Adjectives

Adjectives are the final part of speech in the "noun" group which also included pronouns. A noun is simply the name of something. It usually has to have some other word associated with it to enhance, magnify or fill-out its meaning. An adjective is that "something". As examples we can consider the following sentences:

  1. There are six white rabbits in the hutch.
  2. That tall, muscular man is a wrestler.

The words "white", "tall" and "muscular" describe what kind of rabbits and what kind of wrestler. The word "six" states how many rabbits and "that" tells us which man. These words are all adjectives and this gives a definition for this part of speech. An adjective is a word used to add something to the meaning of a noun.

These examples also tell us what questions to ask to identify adjectives in a sentence. They are:

  1. What kind of?
  2. How many?
  3. Which?

Another definition of "adjective" is that it is word which is used with a noun to limit its application. This and the first definition might, at first, seem to be mutually exclusive. How can a word which limits also add to the meaning of a word? On inspecting the sentence above about rabbits it is clear that the word "rabbit" may be used of any rabbit. When the word "white" is also used in the sentence what is meant is not any kind of rabbit but a particular kind of rabbit, namely a white rabbit. So while the word "white" adds something to the meaning of the word "rabbit" it also limits the application of that word to a particular kind of rabbit.

Adjectives can also be used differently. Again, examples clarify the situation

  1. The dirty clothes need washing.
  2. The clothes are dirty
In the first sentence "dirty" is used with the noun "clothes". In the second one "dirty" is used with the verb "are" and forms part of the predicate. As used in the first situation the adjective "dirty" is known as an "epithet" adjective whereas in the second case it is called a "predicative" adjective.

Often one part of speech does the work of another. For examples

  1. George is the football captain.
  2. The market-place is closed to-day.
Each of the nouns "football" and "market" is used like an epithet adjective and is attached to another noun. Thus these nouns are doing the work of adjectives. This use of nouns is very common. Sometimes the words are written separately such as "kitchen door" but often compound nouns are formed using a hyphen, such as "market-place". At other times the hyphen is omitted and a single word results as with "football".

As with adjectives, nouns, usually the subject of a sentence, can be part of the predicate. That is they are used predicatively as in the sentence "Edward was king."

It has been shown above how nouns can be used as adjectives but the reverse is also possible.

  1. The rich despise the poor.
  2. We lost all our valuables
In (1) above "rich" is the subject and in (2) "valuables" is the object. These two adjectives are thus doing and must, here, be regarded as nouns.

Adjectives can be divided into three classes:

  1. Of Quality or Descriptive: good, bad, red
  2. of Quantity:
    1. Definite: both, a, an, five, third
    2. Indefinite: many, some, all
  3. Distinctive or Indicating:
    1. Possessive: my, our,their
    2. Demonstrative: this, that, the
    3. Emphasizing: own, very
    4. Interrogative: which?, what?
    5. Relative: which, what
    6. Exclamatory: what
    7. Distributive: each, either, neither

It may be noticed that the words "a", "an" and "the" are included above as kinds of adjectives. These small words are sometimes defined as a separate part of speech called "articles". Classifying them as adjectives is probably more correct.

The next matter to be considered here with respect to adjectives is that of comparison. There are three steps of comparison:

  1. Positive: long
  2. Comparative: longer
  3. Superlative: longest
The positive degree is the simple form of the adjective. The comparative degree is used to compare two things. It is usually formed by adding "er" to the positive form. The superlative is used when comparing more than two things. The letters "est" is added to the positive form to create the superlative. As with many things in the language there are exceptions to these rules. If the word is a long one then the words "more" and "most" replace the suffixes "er" and "est". Thus it is normal to say "more beautiful" and "most beautiful" rather than "beautifuler" and "beautifulest" but there is no strict rule about this. There are also some irregular forms. If a word ends in "y" prededed by a consonant then this is changed to "i" before adding the usual suffixes. So we get "merry", "merrier" and "merriest". The "y" is not changed if it follows a vowel as in "gay", "gayer" and "gayest. If the positive form is one syllable word ending in a consonant then the final letter is doubled as in "hot", "hotter" and "hottest". In some cases the three forms are quite different words.

  • good : better : best
  • little: less : least
  • many : more : most

There are many other such examples. Often nouns used as adjectives are not able to adopt a comparative or superlative form. Although we can say that we have a gold coin, it is not possible to say "golder' or "goldest.

The final thing to be considered is the adjectival phrase. From the previous section on "Sentences" the form of aphrase was given. An adjectival phrase is a group of words which act as an adjective. So the sentence "Mr Howard is a man of wealth." could be written as "Mr Howard is a wealthy man." The words "a man of wealth" is an adjectival phrase. Such phrases are very common and, as in this case, is formed with the help of a preposition - in this case "of".

This ends this short examination of adjectives and of the noun group of the the parts of speech. In the next section begins consideration of the verb group.

Grammar

Sentences

Nouns

Pronouns

Adjectives

Verbs

Adverbs

Prepositions

Conjunctions

Interjections

Punctuation

A SHORT ENGLISH GRAMMAR

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