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Modifying adjectives and adjective phrases

grammar

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MODIFYING ADJECTIVES AND ADJECTIVE PHRASES

            1.0 Adjectives are subordinate to nouns in their attributive use; they also form part of nominal predicates or function as predicative adjuncts; they may pass into nouns by the change known under the name of conversion. We shall give due attention to each such avatar of the part of speech under discussion, not omitting the grammatical category that most specifically describes it: comparison. In the foreground, we shall place what A.Bantas (l993: ll9) calls the microcontext of nouns - their determiners, modifiers and substitutes. We have to deal here with compartments that apparently evince a permeability of parts of speech. By transgression of frontier lines, we shall discover items known as “adjectives” everywhere, and we have actually done so in the case of determination perused in the previous chapter. In fact, grammarians act in agreement when stating that the English adjective rarely has an unmistakable form.

            1.1 Although most grammar books now seem to begin the chapter on adjectives directly with the classificatory problems, we shall insist on defining the notions going into the title of the current chapter.

            The adjective as such, now more often called epithet, describes subjective and objective qualities of an entity, of a “thing” that is named by the headnoun. In an Adj.P, where the adjective becomes head, the phrase is said to express an attribute and its head can be modified and qualified in its turn. We preface the theoretical approach by the following examples:

Lucy is a sweet little girl.   (attitudinal epithet expressed by two items that together intensify the attitude)

Her dress was a horrible brown colour.   (a succession of subjective plus objective epithets)

I’ve always known you to be a light eater.   (the epithet refers to the manner of performing an action associated with the entity described)

In a provincial city you’ll find many provincial attitudes.   (one and the same item with objective and subjective potential, in turn)

Which shoes shall I wear, the black or the brown?   ( the epithets have become elliptical   heads, and this can easily happen with adjectives of colour)

 The impossible sometimes happens.   (the attribute refers to an entity outside the text and it is not expounded because it is self-understood)

With a growing child, you have responsibilities. Still, a child that is growing up can be a comfort of the soul.   (a restrictive classifying epithet is contrasted with a restrictive qualifier, both pointing to a process; the pre-head item is felt to express a more intrinsic attribute than the post-head construction)

Those beautiful Persian rugs we saw were not for sale.   (the structure of the subject NP is: Det + Epithet + Classifier + H + Q )

Long, uninteresting, very difficult texts should be left out.   ( recursiveness in epithet use and rule-governed arrangement - here, the criterion applied is length)

Jobs are available for young men and women.   (if we ask ourselves “any women or only young ones?” we have brought out the ambiguity in reading modified recursive heads).

            In order to render manifest the way covered by grammar research in pinpointing the definition of the adjective, we reproduce here three different presentations:

Ñ       L. Levitchi (1970:76) writes that “the adjective denotes some characteristic of an object, interpreted either as a quality (positive or negative, objective or subjective), or as a space, time, quantity, etc. coordinate”. The foremost remark is that a [+ANIMATE] entity has been reduced in one sweep to an “object” and that only a semantic description engages the author’s attention, even that with much imprecision when implicitly classifying “characteristics” into either “qualities” or “ coordinates” of the types mentioned. Thus, in the collocation “a remote thought”, must we take the adjective to point to a time coordinate (like in “a remote tradition”)? Is it space (like in “a remote house”), in the abstract maybe, paraphrasable by “in a secluded corner of the mind”? Is it quantity (like in “a remote sound” which draws in also the idea of space as a reason for quantity reduction), therefore a “faint, not very distinct” thought? Or is it a quality partaking of all the implications suggested, moreover of the subjective sort, clashing with the objectivity of the descriptions in terms of quantity, space, etc.? And what does “etc.” stand for, in the definition? Anyway, half of the formulation covers what we have earlier placed in the sphere of determination.

Ñ       Christophersen & Sandved (1982:63) define not adjectives, but adjectivals. They work out frames for distributions. Consequently, the definition is the word that can fill the blank in:     The   ____    car seemed good.

This definition forces them to recognize nouns as adjectives as well in groups like “the party spirit” or “the April sky” (their own examples, 1982:64) or nouns in the genitive case, such as “the child’s toys”. But the grammar book in point anyway admits of adjectives that can be nominals (The poor seemed good, for example), so why shouldn’t there be

nouns used as adjectivals?

Ñ       D. Crystal (l992: 8-9) enjoys the advantage of a later synthesis of positions adopted and supplies an equidistant outlook: adjective is “ the term used in the grammatical classification of words to refer to the main set of items which specify the attributes of nouns.” And later: “both narrow and broad applications of the term will be found in grammars.In its broadest sense it could include everything between the DETERMINER and the NOUN but many linguists prefer to restrict it to the items which satisfy most or all of the above criteria, the other items being called “adjective-like” or adjectivals.” Two notes: it is our underlining, and secondly, the criteria alluded to are going to be given by us only now. Thus:

1.2   The formal point of view can supply four criteria for defining the class of adjectives:

à  adjectives can occur within the NP, that is occupying the attributive position.

à  adjectives can occur post-verbally, in a predicative position.

à  adjectives can be premodified by an intensifier (the prototype is “very”).

à  adjectives can be used in a comparative and superlative form, either by inflection or

    periphrastically.

An important fact: not all adjectives satisfy all these criteria. Quirk et al. (l991:404) maintain the the first two are enough for separating central adjectives from peripheral ones, the latter group satisfying one of the first two criteria. The authors mentioned consider that the third and fourth criteria cannot have a diagnostic value in distinguishing adjectives from adverbs. Since we have slipped already into area of classifications on the basis of form and meaning, we shall open the next subchapter:

2.0   The formal markers of adjectives are a number of suffixes, positive and negative in meaning. It is easier to start by the second category, because it is a much smaller bulk.

