1.2An attribute and a predicative functions of adjectives
1.3Qualitative and relative.
1.4Category of state
2.1Position of Adjectives
2.2Degrees of Comparison
2.3 The structure of the analytical degrees of comparison
We are going to investigate one of he important parts of speech in
modern English. The adjective expresses the categorial semantics of
property of a substance. It means that each adjective used in tile text
presupposes relation to some noun the property of whose referent it
denotes, such as its material, colour, dimensions, position, state, and
other characteristics both permanent and temporary. It follows from this
that, unlike nouns, adjectives do not possess a full nominative value.
Indeed, words like long, hospitable, fragrant cannot effect any
self-dependent nominations; as units of informative sequences they exist
only in collocations showing what is long, who is hospitable, what is
Adjectives exist in most languages.The most widely recognized adjectives
in English are words such as big, old, and tired that actually describe
people, places, or things. These words can themselves be modified with
adverbs, as in the phrase very big.The articles a, an, and the and
possessive nouns, such as Mary’s, are classified as adjectives by some
grammarians; however, such classification may be specific to one
The semantically bound character of the adjective is emphasized in
English by the use of the prop-substitute one in the absence of the
notional head-noun of the phrase. E.g.:
I don’t want a yellow balloon, let me have the green one over there.
On the other hand, if the adjective is placed in a nominatively
self-dependent position, this leads to its substantivization. E.g.:
Outside it was a beautiful day, and the sun tinged the snow with red.
Cf.: The sun tinged the snow with the red colour.
Adjectives are distinguished by a specific combinability with nouns,
which they modify, if not accompanied by adjuncts, usually in
pre-position, and occasionally in postposition; by a combinability with
link-verbs, both functional and notional; by a combinability with
modifying adverbs. Adjectives are the third major class of words in
English, after nouns
and verbs. Adjectives are words expressing properties of objects
large, blue, simple, clever, economic, progressive, productive, etc)
hence, qualifying nouns.Adjectives in English do not change for
number or case. The only grammatical category they have is the
degrees of comparison. They are also characterized by functions in the
An attribute and a predicative functions of adjectives
In the sentence the adjective performs the functions of an attribute and
a predicative. Of the two, the more specific function of the adjective
is that of an attribute, since the function of a predicative can be
performed by the noun as well. There is, though, a profound difference
between the predicative uses of the adjective and the noun which is
determined by their native categorial features. Namely, the predicative
adjective expresses some attributive property of its noun-referent,
whereas the predicative noun expresses various substantival
characteristics of its referent, such as its identification or
classification of different types. This can be shown on examples
analysed by definitional and transformational procedures. Cf.:
You talk to people as if they were a group. —> You talk to people as if
they formed a group. Quite obviously, he was a friend. —> His behaviour
was like that of a friend.
Cf., as against the above:
I will be silent as a grave. —> I will be like a silent grave. Walker
felt healthy. —> Walker felt a healthy man. It was sensational. —> That
fact was a sensational fact.
When used as predicatives or post-positional attributes, a considerable
number of adjectives, in addition to the general combinability
characteristics of the whole class, are distinguished by a complementive
combinability with nouns. The complement-expansions of adjectives are
effected by means of prepositions. E.g. fond of, jealous of, curious of,
suspicious of; angry with, sick with, serious about, certain about,
happy about; grateful to, thankful to, etc. Many such adjectival
collocations render essentially verbal meanings and some of them have
direct or indirect parallels among verbs. Cf.: be fond of—love, like; be
envious of — envy; be angry with — resent; be mad for, about – covet; be
thankful to — thank.
Alongside of other complementive relations expressed with the help of
prepositions and corresponding to direct and prepositional
object-relations of verbs, some of these adjectives may render relations
of addressee. Cf.: grateful to, indebted to, partial to, useful for.
