Part 1


attribute and a predicative functions of adjectives

and relative.

of state

Part 2

of Adjectives

of Comparison

2.3 The
structure of the analytical degrees of comparison





We are going to investigate one of he important parts
of speech in modern English. The adjective expresses the categorial semantics
of property of a substance. It means that each adjective used in tile text presupposes
relation to some noun the property of whose referent it denotes, such as its
material, colour, dimensions, position, state, and other characteristics both
per­manent and temporary. It follows from this that, unlike nouns, adjectives
do not possess a full nominative value. Indeed, words like long, hospitable,
fragrant cannot effect any self-dependent nominations; as units of informative
sequences they exist only in collocations showing what is long, who is
hospitable, what is fragrant.

exist in most languages.The most widely recognized adjectives in English are
words such as big, old, and tired that actually describe people, places, or
things. These words can themselves be modified with adverbs, as in the phrase
very big.The articles a, an, and the and possessive nouns, such as Mary’s, are
classified as adjectives by some grammarians; however, such classification may
be specific to one particular language.

semantically bound character of the adjective is emphasized in English by the use
of the prop-substitute one in the absence of the notional head-noun of
the phrase. E.g.:

I don’t want a yellow balloon, let me have the
green one
over there.

On the
other hand, if the adjective is placed in a nominatively self-dependent
position, this leads to its substantivi­zation. E.g.: Outside it was a
beautiful day, and the sun tinged the snow with red. Cf.: The sun tinged
the snow with the red colour.



Adjectives are distinguished by a specific combinability with nouns, which they modify, if not accompanied by ad­juncts, usually in pre-position, and occasionally in post­position; by a combinability with link-verbs, both functional and notional; by a combinability with modifying adverbs. Adjectives are the third major class of words  in  English,  after  nouns

and verbs. Adjectives are  words  expressing  properties  of  objects  (e.g.

large, blue, simple, clever, economic, progressive,  productive,  etc)  and,

hence, qualifying  nouns.Adjectives in English  do  not  change  for  number  or  case.  The  only grammatical category they have is the degrees of comparison. They  are  also characterized by functions in the sentence.

An attribute and a predicative functions of adjectives

In the
sentence the adjective performs the functions of an attribute and a
. Of the two, the more specific function of the adjective is
that of an attribute, since the function of a predicative can be performed by
the noun as well. There is, though, a profound difference between the
predicative uses of the adjective and the noun which is de­termined by their
native categorial features. Namely, the predicative adjective expresses some
attributive property of its noun-referent, whereas the predicative noun
expresses various substantival characteristics of its referent, such as its
identification or classification of different types. This can be shown on
examples analysed by definitional and transfor­mational procedures. Cf.:

talk to people as if they were a group. —> You talk to people as if
they formed a group. Quite obviously, he was a friend.
—> His behaviour was like that of a friend.

Cf., as against the above:

I will
be silent as a grave. —> I will be like a silent grave. Walker
felt healthy. —> Walker felt a healthy man. It was sensational.
—> That fact was a sensational fact.

used as predicatives or post-positional attributes, a considerable number of
adjectives, in addition to the gen­eral combinability characteristics of the
whole class, are distinguished by a complementive combinability with nouns. The
complement-expansions of adjectives are effected by means of prepositions. E.g.
fond of, jealous of, curious of, suspicious of; angry with, sick with,
serious about, certain about, happy about; grateful to, thankful  to,
Many such adjectival collocations render essentially verbal meanings and some
of them have direct or indirect parallels among verbs. Cf.: be fond of—love,
like; be envious of — envy; be angry with — resent; be mad for,
about — covet; be thank­ful to — thank.

of other complementive relations expressed with the help of prepositions and
corresponding to direct and prep­ositional object-relations of verbs, some of
these adjectives may render relations of addressee. Cf.: grateful to,
indebted to, partial to, useful  for

To the
derivational features of adjectives belong a number of suffixes and prefixes of
which the most important are:

(hopeful), —less (flawless),-ish (bluish, —ous (famous), —ive
(decorative), —ic (basic); un— (unprecedented), in— (inac­curate),
pre— (premature).

the adjectival affixes should also be named the prefix a-, constitutive
for the stative sub-­class which is to be discussed below.

As for
the variable (demutative) morphological features, the English adjective, having
lost in the course of the history of English all its forms of grammatical
agreement with the noun, is distinguished only by the hybrid category of com­parison.

Qualitative and relative.

All the
adjectives are traditionally divided into two large subclasses: qualitative
and relative.

adjectives express such properties of a substance as are determined by the
direct relation of the substance to some other substance.

E.g.: wood
— a wooden hut; mathemat­ics — mathematical precision; history —
a historical event;

table —
tabular presentation; colour — coloured postcards;

surgical treatment; the Middle Ages — mediaeval rites.

nature of this "relationship" in adjectives is best revealed by
definitional correlations. Cf.: a wooden hut — a hut made of
wood; a historical event — an event referring to a certain period of
history; surgical treatment — treat­ment consisting in the
implementation of surgery; etc.

adjectives, as different from relative ones, denote  various qualities of
substances which admit of a quantitative estimation, i.e. of establishing their
correla­tive quantitative measure. The measure of a quality can be estimated as
high or low, adequate or inadequate, sufficient or insufficient, optimal or
excessive. Cf.: an awkward situa­tion — a very awkward
situation; a difficult task — too dif­ficult a task; an enthusiastic
reception — rather an enthu­siastic reception; a hearty welcome —
not a very hearty wel­come; etc.