2.1   Here is a list of items with negative implications:

- less : added to nouns, it denotes the absence of what is expressed by them (I was left speechless = without the power of speech, at a loss for words, silent); it is the negative counterpart of -ful in such a pair as lawless-lawful, yet  fearless-fearful introduce the positive-negative contrast vice versa. In other cases -less competes with un-/in- -able (countless = uncountable; numberless = innumerable).

- ish : it denotes something objectionable, an unfavourable opinion (He has uppish airs = he is arrogant; compare also womanish= effeminate with womanlike= characteristic of a woman or bluish = slightly blue, yellowish = somewhat yellow, etc.). Beside colours, other one- or two- syllabled adjectives accept this suffix with the meaning of “rather” in colloquial use: tallish, shortish, stiffish, youngish, oldish.

2.2  Here are other suffixes, positive in general lines:

-able : added chiefly to transitive verbs, with the meaning “that can be -ed ” or “that deserves to be -ed “, e.g. understandable; pitiable. There is a frequent combination with the prefix un- e.g. unthinkable. Speakers may pluralize the derivative in -able used as a noun: valuables = things of value; eatables = anything used as food.

-ible occurs in words of Latin origin: responsible, illegible, convertible, audible.

-al : added to nouns, with the meaning “of the nature of”(brutal), “ having” (rational), “belonging to” (royal). Many adjectives in -ic that are not felt as English derivatives may take the suffix -al : classical, tragical, etc.  -ic usually has  a more scientific reading than ical

(comic versus comical). A philosophic issue is an issue in philosophy and  philosophical airscan mean poking fun at somebody’s metaphysical bending.

-an : used to derive adjectives from geographical names (African), personal names (Mohammedan), but these derivatives can also be used as nouns.

-en : added to names of materials (flaxen), but these forms are losing ground now because of the competition from material nouns used attributively (flax thread). Yet earthen pots cannot become earth pots, while glass, iron, steel and some others do not have derived adjectives. We should also signal the figurative use of many such -en adjectives (a golden occasion, flaxen hair, a leaden atmosphere).

-ese : adjectives from names of foreign countries and towns(Maltese, Milanese). Used as nouns, they may denote one or more individuals (a Portuguese, many Portuguese). As such, they are not used in the genitive. Sometimes reference to the whole population is opposed to reference to individuals or a smaller group (the Chinese vs.some Chinamen).

-esque : added to names of artists, to express the idea of ‘after the manner of ’ (Dantesque).

-fold : usually added to cardinal numbers (a thousandfold), but also manifold from ‘many’. It is glossed as “multiplied by”. A case such as repaid tenfold illustrates adverbial use.

-ian : added to surnames and Christian names of kings and queens (Pickwickian, Georgian). There are also cases of geographical names taking the suffix (Bostonian), but English towns chiefly activize their Latinized stems (Oxonian= from Oxford , Mancunian= from Manchester). Like -ese,-ian forms are freely used as nouns; unlike -ese, they take -s in the plural.

-ic :  they are not adjectives of English formation (emphatic, laconic, domestic); sometimes the ending is added to surnames (Napoleonic).

-like : added to nouns (godlike, unsportsmanlike), like -fold and -ful, it seems to be on the borderline between derivation and composition.

-ly : the meaning is “having the qualities of” (masterly, leisurely, kingly, heavenly). A series of such adjectives denotes periodic recurrence (hourly, daily, etc.). Another set is of adjectives derived from adjectives (kindly, lowly, sickly, deadly).

-ous : not being an English suffix, we must still acknowledge its existence in conscious, dubious,etc. Safe derivatives are dangerous, murderous, thunderous.

-some : the meaning is “productive of” (fearsome, troublesome, quarrelsome). Two cases are not analysed as derived : handsome, wholesome.

-ward : the adjectives express direction (homeward, onward, eastward). The adverbs take -s too, except in American English sometimes.

-y : the meaning is “full of” (noisy, fiery, bony, slangy). A number of such derivatives are found undignified or very colloquial : fishy, nervy, classy.

2.3       We have purposely left the participial forms for the end of the presentation:

-ed : can be glossed as “provided with” (cultured, wooded, painted).The list can be much enriched by the compounded attributes one-eyed, quick-witted, ash-coloured, moderately-sized or nonhyphenated forms, cheerfully minded, highly priced. Some past participles which do not end in -ed are also used as adjectives (being sometimes called ‘-ed’ adjectives), e.g. The kids were searching for a lost ball). A few such adjectives are related to intransitive verbs while having an active meaning: swollen, retired, escaped, fallen, dated, faded. Some ‘-ed’ adjectives are related only in form to verbs, but with a different meaning from the usual meaning of the related verb: noted (The words had been noted on a slip of paper = had been set down in writing; The words came from a noted physicist = eminent, celebrated), attached, mixed, determined, guarded, marked. Many adjectives result from adding -ed to nouns (a bearded man, a skilled adult, a flowered fabric, a walled place), and a few are not related either to verbs or to nouns in the ways already described (concerted efforts, antiquated clothes, sophisticated technology). The fact that some adjectives focus on a state and some on a process can be reflected in the choice of either very or much as modifier:

            a very polished speech ( <STATE> well presented, elegant )

            a much polished speech ( <PROCESS> carefully revised ).

-ing : the adjectival character can be tested with the help of the adverb very, which is not used with verbal forms (a very unenterprising youth). These adjectives can occur predicatively. They often describe the person or thing causing a feeling, whereas -ed adjectives describe the person or thing affected by a feeling (a boring text vs. a bored reader). When related to intransitive verbs, -ing adjectives describe processes (an ageing monkey). Other examples are reigning, diminishing, bleeding, dying, remaining, booming. Still others, while related to a verb, have a different meaning from the commonest meaning of the verb: The bus was halting (= stopping) at every two stops versus A halting invalid (= limping) caught their attention. Not related to verbs at all are such examples as impending, neighbouring, cunning, balding (the appetizing aromas of the dishes). Informal speech uses -ing adjectives for emphasis, always preceding the noun and never after a link verb (Tell your blinking  brother = confounded). Additional examples are : a raving lunatic, a flipping/fucking question, a stinking banker.