To the derivational features of adjectives belong a number of suffixes
and prefixes of which the most important are:
-ful (hopeful), -less (flawless),-ish (bluish, -ous (famous), -ive
(decorative), -ic (basic); un- (unprecedented), in- (inaccurate), pre-
Among the adjectival affixes should also be named the prefix a-,
constitutive for the stative sub-class which is to be discussed below.
As for the variable (demutative) morphological features, the English
adjective, having lost in the course of the history of English all its
forms of grammatical agreement with the noun, is distinguished only by
the hybrid category of comparison.
Qualitative and relative.
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
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
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
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
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,
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 rigour 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
(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.
The degrees of comparison are essentially evaluative formulas, therefore
any adjective used in a higher comparison degree (comparative,
superlative) is thereby made into an evaluative adjective, if only for
the nonce (see the examples above).
Thus, the introduced distinction between the evaluative and
specificative uses of adjectives, in the long run, emphasizes the fact
that the morphological category of comparison (comparison degrees) is
potentially represented in the whole class of adjectives and is
constitutive for it.
Among the words signifying properties of a nounal referent there is a
lexemic set which claims to be recognized as a separate part of speech,
i.e. as a class of words different from the adjectives in its
class-forming features. These are words built up by the prefix a- and
denoting different states, mostly of temporary duration. Here belong
lexemes like afraid, agog, adrift, ablaze. In traditional grammar these
words were generally considered under the heading of “predicative
adjectives” (some of them also under the heading of adverbs), since
their most typical position in the sentence is that of a predicative and
they are but occasionally used as pre-positional attributes to nouns.
Category of state
Notional words signifying states and specifically used as predicatives
were first identified as a separate part of speech in the Russian
language by L. V. Shcherba and V. V. Vinogradov. The two scholars called
the newly identified part of speech the “category of state” (and,
correspondingly, separate words making up this category, “words of the
category of state”). Here belong the Russian words mostly ending in -o,
but also having other suffixes: тепло, зябко, одиноко, радостно, жаль,
лень, etc. Traditionally the Russian words of the category of state were
considered as constituents of (he class of adverbs, and they are still
considered as such by many Russian schiolars.
On the analogy of the Russian “category of state”, the English
qualifying a-words of the corresponding meanings were subjected to a
lexico-grammatical analysis and given the part-of-speech heading
“category of slate”. This analysis was first conducted by B. A. llyish
and later continued by other linguists. The term “words of the category
of state”, being rather cumbersome from the technical point of view, was
later changed into “stative words”, or “statives”.
The part-of-speech interpretation of the statives is not shared by all
linguists working in the domain of English, and has found both its
proponents and opponents.
Probably the most consistent and explicit exposition of the
part-of-speech interpretation of statives has been given by B. S.
Khaimovich and B. I. Rogovskaya. Their theses supporting the view in
question can be summarized as follows.
First, the statives, called by the quoted authors “adlinks” (by virtue
of their connection with link-verbs and on the analogy of the term
“adverbs”), are allegedly opposed to adjectives on a purely semantic
basis, since adjectives denote “qualities”, and statives-adlinks denote
“states”. Second, as different from adjectives, statives-adlinks are
characterized by the specific prefix a-. Third, they allegedly do not
possess the category of the degrees of comparison. Fourth, the
combinability of statives-adlinks is different from that of adjectives
in so far as they are not used in the pre-positional attributive
function, i.e. are characterized by the absence of the right-hand
combinability with nouns.
The advanced reasons, presupposing many-sided categorial estimation of
statives, are undoubtedly serious and worthy of note. Still, a closer
consideration of the properties of the analysed lexemic set cannot but
show that, on the whole, the said reasons are hardly instrumental in
proving the main idea, i.e. in establishing the English stative as a
separate part of speech. The re-consideration of the stative on the
basis of comparison with the classical adjective inevitably discloses
(lie fundamental relationship between the two, — such relationship as
should be interpreted in no other terms than identity on the
part-of-speech level, though, naturally, providing for their distinct
differentiation on the subclass level.
The first scholar who undertook this kind of re-consideration of the
lexemic status of English statives was L. S. Barkhudarov, and in our
estimation of them we essentially follow his principles, pointing out
some additional criteria of argument.
