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Adjectives

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An adjective describes the person, thing etc. which a noun refers to. We use adjectives to say what a person etc. is like or seems like. For example, adjectives can give us information about:

Quality: a beautiful girl/dress

Size: a big house, a small kitty

Age: a new handbag, a young man, an old man

Temperature: a cool evening, a hot summer

Shape: a round table, a square box

Colour: a blue car, grey hair, a white horse

Origin: a Japanese camera, a Chinese table

 

Adjectives can be classifed according to their meanings into:

- stative/ dynamic,

- gradable/ non-gradable and


a) Stative/ Dynamic Adjectives

 Stative adjectives cannot be used with –ing ver forms and with imperative:

*He is being tall. nor *Be tall!

and dynamic can: He is being naughty/careful. Don\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t be naughty. Be careful.

Here are some examples of dynamic adjectives: awkward, brave, calm, careless, cruel, extravagant, foolish, funny, good, greedy, impudent, irritable, jealous, naughty, noisy, rude, timid.

 

b) Gradable/ Non-gradable

According to whether they can be compared or not, adjectives can be divided into two classes: a large class of adjectives which can be graded ( gradable adjectives) and a small class that cannot be graded (non-gradable adjectives.)


1. Gradable adjectives

 An adjective is gradable when:

-we can us it with words like very, too and enough:

very good, too good, less good, not good enough

-we can form comparative and superlative form it

big bigger the biggest; good, better, the best etc.

Gradable adjectives can further be divided into two kinds:

- scale adjectives

- limit adjectives

Scale adjectives form their superlative and comparative forms in well-known ways which will be explained later. Also they can be used with adverbs intensifiers- that also is explained in further text.

Limit adjectives are adjectives whose meaning already contains an idea of an absolute degree. Therefore, they are not usually used in comparative and superlative forms. Here are some limit adjectives: perfect, huge, enormous, impossible, wonderful, marvellous, furious, terrified, blind, etc. If we want to express highest degree of these adjectives than we do not use standard superlative form as you could see described later in text, yet we use limit adjective combined with adverbs completely, absolutely, totally, utterly: completely impossible, totally furious etc.


2. Non-gradable adjectives

...are not usually used in comparative and superlative forms and they are not usually used with adverbs of degree. (*more atomic, *most atomic, *very dead.) Here are some non-gradable adjectives: round, wrong, unique, open, full, empty, square, circular, triangular, wooden, dead, left, electric, biological, French, English, monthly, previous, painted etc.

Just in some rare cases they can become gradable:

He’s more French than the real French. He is more dead than alive.

An adjective is non-gradable when:

-we cannot modify it (i.e we cannot use it with very, too etc)

-we cannot make a comparative or superlative from it: daily, dead, medical, unique, etc.

Learners may experience interference from their own language in relation to the following characteristics of adjectives in English:

- they do not very in form “agree” with nouns:

a tall man/woman/tree, tall men/women/trees

- they generally precede nouns when used as attributes:

a cool drink, a long day, a pretty dress

Also, in English language we have just few “real” adjectives. Real adjectives are mainly those which we use for describing physical features of things and live beings (their dimensions in the first place – wide, big, small etc.) as well as characters of human beings (fat, nice tall, honest etc). When English native speakers need some adjective that doesn’t exist, they simply use a noun in a place of an adjective- a flower garden, a fashion week, the car keys. The usage of nouns in the place of adjective is very common because of the lack of “real” adjectives.

 

1. Types of adjectives

We have:


1. Determiners:

- Demonstrative adjectives: this, these, that, those

- Possessive adjectives: a. from pronouns: my, your, his, her, its, our, their, one’s

b. from nouns: John’s, the girl’s etc.

- Numeral adjectives: a. cardinal: four, twenty-one, one hundred etc.

b. ordinal: fourth, twenty-fifth, one hundredth etc.

- Adjectives of indefinite quantity: some, few, all, more etc.

- Relative and interrogative adjectives: whose, what, which etc.