2.4     Let us consider two columns of compound adjectives: in (A) the suffix -ed is attached to verbal bases, whereas in (B) the bases of the affixation are nouns. Their difference of form seems to accept a different meaning interpretation. The verbal base leads to an indication of “accomplished state” and the modifier to the base of the compound is the agent bringing about the accomplishment; the nominal base supplies a description based on extra-linguistic, situational information in the absence of a particular agent:

   A.   fire-lit (bedroom)                               B.   hard-eyed (commander)

          rain-chilled (hands)                                  small-voiced (caller)

          snow-muffled (footfalls)                          sweet-tempered (daughter)

          storm-driven (roof)                                   woolly-haired (actress) 

The -ing in the compound produces the “mirror-image” of the compounds with an agent: the agent is the noun modified by the whole adjectival compound and the compound itself represents a characteristic activity of the agent:

          peace-making (countries)        versus         man-made (peace)

          fire-lighting (camper)              versus         man-lit (fire)

          face-chilling (rain)                   versus         rain-chilled (face)

Both -ed and -ing form patterns that are equally productive in our day.     

2.5     Formal identity of two parts of speech may pose problems to learners of English: we mean here descriptive adjectives and adverbs of manner and degree. The complication arises from the presence of -ly adjectives from which no adverbs can be derived (*friendlily is not recommended “for phonic reasons”, according to Bantas, 1993:132). The practical solution for speakers is to add a noun (way, manner, fashion) to the adjective in order to convey the adverbial meaning : He spoke in a friendly manner. Another problem is to create in learners an intuition of correct choice when meaning is changed in pairs like the following:

(a) Lucy looked angry. (a’) The leopard looked angrily at us.

(b) We felt strong after bathing. (b’) We felt deeply about the event.

(c) The perfume smelled sweet. (c’) The dish smelled strongly of garlic.

(d) They looked good. (d’) They looked well.

We conclude this part of the material with pairs of sentences making use of exactly the same free morpheme, first an adjective, then an adverb; they are adjective and adverbhomomorphs

à (a) Is it a cheap thing? (b) I’ve no idea, but they told me I bought it cheap.

à (a) Keep your shoes clean!  (b) The prisoner got clean away.

à (a) She’d like to be clear of any suspicion. (b) He threw his toys clear across the nursery.

à (a) I believe she’s no close relative of theirs. (b) They live close by the woods.

à (a) He lay in a deep sleep. (b) The real cause lies deep.

à (a) They are known to live in easy circumstances. (b) Go easy  with the butter!

à (a) Fair play seems to be forgotten now! (b) This is the rough draft; copy it out fair, please!

à (a) A fine friend you are! (b) The parsley was chopped fine.

à (a) They were a family of high rank. (b) Search high and low, it must be somewhere.

à (a) A late arrival is to be avoided. (b) They went home late.

à (a) They manufacture light weapons nowadays. (b) My friends usually travel light.

à (a) A quick runner will overtake you! (b) Run as quick as you can!

à (a) Short cuts will give us a chance. (b) He stopped short and took a deep breath.

à (a) The wide range of goods will make your shopping spree pleasant. (b) The door is wide open.

2.6    The so-called a - series of adjectives and adverbs begin with the letter underlined and are stressed on the second syllable. As we are interested in adjectives, we shall point out that the ones mentioned function predicatively and only a few can be used attributively (an aloof man). They follow the verb be and other copular verbs (the adverbs can be used only with be). Compare: The rogue was / seemed  asleep [ADJECTIVE]; The carver was / *seemed abroad [ADVERB].

            After verbs of motion, the a-adverbs denote direction (I went far afield for an interesting job as architect); after the same verbs, one never sees a-adjectives, because they express temporary states( You seemed to be aware of every danger).

            There are a-adjectives to take premodification (She felt very afraid of thieves) and also comparison (They cautioned me and now I was more alert to risks).

            Most a-adjectives can occur attributively only when they are modified (The fast-asleep children no longer minded the noise of the traffic; their somewhat afraid mother could now go to bed herself).

            Other common a-adjectives are alone, ablaze, awake, ashamed, ajar, aghast, alive, aware, afloat, averse (to), akin, alike. Several a-words that can be used as both adjective and adverb are: adrift, afloat, aground, aloof, alone, amiss, askew, astray.

3.0   We have already opened the subchapter on the syntactic peculiarities of adjectives by  enumerating their occurrences:

·  attributive only - the adjectives are placed immediately before (and sometimes after) the nouns to which they refer. Thus, we say “an old friend” thinking of friendship and not of the friend as a person advanced in age. “Mere curiosity” means something only in this syntactic presentation and not detaching the attribute by saying *“the curiosity was mere”. Such cases are described as ‘non-inherent’ or ‘intensional’ adjectives. The opposite case, when the test with the verb “to be” is passed, the adjectives are said to be ‘inherent’or ‘extensional’ . Still another terminology is that of reference modification adjectives versus referent modification adjectives. The former situation entails the attributive position exclusively. Relative and determinative adjectives can only be used attributively.

·  predicative only  -  such adjectives function as subject complements after link verbs. They tend to refer to a possibly temporary condition rather than to characterize (He felt faint. They were unwell because of the storm). Native speakers show a tendency to use such adjectives as attributes too. For instance, the following statement has been taken to be grammatical:

A well person need see a doctor only for a periodic checkup.

            A large group of adjectives that are restricted to predicative position comprises adjectives which can take complementation: I’m aware of that. She was glad that everything was fine. They were fond of puns. He is averse to walking barefoot.

