjectives typically have two roles:
1. They act as pre-modifers to the head nouns of noun phrases:
a big car
When they act as pre-modifiers in this way, they are normally positioned in between the determiner and noun modifier slots in the noun phrase:
a big estate car
2. They can be the headwords of adjective phrases:
My teachers are most incredibly charming
As we noted when looking at nouns, many words can be ambiguous with respect to word class. But the ambiguities can usually be resolved if we consider the functional context which the word is related to. So, 'red' can be a noun or a verb, but in 'a penny red' it is a noun and in 'a red stamp' it is an adjective.