Form(1) Simple adjectives such as good, sad, old, yellow, bitter. (2) Derived adjectives, formed through adding suffixes to nouns and verbs, such as -able adorable, -ful careful, -ic heroic, -ish foolish, -ive attractive, -ous (famous), -y (tasty).
FunctionAdjectives function attributively as pre-modifiers (my forgetful parents) and predicatively as complements to the subject (My parents are forgetful) and the object (They found my parents forgetful). Many adjectives have only one of these functions, at least as used in a particular sense. In the following phrases, utter, certain, and former are attributive only: an utter lie, a certain person, our former friends. Some adjectives are predicative only, as with afraid, loath, and aware in: Your brother is afraid of them, My friends seem loath to interfere, The manager became aware of her attitude. Adjectives that occur predicatively can also post-modify certain pronouns, usually when the adjectives are part of a larger adjective phrase: (those) forgetful (of their duties), (somebody) afraid (of me). Adjectives ending in -able or -ible can function as post-modifiers in certain circumstances: the best treatment available, the only teacher suitable. There are also some fixed phrases (mostly legal terms derived from French) that have an adjective following the noun: heir apparent, court martial, attorney general, with the formal plurals heirs apparent, courts martial, attorneys general.
Adjectives that refer to people are sometimes introduced by the definite article the or by a possessive pronoun. They can function in the same way as nouns, namely as subject, object, etc.: The poor require our help, We should look after our young, The British are coming. The adjective phrases the poor, our young, and the British are plural and refer to a group of people. A few adjectives are used in the same way as singular abstract nouns, mainly in set phrases: for good, in private, in common. The semantic distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive modification applies to adjectives that modify nouns as well as to relative clauses. The adjective clever in my clever daughter is restrictive if its function is to distinguish one daughter from the others; it is non-restrictive if there is only one daughter in question and the adjective is conveying a characteristic of that daughter rather than defining which daughter is being referred to.
ComparisonThe comparative and superlative degrees in adjectives are shown in two ways: (1) For shorter, usually monosyllabic, words, through a comparative inflection -er as in older and a superlative inflection -est as in oldest. (2) For longer words, through the addition of premodifiers, the comparative more in more hostile and superlative most in most hostile. Some adjectives may take both constructions: common with commoner/more common and commonest/most common, friendly with friendlier/more friendly and friendliest/most friendly. Sometimes, for emphasis, shorter adjectives may take more and most: Could you be more clear so that we all understand? There are also some irregular forms: good, well (that is, healthy) with better/best, bad with worse/worst, and far with farther/farthest or further/furthest. Comparison applies only to adjectives that are gradable, that is, that can be viewed as on a scale of intensity, such as those illustrated above. Adjectives that are not gradable, such as utter and atomic, cannot be compared or modified by an INTENSIFIER such as very. There are differences in usage with a few adjectives, such as perfect, complete, unique, since some people but not others will use more perfect, very complete, really unique, etc. See DEGREE.
ModificationGradable adjectives are premodified by intensifying adverbs such as very, extremely, and completely: very young, extremely cold, completely unfriendly. Examples of phrases where the adjective is postmodified are: trustworthy indeed, clever enough to help, fond of you, glad that you could make it.
adjective, English part of speech, one of the two that refer typically to attributes and together are called modifiers. The other kind of modifier is the adverb. Adjectives and adverbs are functionally distinct in that adjectives modify nouns and pronouns, while adverbs typically modify verbs. In English, comparative adjectives end in –er or are preceded by more (e.g.,
"She is happier,"
"She is more capable"
); superlative adjectives end in –est or are preceded by most (
). English adverbs typically end in –ly (
). Adjective and adverb are Indo-European form classes; some non-Indo-European languages lack specialized classes with analogous functions.
See P. Roberts, Understanding Grammar (1954) and Modern Grammar (1968); E. Finegan and N. Besnier, Language: Its Structure and Use (1989).
ad·jec·tive / ˈajiktiv/ • n. Gram. a word or phrase naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it. DERIVATIVES: ad·jec·ti·val / ˌajikˈtīvəl/ adj. ad·jec·ti·val·ly / ˌajikˈtīvəlē/ adv.