            As a rule, it is not possible for an adjective to be complement of the subject when the subject is indefinite (we exclude the case of the generic use of an indefinite article). For example, if the sentence The patient feels poorly sounds all right, (?) A patient feels poorly is quite odd.  

·  both attributive and predicative  -  this is the case for most English adjectives (in certain cases with a change of meaning, like the famous example My friend is old vs.This is my old friend, Tom).

·   there are a few adjectives in English with one form as attributes and another as predicatives, for example: lonely (A) vs. alone (P), sleeping (A) vs. asleep, sick (A) vs. ill (P), living (A) vs. alive (P).

            After this classification of adjectives based on a syntactic criterion, we still have a number of remarks on syntax involving adjective use.

3.1  Once again, we would like to define the feature [INHERENT]. It refers to the situation when an adjective characterises a noun directly and, as such, can take what A.Bantas (l993:129) calls pre-position and  post-position: He is a sick man; he is sick. The property the adjective expresses is free, it has an extensional application to all objects denoting the same property. When there is no dependence on the meaning of the accompanied noun, the adjective is also said to enjoy an absolute reading. This is particularly frequent in “scientific” descriptions, with adjectives such as round, coloured, purple, criminal, public, etymological, inseparable, etc. The immediately noticeable fact is that they do not take degrees of comparison. And yet linguistic behaviour is as unpredictable as always. Creditable, for example, preserves the meaning of “with a reasonably high standard” (a creditable performance, was  creditable), criminal shifts in meaning from a criminal lawyer (one who is specialized in crime) to the lawyer was criminal (can be punished for an illegal action). In fact, criminal can be used (a) intensionally or (b) extensionally or, to put it differently, as non-inherent and then inherent. The contrast is between relational reading and absolute reading. In conclusion, some adjectives are attributive and intensional/non-inherent only in some of their readings.

à  the nasal cavity : [NON-INH]; *the cavity is nasal. But his pronunciation is nasal [INH].

à  a new friend: [NON-INH]; * the friend is new. But that student is new [INH].

à  a heavy smoker: [NON-INH]; * the smoker is heavy. But this bag is heavy [INH].

à  a big eater : [NON-INH]; * the eater is big. But the lion was big [INH].

à  severe anaemia: [NON-INH]; * the anaemia was severe. But a severe teacher [INH].

3.2   Quirk (l99l:436) combines the syntactic (central-peripheral tandem) and the semantic points of view (stative-dynamic & (non)inherent tandems) to comment on a diversity of situations. We shall use his examples:

°  She is a brave woman.   (stative use of a central adjective which is inherent and gradable).

°  She’s being very brave.  (dynamic use of the same adjective as described above).

°  He is a firm friend.  (stative peripheral adjective, non-inherent and gradable).

°  This actor is being wooden tonight.  (dynamic use of an otherwise stative inherent

                                         adjective, which is gradable in the new, figurative context).

°  She is a medical student.  ( stative peripheral adjective, non-gradable and non-inherent).

3.3     Post-position is a phenomenon to be seen in many fixed expressions, usually based on the French model: court martial, minister plenipotentiary, ambassador extraordinary, attorney general, vice-chancellor designate, the president elect, notary public, body politic. The preference for the political vocabulary is manifest. Poetical or elevated language also resorts to post-positive or post-positional adjectives: treasures inexhaustible, memory eternal, perils inimaginable, life immortal, from time immemorial. The slightly derogatory overtones can be felt in completions for the noun “things”: of all things English, things scholarly, to despise things Italian, etc. The exclamation father/mother/brother dear is another illustration in point. We must add, from different areas, knight errant, heir apparent, heir presumptive, cousin german, devil incarnate, the person opposite, Monday to Friday inclusive, the sum total. Other cases can be assigned to one of the following syntagmatic arrangements:

Ÿ  (indefinite) pronouns +adjective : everything acceptable, someone less lucky, me included.

Ÿ  two or more coordinated adjectives : he was a big man, square-shouldered and frightening

Ÿ  a phrase expressing measurement : a house ten storeys high; a river two hundred miles long.

Ÿ  adjective + prepositional phrase : a girl greedy for money; a guy worthy of respect.

            Quirk (l99l:419) mentions both the attributive and the postpositive arrangement with an adjective ending in -able or -ible, when modification of the headnoun is ensured also by an adjective in the superlative degree, by “only” or by the general ordinals “last”,”next” etc. His examples are: the best possible use ~ the best use possible

                             the greatest imaginable insult ~ the greatest insult imaginable

                             the only suitable actor ~ the only actor suitable

                             the last copy available ~ the last available copy

Another remark by Quirk is that -able/-ible suffixation can be read as referring to permanent features or temporary applicability, function of the attributive or postpositive use. Thus, the stars visible refers to stars that are visible at a time specified or implied, while the visible stars more aptly refers to a category of stars that can (at appropriate times) be seen. Quirk adds the case of a- adjectives and four particular adjectives (absent, present, concerned, involved) , always postpositive when designating “temporary” as opposed to “permanent” attributes: The house ablaze is next door to mine.

              The men present were his supporters.

              The people involved were not found.

  3.4  English syntax records the use of supplementive adjective clauses (see Quirk et al., 1991:425), a mobile part with an adjective functioning as head of an AdjP, e.g.

(a) Limping on her flat feet, the child went closer to her mother.    (initial position)

(b) The child, limping on her flat feet, went closer to her mother.   (medial position)

(c) The child went closer to her mother, limping on her flat feet.    (final position)

The occurrence to be preferred is (a), namely the AdjP preceding the subject of the sentence. Thus, the speaker excludes any ambiguous reading, which could be the risks run by case (c) where only the presence of a comma prevents the interpretation that a mother could be limping. Under certain conditions, this phrase could be replaced by an adverb. That is why Levitchi calls the construction adverbial adjectives combined with other parts of speech and quotes from Galsworthy (l970:86) : “He walked away under a sky of clear steel-blue, alive with stars.”  This last example shows how the supplementive adjective clause can be related to a NP other than the subject of the sentence. One should also notice how the adjective is almost always given the support of other words: Rather nervous (=nervously), the man tried to dial the number of his friend. In trying the replacement that points out adverbial meanings, quirk warns that there can be adjective heads that have no corresponding adverb in the vocabulary of English. We take over his example: Long and untidy, his hair played in the breeze ® * Longly/ Untidily his hairetc.

