Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(14) Adjectives and their Formal and Semantic Properties.

(Syntactic Functions; The Nature of Gradation, its Formal Characteristics and Semantic Restrictions; Adjectives and Adverbs Identical in Form; Adjective in –ly; Sequences of Adjectives in Pre-modifying Chains).

(14.1) Semantic Classification

(1) qualitative and evaluative x relative adjectives

- qualitative and evaluative ADJ: express a gradable property > gradable (wise, likely, similar)

- relative ADJ: express an absolute property, describe some material or some relationship > non-gradable (blind, wooden, annual)

(2) action x state adjectives

- ADJ semantically most closely resemble V, esp. state V (V: succeed > ADJ: be successful)

- more action V than state V x more state ADJ than action ADJ

- be + progressive + ADJ: you are being clever/stupid/ridiculous; etc.

(3) ADJ semantically directly related to the head x indirectly related

- E: ADJ semantically more freely related to the head noun x CZ: ADJ closely related

- ADJ can modify not the head N itself x but: some property implied by the noun: a sick child x a sick room

- E: a good singer [not a good person x but: a person who sings well], a heavy smoker, a big eater; etc.

- CZ: dobrý zpěvák

(14.2) Morphological Properties

(14.2.1) Derivational Morphology

- some typically adjectival suffixes: -able (unaccountable), -ous (envious), -ive (extensive), -ish (foolish)

- suffixes shared with another class:

(a) N + -en = ADJ (wooden) x ADJ + + -en = V (moisten)

(b) -ing = ADJ (interesting, amusing, striking) = present participle V

(c) -ed = ADJ (tired, complicated, surprised) = past participle V

- some ADJ derived from irregular V x different from the verbal participles: ADJ drunken x V drunk; ADJ shaven x V shaved; etc.

- ADJ with the participial form in composites: full-grown, clean-shaven, well-bred; etc.

- many ADJ not formed by derivation: proud, rude, large, soft, mild, shallow, etc.

- ADJ morphologically most closely resemble ADV

- many ADV not formed by derivation: then, often, soon, here, there, etc.

- both ADJ and ADV: long, fast, late, near, etc.

- most frequent adverbial suffix –ly shared with ADJ: ADV obviously x ADJ lonely, cowardly, friendly, etc.

- both ADJ and ADV suffixed –ly: kindly, early, weekly, daily, likely, etc.

- ADJ x ADV distinguished by their syntactical function: ADJ modifies N x ADV modifies V

(14.2.2) Inflectional Morphology

- E: invariable for number, gender, person and case

- CZ: number, gender, case, declination

- inflectional grading: -er/-est

(14.2.3) Gradation

- degrees of comparison

(a) positive, or, absolute

(b) comparative

(c) superlative

- analytical grading (or, periphrastic): more/most – obligatory with long polysyllabic ADJ 3+ syllables/facultative with short ADJ

- inflectional grading: -er/-est – common with monosyllabic or disyllabic ADJ

- loss of word-final unaccented -e: wider > wider > widest; etc.

- alternation of word-final -y > -i: heavy > heavier > heaviest; etc.

- doubling of word-final accented single consonant: hot > hotter > hottest; etc.

( Irregular Gradation

- good > better > best

- bad > worse > worst

- little > less/lesser [figurative] (e.g. a point of less importance/a lesser poet) > least

- many/much > more > most

- far > farther/further [figurative] (e.g. on the farther river bank/further evidence) > farthest/furthest

- old [of family members] > elder > eldest

(14.3) Syntactic Properties

(14.3.1) Syntactic Functions

(a) attribute: a spacious hall

(b) nominal part of the predicate: the hall is spacious

(c) subject/object complement: he died poor/he considers it impertinent

(14.3.2) Syntactic Classification

- most ADJ can be used both as attribute/as predicate: a blunt knife/the knife is blunt

(1) ADJ used only in the pre-modifying attributive function

- ADJ with a restrictive meaning: a certain place, the chief point, the very man

- some ADJ derived from ADV: inner, outer, upper, lower

- some ADJ in comparative: former, latter, elder, lesser

- ADJ not directly modifying the head noun: a hard worker, a clear winner, an old friend

- ADJ intensifying the head noun: utter darkness, sheer luck, mere chance, a complete stranger, absolute nonsense, a definite gain

(2) ADJ used only in the post-modifying attributive function

- legal E: the president elect, body politic, heir apparent, linguistics proper

- some ADJ beginning in a-: the house ablaze, the boat afloat

- polysemic ADJ: the present situation x the members present, the members absent; an involved problem x the people involved, the people concerned

- post-modified ADJ: a view differing from ours, a house adjacent to the church, a situation impossible to foresee

- any ADJ following the indefinite pronouns ending in -body/-one/-thing/-where

(3) ADJ used only in the predicative function

- used mostly after the copulative verb seem

- some ADJ beginning in a-: afraid, alert, alike, alive, aloof, alone, ashamed, asleep

- x some a- ADJ can be used in the pre-modifying attributive function when themselves pre-modified: a half-asleep child, the deeply ashamed girl

- idiosyncratic items: ill, well, unwell, sorry

- x some idiosyncratic ADJ can be used in the pre-modifying attributive function when modifying an inanimate object: he is ill x ill health, he is sorry x in a sorry state

(14.4) Attribute

(14.4.1) Semantic Functions

(a) qualifying

- subjective: the best girl, a successful play, a severe famine

- expressive of modality: the only occasion, a mere question

- intensifying: the true gentlemen, a real victory

- qualifying objective: a round table, the green lights, an old house

(b) relative

- the Italian police, steel alloys

(14.4.2) Pre-Modifying Adjectival Sequences

- the primary criterion for distribution = semantics

- adherent (arbitrary) property farthest from the head noun > inherent property closest

- size/shape > colour/nationality/age: her big blue eyes, recent American literature, a beautiful little old blue ornament

- x group modifiers = modification of established collocations: a long distance // call; a plastic top // table; a real // family doctor


Dušková, Libuše, et al. Mluvnice současné angličtiny na pozadí češtiny. Praha: Academia, 2003.

Svoboda, Aleš, and Mária Opělová Károlyová. A Brief Survey of the English Morphology. Ostrava: Ostravská univerzita, 1993.

Other Sources

Veselovská, Ludmila. Přednášky a semináře: Morfologie 2. ZS 2003/04.


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