Adjective

Adjective

Overview
In grammar
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic
Syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

 role of which is to qualify
Grammatical modifier
In grammar, a modifier is an optional element in phrase structure or clause structure; the removal of the modifier typically doesn't affect the grammaticality of the sentence....

 a noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

 or noun phrase
Noun phrase
In grammar, a noun phrase, nominal phrase, or nominal group is a phrase based on a noun, pronoun, or other noun-like word optionally accompanied by modifiers such as adjectives....

, giving more information about the object signified.

Adjectives are one of the traditional eight English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 parts of speech, though linguists
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

 today distinguish adjectives from words such as determiners
Determiner (class)
A determiner is a noun-modifier that expresses the reference of a noun or noun-phrase in the context, rather than attributes expressed by adjectives...

 that were formerly considered to be adjectives. In this paragraph, "traditional" is an adjective, and in the preceding paragraph, "main" and "more" are.

Most but not all language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s have adjectives.
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Encyclopedia
In grammar
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic
Syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

 role of which is to qualify
Grammatical modifier
In grammar, a modifier is an optional element in phrase structure or clause structure; the removal of the modifier typically doesn't affect the grammaticality of the sentence....

 a noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

 or noun phrase
Noun phrase
In grammar, a noun phrase, nominal phrase, or nominal group is a phrase based on a noun, pronoun, or other noun-like word optionally accompanied by modifiers such as adjectives....

, giving more information about the object signified.

Adjectives are one of the traditional eight English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 parts of speech, though linguists
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

 today distinguish adjectives from words such as determiners
Determiner (class)
A determiner is a noun-modifier that expresses the reference of a noun or noun-phrase in the context, rather than attributes expressed by adjectives...

 that were formerly considered to be adjectives. In this paragraph, "traditional" is an adjective, and in the preceding paragraph, "main" and "more" are.

Most but not all language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s have adjectives. Those that do not typically use words of another part of speech, often verbs, to serve the same semantic
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 function; for example, such a language might have a verb that means "to be big", and would use a construction analogous to "big-being house" to express what English expresses as "big house". Even in languages that do have adjectives, one language's adjective might not be another's; for example, whereas English uses "to be hungry" (hungry being an adjective), Dutch and French use "honger hebben" and "avoir faim," respectively (literally "to have hunger", hunger being a noun), and whereas Hebrew uses the adjective "זקוק" (zaqūq, roughly "in need of"), English uses the verb "to need".

Adjectives form an open class
Open class (linguistics)
In linguistics, a word class may be either an open class or a closed class. Open classes accept the addition of new morphemes , through such processes as compounding, derivation, inflection, coining, and borrowing; closed classes generally do not....

 of words in most languages that have them; that is, it is relatively common for new adjectives to be formed via such processes as derivation
Derivation (linguistics)
In linguistics, derivation is the process of forming a new word on the basis of an existing word, e.g. happi-ness and un-happy from happy, or determination from determine...

. However, Bantu languages
Bantu languages
The Bantu languages constitute a traditional sub-branch of the Niger–Congo languages. There are about 250 Bantu languages by the criterion of mutual intelligibility, though the distinction between language and dialect is often unclear, and Ethnologue counts 535 languages...

 are well known for having only a small closed class of adjectives, and new adjectives are not easily derived. Similarly, native Japanese adjectives
Japanese adjectives
According to many analyses, the Japanese language does not have words that function as adjectives in a syntactic sense, i.e. tree diagrams of Japanese sentences can be constructed without employing adjective phrases. However, there are words that function as adjectives in a semantic sense...

 (i-adjectives) are a closed class (as are native verbs), though nouns (which are open class) can be used in the genitive and there is the separate class of adjectival nouns (na-adjectives), which is also open, and functions similarly to noun adjunct
Noun adjunct
In grammar, a noun adjunct or attributive noun or noun premodifier is a noun that modifies another noun and is optional — meaning that it can be removed without changing the grammar of the sentence; it is a noun functioning as an adjective. For example, in the phrase "chicken soup" the noun adjunct...

s in English.

Adjectives and adverbs


Many languages, including English, distinguish between adjectives, which qualify nouns and pronouns, and adverb
Adverb
An adverb is a part of speech that modifies verbs or any part of speech other than a noun . Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives , clauses, sentences, and other adverbs....

s, which modify verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s, adjectives, and other adverbs. Not all languages have exactly this distinction and many languages, including English, have words that can function as both. For example, in English fast is an adjective in "a fast car" (where it qualifies the noun car), but an adverb in "he drove fast" (where it modifies the verb drove).

