You are on page 1of 6

SEMANTIC CATEGORIES OF ADJECTIVES There are two major semantic categories of adjectives: descriptors and classifiers. 1.

Descriptors are adjectives that describe color, size and weight, chronology and age, emotion, and other characteristics. They are typically gradable. For example: - color descriptors: black, white, dark, bright, blue, brown, green, grey, red - size / quantity / extent descriptors: big, deep, heavy, huge, long, large, little, short, small, thin, wide - time descriptors describe chronology, age, and frequency: annual, daily, early, late, new, old, recent, young - evaluative / emotive descriptors denote judgments, emotions, and emphasis: bad, beautiful, best, fine, good, great, lovely, nice, poor - miscellaneous descriptors cover many other kinds of characteristics: appropriate, cold, complex, dead, empty, free, hard, hot, open, positive, practical, private, serious, strange, strong, sudden. 2. Classifiers limit or restrict a noun's referent, rather than describing characteristics in the way that descriptors do. For example: - relational/classificational/restrictive classifiers limit the referent of a noun in relation to other referents: additional, average, chief, complete, different, direct, entire, external, final, following, general, initial, internal, left, main, maximum, necessary, original, particular, previous, primary, public, similar, single, standard, top, various - affiliative classifiers identify the national or social group of a referent: American, Chinese, Christian, English, French, German, Irish, United - Topical / other classifiers give the subject area or specific type of a noun: chemical, commercial, environmental, human, industrial, legal, medical, mental, official, oral, phonetic, political, sexual, social, visual. As you can see from these examples, the distinction between descriptors and classifiers is not always clear. Many topical classifiers, for instance, provide descriptive content while they also limit the reference of the head noun (e.g. chemical, medical, political). Most classifiers are non-gradable. This means that they usually cannot take modifiers of degree or comparative/superlative forms. For example, we cannot say *very medical or *more additional. Some adjectives can serve as both classifiers and descriptors, depending on their context of use. For example, the expressions in the left-hand column contain a descriptor, while the same adjective is a classifier in the right-hand column. Descriptor a popular girl in high school criminal activity a primary issue classifier popular vote, popular opinion criminal law primary school

The most common adjectives often have a range of meanings. For example, old is descriptive of age (an old radio, old newspapers), but it can also be used to express evaluation or emotion (poor old Rusty, good old genetics). Even within a single category, an adjective can have more than one meaning. Poor as a descriptor, for instance, can mean either 'lacking financial resources' (a poor country) or 'not good' (poor health). Meanings can also vary with syntactic role or register. For example, the predicative use of poor usually refers to the financial situation (We're very poor), while the attributive use is often associated with an emotive meaning, especially in fiction (e.g. the poor devil, the poor little kid).

Comparative and superlative forms of adjectives

Gradable adjectives can be marked to show comparative and superlative degree. These degrees can be marked either inflectionally (using a single word) or phrasally (using a construction of more than one word): type of marking comparative degree superlative degree inflectional stronger, softer, strongest, softest phrasal more difficult, more famous most difficult, most famous. Short adjectives (one syllable) generally take an inflectional suffix, such as strong and soft above. Notice that the addition of -er or -est can involve regular spelling changes to the adjective stem: a) silent -e is omitted before adding the suffix: e.g. safe, safer, safest, not *safeer, *safest b) final -y is changed to -i if a consonant precedes it (e.g. tidy, tidier, tidiest) c) an adjective ending with a single vowel letter followed by a single consonant usually doubles the final consonant: (e.g. wet, wetter, wettest, not *weter, *wetest). Three other adjectives-good, bad, and far have irregular comparative and superlative forms: good, better, best bad, worse, worst far, further, furthest Longer adjectives often take phrasal comparison, using the degree adverbs more and mos. Difficult and famous above are typical examples. However, there is variation within these general patterns. Some two-syllable adjectives allow both types of comparison: e.g. likelier vs. more likely; narrowest vs. most narrow. Some short adjectives take phrasal as well as inflectional marking. For example, fairer, fiercer, and prouder are possible, but their phrasal alternatives also occur: 'Wouldn't that be more fair?' she asked. Our women were more fierce than our men. 'I think this is the one she is most proud of' A possible reason for choosing the phrasal alternative is that it makes the comparison more prominent. In speech, the comparison can be emphasized further by stressing the word more or most.