3.5  When the circumstance or condition under which something happens occurs in a verbless clause realized with the help of an adjective, Greenbaum (1991:141) writes about contingent verbless clauses and he examplifies with When fit, the Labrador is an excellent retriever. The clause can occur also at the end of the sentence: They should come as soon as possible. In final position, it is normal for the contingent clause to refer to the object of the superordinate clause : you must eat fruit when fresh.

3.6  Exclamatory adjective clauses are syntactically achieved with or without an initial wh-element: How amusing! Excellent! Lovely!

3.7  The problem that takes a vaster discussion of adjective heads is the grammatical and semantic phenomenon of convertibility. With high levels of productivity, adjectives can pass into nouns in (a) set expressions (in short, to the full, out of the ordinary, on the cheap, the long and the short of it, etc); (b) the + adjective with abstract reference (the best is yet to come); (c) the + adjective with a plural meaning, in which case Greenbaum & Quirk (l99l:138-40) perform the following subdivision, which we shall precede by examples:

à  The innocent are often deceived by the unscrupulous. The adjective premodifying the noun “people” is used as head with generic reference.

à  The industrious Dutch are admired by their neighbours. As with the first type, the adjective becomes head, has generic reference and takes plural concord. The difference consists in the denotation of nationalities in the second case, their restriction to items ending in -ese (the Congolese), -(i)sh (the Irish, the Welsh), -ch (the French), as well as the Swiss as a singular occurrence, and last but not least, the impossibility to modify them by adverbs (the conventional testing is performed with very : the very rich, but not *the very Spanish).

            Let us record further how modification is achieved for either category:

There’s occasional misunderstanding between the extremely young and the old in spirit.

                                                                            (premodification)          (postmodification)

The extremely wealthy who resist change may not be admitted into political sets.

                    ( M + H + Q )

It is the duty of the government to care for our unemployed.

                      (the possibility to use a possessive determiner)

These seats are for the disabled vs. The disabled members of our party were let in free.

   (reference to a particular group, even if largely represented, requires a nominal H)

The deferential English have many formal turns of expression.

   (preM is normally nonrestrictive : ‘the English, who are deferential, ’)

The Chinese in America have their own city quarters.

  (restrictive postM)

The Japs, for many of whom speaking English is second nature, are thriving in business abroad.       (non-restrictive postM)

            Infrequently, the adjective functioning as head loses its definite determinative: The new president is acceptable to both old and young. The number of jobless is on the increase.

            Note also that, occasionally, the + adjective can have a singular meaning (the accused as one person on trial) and that colours can be marked for the plural to represent people (the blacks, the whites), while an indefinite determinative to show the singular number can also signal conversion of adjectives into nouns (an editorial, a daily, a domestic). Quirk (1991:423) notes that “there is a great deal of varying usage in this area” to account for other irregular occurrences such as the world’s greats, the party’s faithfuls and even the retireds. In the field of pragmatic studies, one is already used to the preferreds and the dispreferreds designating particular types of response in adjacency pairs.

            As for the abstract notions that are a result of adjective conversion, their case is proved by the insertion of the general noun “thing” in its most abstract sense :

The latest (thing) is that we’ll have early elections this autumn.

Sometimes the word-class status of the item following a preposition can be decided in favour of adjectives if there is no article or in favour of nouns if there is an article. Compare He left for good  and It’s for the good of everyone; Temperatures are above normal and His IQ is above the normal.

3.8   Not all grammar books view the phenomenon explained at (3.7) in the same light. For example, Downing & Locke (l992:457) refer to elliptical epithets referring to entities outside the text and which are not expounded because they are self-understood. These entities are:

à  a social group  (The English say that the future is in the hands of the young)

à  a fact  (Have you heard the latest? )

à  an event  (She did well in the oral but not in the written)

à  a phenomenon  (You must take the rough with the smooth)

3.9   The complementation of adjectives  should be mentioned here because normally it requires postposition. The complementation can be a prepositional phrase (The stage director knew many actors suitable for the part), a to-infinitive clause (The children easiest to handle are much loved by grown-ups), a coordinated construction, though rather in formal style (Soldiers timid or cowardly don’t fight well), a relative clause (A man who is usually honest will refuse bribe), a discontinuous phrase (It was too thrilling a book to put it down).

3.10  The question of ordering the adjectives occurs when two or three come together, in quite rare cases more than three. The following guidelines can be suggested:

°  in predicative position, the last adjective is preceded by “and” (The fur coat was long, dirty and in bad taste). When the text is arranged for a strong literary effect, the conjunction may be left out (Michael Swan’s example: My soul is exotic, mysterious, incomprehensible).

°  the longer and less expected adjectives occur later, just like the example above.

°  in attributive position, “and” is not very often used in English. Compare The day was hot and dusty to It was a hot dusty day. Even the comma is an optional contribution. In half jest, one can ask which is more flattering to the lady in question  -  “Mrs Grant is a pretty generous woman” or “ Mrs Grant is a pretty, generous woman”? In this particular query, the comma is of vital importance. “And” seems to be necessary,or at least advisable, when two adjectives say the same kind of thing, for example a concrete and glass building (two names of material), a red and black sports car (two colours), a cruel and revengeful master (two moral traits).

°  with a chain of adjectives, one succession may be qualitative adjective + colour adjective + classifying adjective : a little white wooden house.