Determiners


Linguists today distinguish determiners from adjectives, considering them to be two separate parts of speech (or lexical categories), but formerly determiners were considered to be adjectives in some of their uses. In English dictionaries, which typically still do not treat determiners as their own part of speech, determiners are often recognizable by being listed both as adjectives and as pronouns. Determiners are words that are neither nouns nor pronouns, yet reference a thing already in context. Determiners generally do this by indicating definiteness
Definiteness
In grammatical theory, definiteness is a feature of noun phrases, distinguishing between entities which are specific and identifiable in a given context and entities which are not ....

 (as in a vs. the), quantity
Quantity
Quantity is a property that can exist as a magnitude or multitude. Quantities can be compared in terms of "more" or "less" or "equal", or by assigning a numerical value in terms of a unit of measurement. Quantity is among the basic classes of things along with quality, substance, change, and relation...

 (as in one vs. some vs. many), or another such property.


Form


A given occurrence of an adjective can generally be classified into one of four kinds of uses:
  1. Attributive adjectives are part of the noun phrase
    Noun phrase
    In grammar, a noun phrase, nominal phrase, or nominal group is a phrase based on a noun, pronoun, or other noun-like word optionally accompanied by modifiers such as adjectives....

     headed by the noun they modify; for example, happy is an attributive adjective in "happy people". In some languages, attributive adjectives precede their nouns; in others, they follow their nouns; and in yet others, it depends on the adjective, or on the exact relationship of the adjective to the noun. In English, attributive adjectives usually precede their nouns in simple phrases, but often follow their nouns when the adjective is modified or qualified by a phrase acting as an adverb. For example: "I saw three happy kids", and "I saw three kids happy enough to jump up and down with glee." See also Postpositive adjective.
  2. Predicative adjectives are linked via a copula or other linking mechanism to the noun or pronoun they modify; for example, happy is a predicate adjective in "they are happy" and in "that made me happy." (See also: Predicative (adjectival or nominal)
    Predicative (adjectival or nominal)
    In grammar, a predicative is an element of the predicate of a sentence that supplements the subject or object by means of the verb. A predicative may be nominal or adjectival . If the complement after a linking verb is a noun or a pronoun, it is called a predicate nominative...

    , Subject complement
    Subject complement
    In grammar, a subject complement is a phrase or clause that follows a linking verb and that complements the subject of the sentence by either renaming it or describing it. In the former case, a renaming noun phrase such as a noun or pronoun is called a predicate nominative...

    .)
  3. Absolute adjectives do not belong to a larger construction (aside from a larger adjective phrase), and typically modify either the subject
    Subject (grammar)
    The subject is one of the two main constituents of a clause, according to a tradition that can be tracked back to Aristotle and that is associated with phrase structure grammars; the other constituent is the predicate. According to another tradition, i.e...

     of a sentence or whatever noun or pronoun they are closest to; for example, happy is an absolute adjective in "The boy, happy with his lollipop, did not look where he was going."
  4. Nominal adjectives act almost as nouns. One way this can happen is if a noun is elided
    Elision
    Elision is the omission of one or more sounds in a word or phrase, producing a result that is easier for the speaker to pronounce...

     and an attributive adjective is left behind. In the sentence, "I read two books to them; he preferred the sad book, but she preferred the happy", happy is a nominal adjective, short for "happy one" or "happy book". Another way this can happen is in phrases like "out with the old, in with the new", where "the old" means, "that which is old" or "all that is old", and similarly with "the new". In such cases, the adjective functions either as a mass noun
    Mass noun
    In linguistics, a mass noun is a noun that refers to some entity as an undifferentiated unit rather than as something with discrete subsets. Non-count nouns are best identified by their syntactic properties, and especially in contrast with count nouns. The semantics of mass nouns are highly...

     (as in the preceding example) or as a plural count noun
    Count noun
    In linguistics, a count noun is a common noun that can be modified by a numeral and that occurs in both singular and plural form, as well as co-occurring with quantificational determiners like every, each, several, etc. A mass noun has none of these properties...

    , as in "The meek shall inherit the Earth", where "the meek" means "those who are meek" or "all who are meek".

Adjectival phrases


An adjective acts as the head of an adjectival phrase. In the simplest case, an adjectival phrase consists solely of the adjective; more complex adjectival phrases may contain one or more adverb
Adverb
An adverb is a part of speech that modifies verbs or any part of speech other than a noun . Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives , clauses, sentences, and other adverbs....

s modifying the adjective ("very strong"), or one or more complements
Complement (linguistics)
In grammar the term complement is used with different meanings. The primary meaning is a word, phrase or clause that is necessary in a sentence to complete its meaning. We find complements that function as an argument and complements that exist within arguments.Both complements and modifiers add...