First, considering the basic meaning expressed by the stative, we
formulate it as “stative property”, i.e. a kind of property of a nounal
referent. As we already know, the adjective as a whole signifies not
“quality” in the narrow sense, but “property”, which is categorially
divided into “substantive quality as such” and “substantive relation”.
In this respect, statives do not fundamentally differ from classical
adjectives. Moreover, common adjectives and participles in
adjective-type functions can express the same, or, more specifically,
typologically the same properties (or “qualities” in a broader sense) as
are expressed by statives.
Indeed, the main meaning types conveyed by statives are:
the psychic state of a person (afraid, ashamed, aware); the physical
state of a person (astir, afoot); the physical state of an object
(afire, ablaze, aglow); the state of an object in space (askew, awry,
aslant). Meanings of the same order are rendered by pre-positional
the living predecessor — the predecessor alive; eager curiosity —
curiosity agog; the burning house — the house afire; a floating raft — a
raft afloat; a half-open door — a door adjar; slanting ropes — ropes
aslant; a vigilant man — a man awake;
similar cases — cases alike; an excited crowd — a crowd astir.
It goes without saying that many other adjectives and participles convey
the meanings of various states irrespective of their analogy with
statives. Cf. such words of the order of psychic state as despondent,
curious, happy, joyful; such words of the order of human physical state
as sound, refreshed, healthy, hungry; such words of the order of
activity state as busy, functioning, active, employed, etc.
Second, turning to the combinability characteristics of statives, we see
that, though differing from those of the common adjectives in one point
negatively, they basically coincide with them in the other points. As a
matter of fact, statives are not used in attributive pre-position. but,
like adjectives, they are distinguished by the left-hand categorial
combinability both with nouns and link-verbs. Cf.:
The household was nil astir.——The household was all excited — It was
strange to see (the household active at this hour of the day.— It was
strange to see the household active at this hour of the day.
Third, analysing the functions of the stative corresponding to its
combinability patterns, we see that essentially they do not differ from
the functions of the common adjective. Namely, the two basic functions
of the stative are the predicative and the attribute. The similarity of
functions leads to the possibility of the use of a stative and a common
adjective in a homogeneous group. E.g.: Launches and barges moored to
the dock were ablaze and loud with wild sound.
True, the predominant function of the stative, as different from the
common adjective, is that of the predicative. But then, the important
structural and functional peculiarities of statives uniting them in a
distinctly separate set of lexemes cannot be disputed. What is disputed
is the status of this set in relation to the notional parts of speech,
not its existence or identification as such.
Fourth, from our point of view, it would not be quite consistent with
the actual lingual data to place the stative strictly out of the
category of comparison. As we have shown above, the category of
comparison is connected with the functional division of adjectives into
evaluative and specificative, Like common adjectives, statives are
subject to this flexible division, and so in principle they are included
into the expression of the quantitative estimation of the corresponding
properties conveyed by them. True, statives do not take the synthetical
forms of the degrees of comparison, but they are capable of expressing
comparison analytically, in cases where it is to be expressed.
Cf.: Of us all, Jack was the one most aware of the delicate situation in
which we found ourselves. I saw that the adjusting lever stood far more
askew than was allowed by the directions.
Fifth, quantitative considerations, though being a subsidiary factor of
reasoning, tend to support the conjoint part-of-speech interpretation of
statives and common adjectives. Indeed, the total number of statives
does not exceed several dozen (a couple of dozen basic, “stable” units
and, probably, thrice as many “unstable” words of the nature of coinages
for the nonce). This number is negligible in comparison with the number
of words of the otherwise identified notional parts of speech, each of
them counting thousands of units. Why, then, an honour of the
part-of-speech status to be granted to a small group of words not
differing in their fundamental lexico-grammatical features from one of
the established large word-classes?