°  qualitative adjectives take the following order : opinions + size + age + shape (it is exaggerated to try and introduce them all in one illustration : a nice big old garden, which is interpreted as “nice” because it is “big” and “old” and not for other reasons, so opinion+size+age; long curly red hair -  size+shape+colour ; muddy deep water pool -  opinion+size+classifying adjective.

°  whatever is placed first in the chain may carry stronger stress; for instance, Thomson & Martinet (l995:35) explain that in a young ambitious man the age is emphasized, whereas in an ambitious young man the age is backgrounded.

°   Another grammarian, Eugene J. Hall in “Building English Sentences” (l995:37-44), adopts the presentation of the chain from the extreme left towards the right-hand ending, thus starting in a surprising manner from numerals: ordinals followed by cardinals (the first twenty pages; the last four hours of the day), followed by descriptives (the first two easy lessons), followed by the special group “little”, “old”, “new” (a clever new person; my little old house), followed by colour ( a shabby old gray suit), followed by adjectives that place the head noun in a special group or category (those sturdy Portuguese fishermen; a serious mechanical flaw). The complications of a ridiculously long chain are usually solved by building up after the head has been given, with prepositional phrases, such as in the following rephrasing: They were enveloped by the dark moonless and starless night ® They were enveloped in the darkness of a night without moon or stars. When two adjectives are used with the indefinites (it is unusual to use more than two), they follow in mirror order, that is   -  separated by and, or, but  -  first categorizing, next descriptive ( She bought something old and rare. Everything cheap but good has been sold).

°  In connection with items of clothing, M. Taranu in “Limba engleza - Exercitii pentru nivelul superior” (l996:46) has the idea of analysing the chain from right to left in the light of real-life experience: you have a garment in mind (l)- the headword - for which you have the material (2); make it precede the head; then comes the paint/colour (3), make it precede the material; then , decide upon the cut (4); then the most unstable part, the fashion (5). An example can be, with the numbers directing you above, as follows:

            a pair of      tight       blue        cotton        jeans

            a modern    loose      yellow     silk            dress

                 5               4             3              2                 1 

°  A different explanation of multiple word arrangement, still going on the reverse, may sound like Michael Swan’s explanation in “Practical English Usage” (l980): just before the noun come adjectives telling you the purpose (a tennis racket), just before these come the adjectives that say what something is made of (a plastic garden chair), before these are words that tell you the origin (Spanish leather boots), before these come colour adjectives (a brown and white German beer-mug), words for age, shape, size, temperature and other adjectives come before all these (a big round conference table).

3.11  We shall dwell upon the words known as classifiers, though the differences between description and classification are not absolute. Grammarians say that all the prehead items contribute to identification: the determiner is mainly selective, the epithet is qualitative and often gradable, the classifier is taxonomic. The same word may have dual function, e.g.

a fast train (epithet: the train goes fast); a fast train (a train classed as “express”)

a sick person (epithet); a sick leave (classifier: a leave in the case of sickness)

an iron will (epithet, metaphorical use); an iron bridge (classifier: made of iron).

A classifier cannot be graded. There are grammars to call it an adjectival, that is a noun used as an adjective. The syntactic arrangement NOUN + NOUN can be studied in two areas of knowledge: (a) knowledge of a field, in the absence of which meaning becomes opaque. Only the initiated can interpret correctly the relationship between classifier/adjectival and H, for example air strip is the strip of land cleared for planes to land and take off, while air speed refers to the speed of a vehicle in the air;

                    (b) everyday communication, the meaning being easily processed whether the adjectivals take the singular form for plural content (a book exhibition will by no means display only one object) or the plural form when they are pluralia tantum adjectivals (a clothes peg, the sports page, an athletics competition). Adjectivals may occur in both attributive and predicative positions (the dress looks silk ~ a silk dress; the house is brick ~ a brick house; the car is Ford ~ a Ford car; her accent sounds Yorkshire ~ her Yorkshire accent).

Therefore, the adjectivals analysed above can be names of material, of designers, of places.

            Ellipsis is acceptable with adjectivals: Stone cottages are prettier than brick/ The stone cottage is prettier than the brick/ *A stone cottage is prettier than a brick. So, the ellipted noun should be plural or definite, or the singular will be easily misinterpreted as a head noun on its own.

            3.12  Qualitative adjectives and adjectival phrases display the feature of  substitutability, which is generally overlooked by grammars, but a researcher such as A.Bantas enjoys approaching it (l993:130). He starts from the fact that a question of the type Is he sorry?/ in love?/ angry? can be answered by Very much / really/ indeed so. The question centred on an adjective has elicited an emphatic response. So is the word that compresses a longer answer and is proposed by Bantas as an adjective substitute. On the other hand, he also considers that one can discuss the quantitative or numerical adjectives with synonymous substitutes in a range of stylistic intensifiers, for example the simplest case is “much” replaced by “a lot of”. When “a lot of” substitutes for a plurality ( “many”), some other phrases can function synonymically: a number of, a variety of, no end of, a host of.

            Zdrenghea & Townson (l995:32) have a different approach to substitutability and draw up the following list of substitutes for adjectives: (a) a participle or verbal adjective (a fallen tree); (b) an adverb (the then king, the down trains) with a participle understood- in the given examples, “reigning” and “going”; (c) a noun or a gerund used as adjectives (a river fish; a bathing place); (d) a noun in the genitive case (my son’s teacher); (e) a verb in the infinitive (a chair to sit on); (f) a preposition with its object (a bird in the hand); (g) pronouns used as adjectives (this mistake); (h) a verb (the would-be artist).

4.0  We have blended syntactic and semantic remarks so far, and we have to do it further on, though we set it our target now to approach a few semantic problems before the greatest semantico-syntactic challenge which is the category of comparison.