 (such as "worth several dollars", "full of toys", or "eager to please"). In English, attributive adjectival phrases that include complements typically follow their subject ("an evildoer devoid of redeeming qualities").

Other noun modifiers


In many languages, including English, it is possible for nouns to modify other nouns. Unlike adjectives, nouns acting as modifiers (called attributive nouns or noun adjunct
Noun adjunct
In grammar, a noun adjunct or attributive noun or noun premodifier is a noun that modifies another noun and is optional — meaning that it can be removed without changing the grammar of the sentence; it is a noun functioning as an adjective. For example, in the phrase "chicken soup" the noun adjunct...

s) are not predicative; a beautiful park is beautiful, but a car park is not "car". In plain English, the modifier often indicates origin ("Virginia reel"), purpose ("work clothes"), or semantic patient
Patient (grammar)
In linguistics, a grammatical patient, also called the target or undergoer, is the participant of a situation upon whom an action is carried out. A patient as differentiated from a theme must undergo a change in state. A theme is denoted by a stative verb, where a patient is denoted by a dynamic...

 ("man eater"). However, it can generally indicate almost any semantic relationship. It is also common for adjectives to be derived
Derivation (linguistics)
In linguistics, derivation is the process of forming a new word on the basis of an existing word, e.g. happi-ness and un-happy from happy, or determination from determine...

 from nouns, as in boyish, birdlike, behavioral, famous, manly, angelic, and so on.

Many languages have special verbal forms called participle
Participle
In linguistics, a participle is a word that shares some characteristics of both verbs and adjectives. It can be used in compound verb tenses or voices , or as a modifier...

s that can act as noun modifiers. In some languages, including English, there is a strong tendency for participles to evolve into adjectives. English examples of this include relieved (the past participle of the verb relieve, used as an adjective in sentences such as "I am so relieved to see you"), spoken (as in "the spoken word"), and going (the present participle of the verb go, used as an adjective in sentences such as "Ten dollars per hour is the going rate").

Other constructs that often modify nouns include prepositional phrases (as in "a rebel without a cause"), relative clause
Relative clause
A relative clause is a subordinate clause that modifies a noun phrase, most commonly a noun. For example, the phrase "the man who wasn't there" contains the noun man, which is modified by the relative clause who wasn't there...

s (as in "the man who wasn't there"), other adjective clause
Clause
In grammar, a clause is the smallest grammatical unit that can express a complete proposition. In some languages it may be a pair or group of words that consists of a subject and a predicate, although in other languages in certain clauses the subject may not appear explicitly as a noun phrase,...

s (as in "the bookstore where he worked"), and infinitive
Infinitive
In grammar, infinitive is the name for certain verb forms that exist in many languages. In the usual description of English, the infinitive of a verb is its basic form with or without the particle to: therefore, do and to do, be and to be, and so on are infinitives...

 phrases (as in "a cake to die for").

In relation, many nouns take complements such as content clause
Content clause
In grammar, a content clause is a subordinate clause that provides content implied by, or commented upon by, its main clause. The term was coined by Otto Jespersen...

s (as in "the idea that I would do that"); these are not commonly considered modifiers, however.

Adjective order


In many languages, attributive adjectives usually occur in a specific order. In general, the adjective order in English is:
  1. quantity or number
  2. quality or opinion
  3. size
  4. age
  5. shape
  6. color
  7. proper adjective
    Proper adjective
    In English usage, a proper adjective is an adjective that takes an initial capital letter. A common adjective is an adjective that is not a proper adjective...

     (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)
  8. purpose or qualifier


So, in English, adjectives pertaining to size precede adjectives pertaining to age ("little old", not "old little"), which in turn generally precede adjectives pertaining to color ("old white", not "white old"). So, we would say "A nice (opinion) little (size) old (age) white (color) brick (material) house."

This order may be more rigid in some languages than others; in some, like Spanish, it may only be a default (unmarked
Markedness
Markedness is a specific kind of asymmetry relationship between elements of linguistic or conceptual structure. In a marked-unmarked relation, one term of an opposition is the broader, dominant one...

) word order, with other orders being permissible.

Due partially to borrowings from French, English has some adjectives that follow the noun as postmodifiers, called postpositive adjectives, such as time immemorial. Adjectives may even change meaning depending on whether they precede or follow, as in proper: They live in a proper town (a real town, not a village) vs. They live in the town proper (in the town itself, not in the suburbs). All adjectives can follow nouns in certain constructions, such as tell me something new.

Comparison of adjectives


In many languages, adjectives can be compared. In English, for example, we can say that a car is big, that it is bigger than another is, or that it is the biggest car of all. Not all adjectives lend themselves to comparison, however; for example, the English adjective extinct is not considered comparable, in that it does not make sense to describe one species as "more extinct" than another. However, even most non-comparable English adjectives are still sometimes compared; for example, one might say that a language about which nothing is known is "more extinct" than a well-documented language with surviving literature but no speakers. This is not a comparison of the degree of intensity of the adjective, but rather the degree to which the object fits the adjective's definition.