As for the set-forming prefix a-, it hardly deserves a serious
consideration as a formal basis of the part-of-speech identification of
statives simply because formal features cannot be taken in isolation
from functional features. Moreover, as is known, there are words of
property not distinguished by this prefix, which display essential
functional characteristics inherent in the stative set. In particular,
here belong such adjectives as ill, well, glad, sorry, worth (while),
subject (to), due (to), underway, and some others. On the other hand,
among the basic statives we find such as can hardly be analysed into a
genuine combination of the type “prefix + root”, because their morphemic
parts have become fused into one indivisible unit in the course of
language history, e.g. aware, afraid, aloof.
Thus, the undertaken semantic and functional analysis shows that
statives, though forming a unified set of words, do not constitute a
separate lexemic class existing in language on exactly the same footing
as the noun, the verb, the adjective, the adverb; rather it should be
looked upon as a subclass within the general class of adjectives. It is
essentially an adjectival subclass, because, due to their peculiar
features, statives are not directly opposed to the notional parts of
speech taken together, but are quite particularly opposed to the rest of
adjectives. It means that the general subcategorization of the class of
adjectives should be effected on the two levels: on the upper level the
class will be divided into the subclass of stative adjectives and common
adjectives; on the lower level the common adjectives fall into
qualitative and relative, which division has been discussed in the
As we see, our final conclusion about the lexico-grammatical nature of
statives appears to have returned them into the lexemic domain in which
they were placed by traditional grammar and from which they were
alienated in the course of subsequent linguistic investigations. A
question then arises, whether these investigations, as well as the
discussions accompanying them, have served any rational purpose at all.
The answer to this question, though, can only be given in the energetic
affirmative. Indeed, all the detailed studies of statives undertaken by
quite a few scholars, all the discussions concerning their systemic
location and other related matters have produced very useful results,
both theoretical and practical.
The traditional view of the stative was not supported by any special
analysis, it was formed on the grounds of mere surface analogies and
outer correlations. The later study of statives resulted in the
exposition of their inner properties, in the discovery of their
historical productivity as a subclass, in their systemic description on
the lines of competent inter-class and inter-level comparisons. And it
is due to the undertaken investigations (which certainly will be
continued) that we are now in a position, though having rejected the
fundamental separation of the stative from the adjective, to name the
subclass of statives as one of the peculiar, idiomatic lexemic features
of Modern English.
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
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
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
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
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 can also be used after a link verb such as ‘be’,
‘become’, or ‘feel’.
e.g. I’m cold.
3. Some adjectives are normally used only after a link verb.
For example, we can say ‘She was glad’, but you do not talk about ‘a
I wanted to be alone.
We were getting ready for bed.
I’m not quite sure.
He didn’t know whether to feel glad or sorry.
4. Some adjectives are normally used only in front of a noun.
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.
5. When we use an adjective to emphasize a strong feeling or opinion, it
always comes in front of a noun.
Some of it was absolute rubbish.
He made me feel like a complete idiot.
6. 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
He was about six feet tall.
The water was several metres deep.
The baby is nine months old.
Note that you do not say ‘two pounds heavy’, you say ‘two pounds in
7. A few adjectives are used alone after a noun.
designate |elect |galore |incarnate
She was now the president elect.
There are empty houses galore.
8. A few adjectives have a different meaning depending on whether they
come in front of or after a noun.
For example, ‘the concerned mother’ means a mother who is worried, but
‘the mother concerned’ means the mother who has been mentioned.
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 do not know the person responsible for his death.
Degrees of Comparison
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 corn” parison; 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 an 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
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, 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
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
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.
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 categorical 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.
The parallelism of functions between the two forms of comparison (the
comparative degree and the superlative degree) in such and like examples
As we see, the elative superlative, though it is not the regular
superlative in the grammatical sense, is still a kind of a specific,
grammatically featured construction. This grammatical specification
distinguishes it from common elative constructions which may be
generally defined as syntactic combinations of an intensely high
an extremely important amendment; a matter of exceeding urgency; quite
an unparalleled beauty; etc.