(!Note the difference: my (adjective) book vs. the book is mine (pronoun) )


2. Descriptive adjectives

- Proper adjectives: a Catholic church, a French style, a Shakespearean play

- Participial adjectives: a. present participle: an interesting book, a disappointing book, a

charming view, a trifling girt

b. past participle: a bored student, a worn jacket, a tired

housewife

- Adjective compounds: a good-looking girl, a heart-breaking story, a Spanish-speaking student, a long-suffering widow, a turned-up nose, new-born kittens, absent-minded, ill-tempered etc.

Although these adjectives are usually written with hyphens, it’s not obligatory, they can also be written without it: heartbreaking, newborn.

Descriptive adjectives usually indicate an inherent quality (beautiful, intelligent) or a physical state such as age, size, colour.

 

2. Function of adjectives

Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns.

A small boy – adjective small modifies the noun boy

He is small - adjective small modifies the pronoun he


3. Comparison of adjectives

First of all, let’s learn how to express the fact that two things or person have the same or similar quality or feature. “As....as” can combine with one-syllable adjectives and longer adjectives to show that two people, things are similar:

The hotel is as high as this building. My brother is as tall as you are.

The hotel is not as high as this building. My brother is not as tall as you are.

or: The hotel is not so high as this building. My brother is not so tall as you are.

So, the rule is that we put as before and after an adjective in positive form and in negative form we put not in front of the “first as” which can be changed with so.

A number of everyday expressions with “as + adjective+ as” are commonly in use:

as clear as crystal, as cold as ice, as good as gold, as light as feather, as old as the hills, as white as snow . These expressions became so common and used so often that speakers reduced it- the first as is usually dropped: cold as ice, light as feather etc.

“Not as....as” and “not so....as” is, as you can see, used to indicate lower degree.

When we come to comparison of adjectives we have to know that only gradable adjectives compare.

In English language adjectives have only three forms: positive, comparative and superlative.

Positive is a basic form in context of comparing adjectives- e.g tall. We make comparative form by adding the suffixer on the positive- taller, and superlative form is made by adding the suffix–est and we obligatory use definite article the in front of superlative form in a phrase or sentence- the tallest.

Most common adjectives are short words (usually one syllable and not more than two syllables). They form their comparatives and superlatives in this way:

Positive Comparative Superlative

1. clean cleaner cleanest

2. big bigger biggest

3. nice nicer nicest

4. tidy tidier tidiest

5. narrow narrower narrowest

1. Most of one-syllable adjectives form their comparatives and superlatives like clean:

-er and –est are added to their basic forms. Other examples like clean are: cold, cool, great, hard, high, low, neat, new, small, thick, weak.

2. Many one-syllable adjectives end with a single consonant after a single-vowel letter. ( big- “i”- single-vowel letter, there are no two “i” letters, and “g”- single consonant, there are no two “g” letters.) This last consonant doubles in the comparative and superlative like in the case of big. Other examples like big are: fat fatter, fattest; sad sadder, saddest; thin, thinner, thinnest; wet, wetter, wettest. Compare adjectives like full, small, tall etc. which end with a double consonant (they have two “l” letters in the end) and form their comparatives and superlatives like clean: tall, taller, tallest; full, fuller, fullest; small, smaller, smallest.

3. Many one-syllable adjectives and in –e like nice. These add only –r in comparative, we do not –er because then we would have two “e” letters and we add only –st in superlative form from the same reason. Other examples like nice are: fine, large, late, safe, strange.

4. Some adjectives like tidy end in –y with a consonant letter, not vowel, before it. These adjectives are usually two-syllable. In the comparative and superlative –y is replaced by the letter “i” (tidy- tidier- tidiest). Other examples like tidy are: busy, dirty, dry, early, empty, funny, happy, heavy, ready, sleepy.

(!But note: shy, shyer, shyest)

A few adjectives have a vowel before –y ending like grey, fey, gay and these adjectives simply take the endings –er and –est: grey, greyer, greyest; gay, gayer, gayest; fey, feyer, feyest.

5. Some other two-syllable adjectives can form their comparatives and superlative regularly. Other examples like narrow are: clever, common, gentle, simple, humble, lonesome, polite, pleasant.