4.l   Communicative factors have led grammarians to an analysis and classification of Adv Ps, Nps and PrepPs that contribute to a specification of the degree in which a quality exists. Gradation of adjectives presupposes that a quality of things, persons or ideas is discontinuous and measurable. The evident nature of measurement exists where there are physical units, so that one can say ‘very high’, ‘quite recent’, ‘almost cold’ etc., but it is unacceptable to say * ‘very ceaseless’ or * ‘a little thus’; an intermediary situation that a speaker may decide on, thinking of gradability, is (?) ‘very white’ or (?) ‘right there’. Semantically, gradators could be classified into three, according to English Grammar (l987:179):

(l) intensives: very, a lot of, to a high degree;

(2) restrictives: less than, hardly, a bit, to a low degree;

(3) approximatives: more or less, in the neighbourhood of, almost, sort of .

These are modifying parts of the Adj P.

4.2   Another semantic classification refers to the adjective itself modifying a NP. Greenbaum & Quirk (1991:142-3) distinguish intensifying adjectives from restrictive adjectives. The former fall into three semantic subclasses:

·  emphasizers have a heightening effect and are attributive only (the simple truth; sheer pretence; a clear doubt; plain confusion; a true supporter; an outright lie; pure impudence);

·  amplifiers are said to make estimation go upward from an assumed norm and they can be inherent (therefore central adjectives) or noninherent (only attributive) : a complete victory ~ the victory was complete; a complete fool ~ * the fool was complete [NONINHERENT]; great disaster ~ the disaster was great; a firm friend~ * the friend is firm. Greenbaum & Quirk add that “amplifiers are only attributive when they are used as emphasizers, conveying principally emphasis rather than degree. For example, total in total nonsense is an emphasizer, while in total destruction it is an amplifier and has a literal application.” The authors add to the list of amplifiers: a perfect stranger; an extreme enemy; the absolute limit; a close friend.

·  downtoners have a lowering effect, the direction is downward from an asssumed norm. They are generally central adjectives and are quite few, in fact the authors mentioned above come up with two examples only: a slight effort; a feeble joke.

            Restrictive adjectives are said to restrict reference exclusively, particularly or chiefly: the very man, a certain person, one’s chief excuse, the same reminder, the exact result, the only memory, the sole objection, the specific point.

4.3  Gradation in the language need not be expressed by what we have already recorded or by what comparison will show. Gradation is a larger semantic process that can be shown, for instance to activate in the sphere of the verb. We can discriminate between three situations:

°  the verbal expression of a higher degree (to exceed, amplify, increase, maximize, exaggerate, lengthen, enlarge, intensify, etc.);

°  the verbal expression about keeping or gaining the same degree ( to equal, equalize, even, counterbalance, amount to);

°  the verbal expression of lowering the degree (to lower, lessen, curtail, minimize, abridge, impair, diminish, decline, deteriorate, fade).

4.4  The most important semantic property of adjectives is vagueness. If we start from the statement X is tall, we propose ourselves to find the set of all the entities to which the adjective “tall” could apply. When thinking of mountains first, most other objects will turn out not to be tall. We may not very easily accept then that My brother is tall can be true, and not even My two-storeyed house is tall. How can we defend the statement The grass was tall from an accusation of falsehood? Philosophers of the language have established that the truth value of X is tall is unimpaired if we consider a relevant subset of the objects to which the predicate applies. This subset, which is contextually determined, is called the comparison class. In the following three sentences: (a) President Clinton is tall. (b) The Intercontinental Hotel is tall. (c) The lime-tree in front of their house is tall, the comparison class will be different: it will consist of  the set of American male grown-ups (a), the set of hotel buidings (b) and the set of tress (c). In each case we determine the extension of “tall” so as to make it focus on a particular subset. Such comparison classes demonstrate that adjectives have context dependency as a consequence of their being vague. Vagueness can be discussed further on in another sense: there are people whom we consider definitely “tall”, others who are definitely not tall (i.e. “short”), and yet another group who are somewhere in between. At this point, comparison appears to be a particular case of determining the extension of the adjective. Take the case when only two objects are assumed to be in the comparison class: one of them will be taken as a reference point. We understand that Bill is taller than John does not imply Bill is tall. For the former, the comparison class need include only two individuals, for the latter the comparison class is wider.

4.5  Linearity is the most characteristic property of adjectives. This is to say that the category of comparison depends on the ability of an adjective to impose a linear ordering on the objects of a set. Adjectives that allow the comparative are linear. Non-linear adjectives like married, dead, three-legged, future, round, etc. do not compare. Linear adjectives are vague in the sense of being gradual, that is to say that the fuzzy boundary between objects of which the adjective is true and those of which it is definitely false can be conceptualized as a gradual transition. So, graduality is the particular kind of vagueness that linear adjectives exhibit. Non-linear adjectives exhibit a second kind of vagueness: indeterminacy. It is indeterminate which particular criteria have to be met for the adjective to be true of an object. Indeterminacy is superordinate to graduality and it is solved by the ADJECTIVE + NOUN combination. Notice that an as paraphrase often expresses linearization of an adjective: good violinist ~ good as a violinist; bad library ~ bad as a library. Absolute adjectives and linear ones are said not to accept the as paraphrase: round ball (* round as a ball); tall student (* tall as a student); heavy box (* heavy as a box). The ADJECTIVE + NOUN combination may yield a linear, gradable presentation (better violinist; most clever politician) or an absolute meaning (the alleged thief, the only support).

            Measure adjectives are perfect examples of inherently linear adjectives. Their interpretation presupposes not only a comparison class, but also the existence of a certain norm characteristic of the comparison class, and often expressible as a for phrase: tall American ~ tall for an American; heavy suitcase ~ heavy for a suitcase; small dog ~ small for a dog.

            Some inherently non-linear adjectives behave as measure adjectives after linearization and accept the for paraphrase: good violinist/ good as a violinist/ good for a violinist, etc. But grammars warn about the two paraphrases as not being fully synonymous.