Thus, from a grammatical point of view, the elative superlative, though
semantically it is “elevated”, is nothing else but a degraded
superlative, and its distinct featuring mark with the analytical
superlative degree is the indefinite article: the two forms of the
superlative of different functional purposes receive the two different
marks (if not quite rigorously separated in actual uses) by the article
It follows from the above that the possibility of the most-combination
to be used with the indefinite article cannot in any way be
demonstrative of its non-grammatical character, since the functions of
the two superlative combinations in question, the elative superlative
and the genuine superlative, are different.
Moreover, the use of the indefinite article with the synthetical
superlative in the degraded, dative function is not altogether
impossible, though somehow such a possibility is bluntly denied by
certain grammatical manuals. Cf.: He made a last lame effort to delay
the experiment; but Basil was impervious to suggestion.
But there is one more possibility to formally differentiate the direct
and dative functions of the synthetical superlative, namely, by using
the zero article with the superlative. This latter possibility is noted
in some grammar books (Ganshina, Vasilevskaya, 85). Cf.: Suddenly I was
seized with a sensation of deepest regret.
However, the general tendency of expressing the superlative dative
meaning is by using the analytical form. Incidentally, in the Russian
language the tendency of usage is reverse: it is the synthetical form of
the Russian superlative that is preferred in rendering the dative
function. Cf.: слушали с живейшим интересом; повторялась скучнейшая
история; попал в глупейшее положение и т.д.
Let us examine now the combinations of less/least with the basic form of
As is well known, the general view of these combinations definitely
excludes them from any connection with categorial analytical forms.
Strangely enough, this rejectionist view of the “negative degrees of
comparison” is even taken to support, not to reject the morphological
interpretation of the more/most-combinations.
The corresponding argument in favour of the rejectionist interpretation
consists in pointing out the functional parallelism existing between the
synthetical degrees of comparison and the more/most-combinations
accompanied by their complementary distribution, if not rigorously
pronounced (the different choice of the forms by different
syllabo-phonetical forms of adjectives). The less/least-combinations,
according to this view, are absolutely incompatible with the synthetical
degrees of comparison, since they express not only different, but
Now, it does not require a profound analysis to see that, from the
grammatical point of view, the formula “opposite meaning” amounts to
ascertaining the categorial equality of the forms compared. Indeed, if
two forms express the opposite meanings, then they can only belong to
units of the same general order. And we cannot but agree with B. A.
Ilyish’s thesis that “there seems to be no sufficient reason for
treating the two sets of phrases in different ways, saying that ‘more
difficult’ is an analytical form, while ‘less difficult’ is not”
[Ilyish, 60]. True, the cited author takes this fact rather as
demonstration that both types of constructions should equally be
excluded from the domain of analytical forms, but the problem of the
categorial status of the more/most-combinations has been analysed above.
Thus, the less/least-combinations, similar to the
more/most-combinations, constitute specific forms of comparison, which
may be called forms of “reverse comparison”. The two types of forms
cannot be syntagmatically combined in one and the same form of the word,
which shows the unity of the category of comparison. The whole category
includes not three, but five different forms, making up the two series —
respectively, direct and reverse. Of these, the reverse series of
comparison (the reverse superiority degrees) is of far lesser importance
than the direct one, which evidently can be explained by semantic
reasons. As a matter of fact, it is more natural to follow the direct
model of comparison based on the principle of addition of qualitative
quantities than on the reverse model of comparison based on the
principle of subtraction of qualitative quantities, since subtraction in
general is a far more abstract process of mental activity than addition.
And, probably, exactly for the same reason the reverse comparatives and
superlatives are rivalled in speech by the corresponding negative
Having considered the characteristics of the category of comparison, we
can see more clearly the relation to this category of some usually
non-comparable evaluative adjectives.