Comparable adjectives are also known as "gradable" adjectives, because they tend to allow grading adverbs such as very, rather, and so on.

Among languages that allow adjectives to be compared in this way, different approaches are used. Indeed, even within English, two different approaches are used: the suffixes -er and -est, and the words more and most. (In English, the general tendency is for shorter adjectives and adjectives from Anglo-Saxon to use -er and -est, and for longer adjectives and adjectives from French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, and other languages to use more and most.) By either approach, English adjectives therefore have positive forms (big), comparative forms (bigger), and superlative forms (biggest). However, many other languages do not distinguish comparative from superlative forms.

Restrictiveness


Attributive adjectives, and other noun modifiers
Grammatical modifier
In grammar, a modifier is an optional element in phrase structure or clause structure; the removal of the modifier typically doesn't affect the grammaticality of the sentence....

, may be used either restrictively (helping to identify the noun's referent, hence "restricting" its reference) or non-restrictively (helping to describe an already-identified noun). For example:
"He was a lazy sort, who would avoid a difficult task and fill his working hours with easy ones."
"difficult" is restrictive - it tells us which tasks he avoids, distinguishing these from the easy ones: "Only those tasks that are difficult".
"She had the job of sorting out the mess left by her predecessor, and she performed this difficult task with great acumen."
"difficult" is non-restrictive - we already know which task it was, but the adjective describes it more fully: "The aforementioned task, which (by the way) is difficult"


In some languages, such as Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, restrictiveness is consistently marked; for example, in Spanish la tarea difícil means "the difficult task" in the sense of "the task that is difficult" (restrictive), whereas la difícil tarea means "the difficult task" in the sense of "the task, which is difficult" (non-restrictive). In English, restrictiveness is not marked on adjectives, but is marked on relative clause
Relative clause
A relative clause is a subordinate clause that modifies a noun phrase, most commonly a noun. For example, the phrase "the man who wasn't there" contains the noun man, which is modified by the relative clause who wasn't there...

s (the difference between "the man who recognized me was there" and "the man, who recognized me, was there" being one of restrictiveness).

Agreement


In some languages, adjectives alter their form to reflect the gender, case and number of the noun that they describe. This is called agreement
Agreement (linguistics)
In languages, agreement or concord is a form of cross-reference between different parts of a sentence or phrase. Agreement happens when a word changes form depending on the other words to which it relates....

 or concord. Usually it takes the form of inflections at the end of the word, as in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

:
puella bona (good girl, feminine)
puellam bonam (good girl, feminine accusative/object case)
puer bonus (good boy, masculine)
pueri boni (good boys, masculine plural)


In the Celtic languages
Celtic languages
The Celtic languages are descended from Proto-Celtic, or "Common Celtic"; a branch of the greater Indo-European language family...

, however, initial consonant lenition marks the adjective with a feminine noun, as in Irish
Irish language
Irish , also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of...

:
buachaill maith (good boy, masculine)
girseach mhaith (good girl, feminine)


Often a distinction is made here between attributive and predicative usage. Whereas English is an example of a language in which adjectives never agree and French of a language in which they always agree, in German they agree only when used attributively, and in Hungarian only when used predicatively.
The good (Ø) boys. The boys are good (Ø).
Les bons garçons. Les garçons sont bons.
Die braven Jungen. Die Jungen sind brav (Ø).
A jó (Ø) fiúk. A fiúk jók.

See also

  • Attributive verb
    Attributive verb
    In grammar, an attributive verb is a verb which modifies a noun as an attributive, rather than expressing an independent idea as a predicate....

  • Flat adverb
    Flat adverb
    A flat adverb is an adverb that assumes the form of a related adjective, most often when words ending in -ly are used without the -ly.The most famous flat adverb may be Apple Computer's "Think Different" campaign. William Safire wrote about the slogan being a flat adverb in a New York Times...

  • List of eponymous adjectives in English
  • List of irregular English adjectives
  • Noun adjunct
    Noun adjunct
    In grammar, a noun adjunct or attributive noun or noun premodifier is a noun that modifies another noun and is optional — meaning that it can be removed without changing the grammar of the sentence; it is a noun functioning as an adjective. For example, in the phrase "chicken soup" the noun adjunct...

  • Postpositive adjective
  • Proper adjective
    Proper adjective
    In English usage, a proper adjective is an adjective that takes an initial capital letter. A common adjective is an adjective that is not a proper adjective...


External links