       

5.0  Comparison is the most general property characterizing both intensional and extensional adjectives, naturally not all of them. It is difficult to escape the traditional view that the meaning of the positive adjective is the basic component of the comparative. Modern approaches suggest that the positive is a covert comparative and thus the statement Tom is a tall man should be analysed as “he is taller than the average man” or “taller than most people”. In this way, adjectives in the positive degree are said to be implicitly graded, while in the comparative construction grading they are explicitly graded. The comparative morphemes themselves are an expression of degree. But a property of gradable adjectives is that they may be modified by other degree words such as: “very”, “so”, “that”, “fairly”, “rather”, “how”. the general claim is that degree modifiers serve the function of introducing a new comparison class, which is narrower than the prevailing one. The comparison class is the same as the positive extension of an adjective. But this is far from solving the intricacies of comparison. For example, Mary is very tall  is a vague description: if, say, Mary is Irish, does the speaker take the norm to be the Irish girls in her community? Or maybe the way girls are in Romania in such problems? It may be that the very stature of the speaker - who is not tall but makes of himself a norm - has decided upon the verdict.  Again, Mary is fairly tall is not clearer in its message. It might mean to say that she is tall, but not very tall. Yet our sense of the relativity of things will tell us that someone can be fairly tall without being tall. We can also say that in the positive extension of “fairly tall”, Mary is tall relative to everyone (tall or short) in the comparison class except those who are very tall.

             An adjective may either assert that an object is in the positive extension of an adjective, or presuppose that the object is in the positive extension. For example,

Bill is young asserts youth, How young is Bill? presupposes youth. But we can ask How old is the baby? without implying  that the baby is actually old. We cannot ask How ugly is the baby? without hinting at an ugly little one. How is a function defined on the positive extension of the adjective. But it is so when the adjective is oriented or has presuppositional values, while for neutral adjectives , the values of the question fall anywhere in the comparison class. The neutral interpretation seems to depend on ad hoc pragmatic or lexical features. For instance, “young” cannot have the same values in the question above and in other two contexts: Grandpa is a bit younger than grandma. This fossil is younger than the one he wrote about. Native speakers seem to do conflicting, insecure, inconsistent reporting in their own language, but this happens because words have semantic orientation.

            Linguistics defines  the positive extension of an adjective as the set of things  of which something true by means of the adjective is said. The negative extension, therefore, is the set of things in connection with which the description by the adjective is definitely false. What fails to belong to either the positive or the negative extension is said to belong to the extension gap. For instance, suppose we are told to sort out a group of people into tall and not tall members. Though it’s a trivial statement, maybe we should however make it : gradables usually come in pairs, consisting of a “positive” and a “negative” member (big - small; easy - difficult; rich - poor). As for our experimental group, we start work and after a while we have a division into three smaller groups: those who are definitely tall according to the standards we have applied, those who are definitely not tall/short, and a third group  that we can’t quite decide about. If we insist, we re-apply “tall” to the extension gap. The meaning stays the same, but the comparison class is changed. Thus we can systematically modify the comparison class in a series of stages, focusing at each stage on the extension gap left at the prior stage. If a set X for sorting out has only two members, a and b, one should go in the positive extension and the other in the negative extension. If a is taken as a reference point, we will say that a is -er than b. If b is taken as a reference point, we will say that b is less than a.

            Comparison appears to be a particular case of determining the extension of the adjective.

            An important condition concerns the consistency with which individuals are allocated to the positive and negative extension of an adjective in the various comparison classes. If, say, Bill is taller than Jim, but Bill is not tall, then Jim is also not tall, and if Sue is taller than Mary, and Mary is tall, then Sue is also tall.

            Adjectives that do not compare are also without extension gaps (three-sided, departed, square, etc.)

            The ability to have an extension gap and to select a relevant dimension of measurement are the properties that explain linearity (=gradation) and thus comparison.

            There is a category of adjectives that fail to be linear because they fail to specify one semantic dimension for ordering, although they are gradable and allow for comparison. A good example is “clever”. There is no single criterion that could alone determine cleverness. Let us, nevertheless, think of two properties that can associate with it: if you possess ability to manipulate numbers, you are a clever mathematician; if you possess ability to manipulate people, you are a clever politician. Anyone then who possesses both properties is clever, anyone who possesses neither will actually not be. Suppose that Dick is better than Tom at manipulating numbers, whereas Tom is better than Dick at manipulating people. In a context where both criteria are potentially relevant and where there is no accepted method for weighing them against one another, it is difficult to see who is cleverer than whom. And then clever could be proclaimed a non-linear adjective. The phenomenon has been commented upon by philosophers and linguists. The term syncategorematic has been introduced, with the famous example good  -  it refers to those adjectives  whose meaning depends on the meaning of the noun with which it is used. For instance, a good knife (= sharp), a good armchair (= comfortable), a good cook (= skilful) etc. All evaluative adjectives behave in this way: fine, great, nice, excellent; bad, rotten, striking, terrible, awful. The interpretation of such adjectives is relative: functional information stored with the head noun determines the relevant meaning or the relevant semantic dimension of the adjective.

            Semanticians have classified gradable adjectivers into pointers and neutralizers. The former are always used in an oriented sense: humane/ inhumane; warm/ cold; nice/ ugly; rich/ poor. Other pairs, such as wide/ narrow; tall/ short; big/ small; old/ young, sometimes are used in an oriented sense, sometimes neutrally, depending on the co-text and context. For example, the question How big is it? does not presuppose “It is big”, so it is neutral; instead, How small is it? is oriented, it presupposes “it is small”. When an adjective is a neutralizer, the parameter it expresses has a vanishing zero-value and no upper limit. By what has been underlined, grammarians understand that at value 0 the parameter ceases to exist. Thus, at 0 length, the object is not very short, but inexistent, while at 0 possessions, the person is very poor. Consequent-ly long is a neutralizer and rich is a pointer.

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