Other general trends for the formation of comparatives and superlatives are summarized here:
General trends for the formation of comparative and superlative Adjectives

characteristic of adjective

form of comparative / superlative


gradable adjectives of one syllable two syllables ending in unstressed Y three syllables ending in -Y adjectives ending in -ly two syllables ending in unstressed vowel

almost always inflectional generally inflectional usually phrasal, sometimes inflectional varies with the adjective, some inflectional, some phrasal; many use both forms usually inflectional

older/ younger / smarter easier / easiest happier / happiest phrasal: more unhappy; inflectional: almightier, almightiest; unhappier, unhappiest inflectional: earlier, earliest, likelier, likeliest; phrasal: more likely, most likely narrowest, yellowest

often inflectional ending in syllabic /r/ in AmE or /a/ in BrE or Syllabic /l/ ending in -ere and -ure (stressed) other adjectives longer than two syllables adjectives ending in derivational suffixes adjectives formed with -ed and -ing (participial adjectives) sometimes inflectional, usually phrasal usually phrasal almost always phrasal almost always phrasal almost always phrasal

cleverer, slenderest, tenderest, cruelest, feeblest, littler, nobler, simpler most sincere, sincerest, most secure, securest more common, most common more beautiful, most incredible most useful, most mindless, more musical, more effective, more zealous more bored, most tiring

THE ADJECTIVE COMPARISON DEGREES Compared to the Romanian adjective, the English one does not change according to gender, number and case. The only change is the comparison. The English adjective stays in front of the noun. There are 3 types of comparison degrees: 1. the positive degree shows the existence of a quality of the object without making any comparison. 2. the comparative degree compares two objects, showing: a) equality between two objects = Equality Comparative; e.g. She is as tall as her sister. b) inferiority between two objects = Inferiority Comparative e.g. The Lesson is less interesting than the previous one. c) or superiority of one object = Superiority Comparative e.g. I am younger than her. 3. The Superlative Degree shows that a member of a group has the compared quality in its highest level by a direct comparison: a) the relative superlative a direct comparison e.g. She is the cleverest of all. b) or without a direct comparison e.g. She is very clever. THE COMPARATIVE & THE SUPERLATIVE I. Synthetic Comparison: A) one syllable adjectives form the superiority comparative by adding -er at the positive form and the relative superlative by the + adj + est at the positive form: e.g. small smaller the smallest short shorter the shortest writing rules: 1. adj. ending in a consonant preceded by a short vowel, double the last consonant when adding er /- est: e.g. big bigger the biggest hot hotter the hottest fat fatter the fattest thin thinner the thinnest 2. adjectives ending in -y preceded by a consonant change y into i when adding er / -est: e.g. dry drier the driest 3. adjectives ending in e / - ee drop this vowel when adding er / -est:

e.g. nice nicer the nicest free freer the freest B) two syllables adjectives ending in: -y, -le, -er, -ow, -some: e.g. happy happier the happiest clever cleverer the cleverest able abler the ablest narrow narrower the narrowest handsome handsomer the handsomest exceptii: eager, proper, fertile, hostile, fragile go with more and the most II. Analytic Comparison 1. two or more syllables adjectives: wonderful, careful, interesting, difficult: e.g. difficult more difficult the most difficult 2. compound adjectives: a) when the first element is the one that keeps the meaning of the adj., this is the one that changes for the comparative and the superlative: e.g. well known / better known / the best known ill paid, intelligent looking b) when the two element are seen as an entire, from the meaning point of view, they go with more & the most: e.g. heart broken / more heart broken /the most heart broken some adj have both forms of comparison: A) Synthetic preferable: 1. one syllable adjectives: calm, fit, huge, keen, kind, plain, rare, stiff, vague, sound: e.g. calm calmer calmest 2. two syllable adjectives ending in -y / -ly: angry, clumsy, lucky, misty, sleepy, friendly, lovely e.g. angry angrier the angriest B) Analytic comparison preferable: 1. two syllables adjectives with the accent on the first syllable: active, civil, common, fertile, hostile, prudent, pleasant, stupid, sudden, constant: e.g. common more common the most common 2. two syllables adjectives with the accent on the last: severe, polite, concise, remote, precise: Polite more polite the most polite correct, distinct, exact, intact = only with more and the most 3.three syllables adjectives with negative prefix: unhappy, unlucky, unpleasant, insecure: e.g. unpleasant more unpleasant the most unpleasant Irregular adjectives

good bad much many little Far old

better worse more more less further farther older elder

The best The worst The most The most The least The furtherst the fartherest the oldest the eldest