Outside the immediate comparative grammatical change of the adjective
stand such evaluative adjectives as contain certain comparative sememic
elements in their semantic structures. In particular, as we have
mentioned above, here belong adjectives that are themselves grading
marks of evaluation. Another group of evaluative non-comparables is
formed by adjectives of indefinitely moderated quality, or, tentatively,
“moderating qualifiers”, such as whitish, tepid, half-ironical,
semi-detached, etc. But the most peculiar lexemic group of
non-comparables is made up by adjectives expressing the highest degree
of a respective quality, which words can tentatively be called
“adjectives of extreme quality”, or “extreme qualifiers”, or simply
The inherent superlative semantics of extremals is emphasized by the
definite article normally introducing their nounal combinations, exactly
similar to the definite article used with regular collocations of the
superlative degree. Cf.: The ultimate outcome of the talks was
encouraging. The final decision has not yet been made public.
On the other hand, due to the tendency of colloquial speech to
contrastive variation, such extreme qualifiers can sometimes be modified
by intensifying elements. Thus, “the final decision” becomes “a very
final decision”; “the ultimate rejection” turns into “rather an ultimate
rejection”; “the crucial role” is made into “quite a crucial role”, etc.
As a result of this kind of modification, the highest grade evaluative
force of these words is not strengthened, but, on the contrary,
weakened; the outwardly extreme qualifiers become degraded extreme
qualifiers, even in this status similar to the regular categorial
superlatives degraded in their elative use.
Our subject of investigation was adjectives. Most English adjectives
have comparative and superlative forms. These are generally constructed
in one of two ways: either by suffixes (big, bigger, biggest) or by the
use of the grammatical particles more and most. Some adjectives have
suppletive forms in their comparison, such as good, better, best.
Comparative and superlative forms apply only to the base form of the
adjective, so that duplicate forms like most biggest or worser are
nonstandard (although lesser is sometimes permitted as a variant of
less). A few adjectives have no comparative but a superlative with
-most: uppermost, westernmost, etc. We have investigated that some
adjectives have suppletive forms in their comparison, such as good,
better, best. Comparative and superlative forms apply only to the base
form of the adjective, so that duplicate forms like most biggest or
worser are nonstandard (although lesser is sometimes permitted as a
variant of less).
An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun by describing, identifying, or
quantifying words. An adjective usually precedes the noun or the pronoun
which it modifies. In the following examples, the highlighted words are
The truck-shaped balloon floated over the treetops. Mrs. Morrison
papered her kitchen walls with hideous wallpaper. The small boat
foundered on the wine dark sea. The coalmines are dark and dank. Many
stores have already begun to play irritating Christmas music. A
battered music box sat on the mahogany sideboard. The back room was
filled with large, yellow rain boots. An adjective can be modified by
an adverb, or by a phrase or clause functioning as an adverb. In the
sentence My husband knits intricately patterned mittens. For example,
the adverb “intricately” modifies the adjective “patterned.” Some
nouns, many pronouns, and many participle phrases can also act as
adjectives. In the sentence Eleanor listened to the muffled sounds of
the radio hidden under her pillow. for example, both highlighted
adjectives are past participles.
Grammarians also consider articles (“the,” “a,” “an”) to be
We chose and investigated adjectives with all its parts and types, also
with its degrees and positions in the sentences.
Adjectives (Set 1)Synonymous
expecteddivineabruptreligiousAdjectives (Set 2)
1. Ilyish B. “The structure of modern English”, M, 1971
2. Bloch M. “The course in the English grammar”, M, 1983
3. « Modern English language» (Theoretical course grammar) V.N.
Zhigadlo, I.P. Ivanova, L.L. Iofik. Moscow, 1956 y.
4. “Theoretical grammar of the English language” B.S. Khaimovich, B.I.
Rogovskaya. Moscow, 1967 y.
5. “Morphology of the English language”А.I.Smirnitcky. Moscow, 1959
6. Weigel, William F. (1993). Morphosyntactic toggles. Papers from the
29th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society (Vol. 29, pp.
467-478). Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.
7. Wiese, Heike (2003). Numbers, language, and the human mind. Cambridge
University Press, ISBN 0-521-83182-2.
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