 

All other adjectives with two and more syllables (those “long adjectives” like beautiful, careful, interesting, delightful) combine with quantifiers more/less to form comparative form and most/least to form their superlatives.

Positive Comparative Superlative

beautiful more/less beautiful most/least beautiful

delightful more/less delightful most/least delightful

interesting more/less interesting most/least interesting

exciting more/less exciting most/least exciting

 

There are some two-syllables adjectives like happy, clever, common, gentle, handsome, narrow, quiet, shallow, simple, stupid, tired that can use both forms: -er or more for comparatives and both –est and most for superlatives:

happy - happier/more happy, happiest- the most happy.

 

The comparatives and superlatives of other two-syllable adjectives must always be with more/less andmost/ least. These include all adjectives ending in –ful, –less, -ed and -ing: careful, beautiful, useful, useless, amused/amusing, annoyed/annoying etc.


3.1 Irregular comparative and superlative forms

Adjectives with irregular comparative and superlative forms are these ones:

Positive Comparative Superlative

good better best

bad worse worst

far farther/ further farthest/ furthest

old older/ elder older/ eldest

 

little less least

much / many more most

 

You can notice that the last three ones are not adjectives- they are adverbs. We can put it here together with adjectives because of two reasons: here we have all irregular comparatives and superlatives and also these three adverbs can be used as adjectives:

e.g. little/ much money, many books (they modify nouns just like adjectives)

Both comparative and superlative forms of the adjective far can be used to express the width. But further and furthest are being more used in recent time, farther and farthest are not used so often.

Comparative elder and superlative eldest are traditionally used only for members of a family and always in front of a noun:

She is my elder sister. Adam is our eldest brother. Grandfather is the eldest member of this family.

This doesn’t exclude older and oldest from this context, they can also be used for member of family but elder and eldest are not used for anything else except for members of family.

 

3.2 The use of the comparative form of adjectives

We use the comparative form when we are comparing one person or thing with another. Comparison may be between:

-single items: Jane is taller than Alice.

-a single item and a group : Jane is taller than other girls.

-two groups: The girls in class b are taller than the girls in class a.

 

A comparative can stand on its own of the reference is clear:

The grey coat is longer.

The blonde girl is taller.

This implies that the hearer understands that the grey coat/the blonde girl is being compared with another coat/girl or something similar.

However, if we need to mention each item, then we use than after the comparative:

I know him better than you.

The blue jacket is longer than the yellow one.

Two comparatives joined by and can express the idea of general increase of decrease:

Debra is growing fast. She’s getting taller and taller.

Computers are becoming more and more complicated.

Holiday flights are getting less and less expensive.

More and more and less and less do not normally combine with one-syllable adjectives.

The constitution “the + comparative + the” can be used with adjectives or adverbs to show cause and effect: when one change is made, another follows:

The more money you make, the more you spend.

The more expensive petrol becomes, the less people drive.

The more she talks, the less she says.

 

We can use intensifiers and adverbs of degree like very, too and quite to modify adjectives: very tall, too cold, quite hot etc.

However, we cannot use these intensifiers with comparatives. We can use: a bit (this is informal), (very) much, far, even, hardly any, a lot, lots, a little, no, rather, somewhat (this is formal) etc.

It’s much/ far/ a lot/ a little colder today than it was yesterday.

Houses are much/ far/ a lot more expensive these days.

There have been many more/ many fewer burglaries this year.


3.3 The use of the superlative forms of adjectives

We can use the superlative when we are comparing one person or thing with more than one other in the same group. The definite article the is used before superlative in a phrase or sentence.

This is the cleanest/ the tidiest room in the house.

This is the best/ the worst room in the hotel.

Who is the tallest: John, Sue or Mary? –Sue is the tallest.

First class is the most expensive to travel.

 

Informally, we sometimes use the superlative instead of a comparative when we are comparing two people or things:

Who’s the most reliable, Frank or Alan?

Similarly, the is sometimes dropped especially after Which?

Which is best? The red one or the green one?

and when the superlative is in front of an to-infinitive:

I think it’s safest to overtake now.