In this
connection, the ability of an adjective to form degrees of comparison is
usually taken as a formal sign of its qualitative character, in opposition to a
relative adjective which is understood as incapable of forming degrees of com­parison
by definition. Cf.: a pretty girl —a prettier girl; a quick
look — a quicker look; a hearty welcome — the heart­iest
of welcomes; a bombastic speech — the most bombastic speech.

in actual speech the described principle of dis­tinction is not at all strictly
observed, which is noted in the very grammar treatises putting it forward. Two
typical cases of contradiction should be pointed out here.

In the
first place, substances can possess such qualities as are incompatible with the
idea of degrees of comparison. Accordingly, adjectives denoting these
qualities, while be­longing to the qualitative subclass, are in the ordinary
use incapable of forming degrees of comparison. Here refer ad­jectives like extinct,
immobile, deaf, final, fixed
, etc.

In the
second place, many adjectives considered under the heading of relative still
can form degrees of comparison, thereby, as it were, transforming the denoted
relative prop­erty of a substance into such as can be graded quantitative­ly. Cf.:
a mediaeval approach—rather a mediaeval ap­proach — a far
more mediaeval
approach; of a military de­sign — of a less
design — of a more military design;

a grammatical
topic ~ a purely grammatical topic — the most grammatical of the
suggested topics.

order to overcome the demonstrated lack of rigour in the definitions in
question, we may introduce an additional linguistic distinction which is more
adaptable to the chances of usage. The suggested distinction is based on the
evalua­tive function of adjectives. According as they actually give some
qualitative evaluation to the substance referent or only point out its
corresponding native property, all the adjective functions may be grammatically
divided into "evaluative" and "specificative". In
particular, one and the same adjec­tive, irrespective of its being basically
(i.e. in the sense of the fundamental semantic property of its root
constituent) "relative" or "qualitative", can be used either
in the evalua­tive function or in the specificative function.

instance, the adjective good is basically qualitative. On the other
hand, when employed as a grading term in teach­ing, i.e. a term forming part of
the marking scale together with the grading terms bad, satisfactory,
, it acquires the said specificative value; in other words, it
becomes a spe­cificative, not an evaluative unit in the grammatical sense

dialectically, it does signify in this case a lexical evaluation of the pupil’s
progress). Conversely, the adjective wooden is basically relative, but when
used in the broader meaning "expressionless" or "awkward"
it acquires an eval­uative force and, consequently, can presuppose a greater or
lesser degree ("amount") of the denoted properly in the corresponding
referent. E.g.:

found herself looking into the expressionless, wooden face of Superintendent
Battle (A. Christie). The su­perintendent was sitting behind a table and
looking more wooden than ever.

degrees of comparison are essentially evaluative for­mulas, therefore any
adjective used in a higher comparison degree (comparative, superlative) is
thereby made into an evaluative adjective, if only for the nonce (see the
examples above).

the introduced distinction between the evaluative and specificative uses of
adjectives, in the long run, empha­sizes the fact that the morphological
category of comparison (comparison degrees) is potentially represented in the
whole class of adjectives and is constitutive for it.

the words signifying properties of a nounal referent there is a lexemic set
which claims to be recognized as a separate part of speech, i.e. as a class of
words different from the adjectives in its class-forming features. These are
words built up by the prefix a- and denoting different states, mostly of
temporary duration. Here belong lexemes like afraid, agog, adrift, ablaze.
In traditional grammar these words were generally considered under the heading
of "pre­dicative adjectives" (some of them also under the heading of
adverbs), since their most typical position in the sentence is that of a
predicative and they are but occasionally used as pre-positional attributes to

Category of state

words signifying states and specifically used as predicatives were first
identified as a separate part of speech in the Russian language by L. V.
Shcherba and V. V. Vinogradov. The two scholars called the newly iden­tified
part of speech the "category of state" (and, correspond­ingly,
separate words making up this category, "words of the category of
state"). Here belong the Russian words mostly ending in -o, but
also having other suffixes: тепло, зябко, одиноко, радостно, жаль, лень, etc.
Traditionally the Russian words of the category of state were considered as
constituents of (he class of adverbs, and they are still considered as such by
many Russian schiolars.

On the analogy of the Russian
"category of state", the English qualifying a-words of the
corresponding meanings were subjected to a lexico-grammatical analysis and
given the part-of-speech heading "category of slate". This analysis
was first conducted by B. A. llyish and later continued by other linguists. The
term "words of the category of state", being rather cumbersome from
the technical point of view, was later changed into "stative words",
or "statives".

The part-of-speech interpretation of
the statives is not shared by all linguists working in the domain of English,
and has found both its proponents and opponents.

Probably the most consistent and
explicit exposition of the part-of-speech interpretation of statives has been
given by B. S. Khaimovich and B. I. Rogovskaya. Their theses supporting the
view in question can be summarized as follows.

First, the statives, called by the
quoted authors "adlinks" (by virtue of their connection with
link-verbs and on the analogy of the term "adverbs"), are allegedly
opposed to adjectives on a purely semantic basis, since adjectives denote
"qualities", and statives-adlinks denote "states". Second,
as different from adjectives, statives-adlinks are characterized by the
specific prefix a-. Third, they allegedly do not possess the category of
the degrees of comparison. Fourth, the combinability of statives-adlinks is
different from that of adjectives in so far as they are not used in the
pre-positional attributive function, i.e. are characterized by the absence of
the right-hand combinability with nouns.

The advanced reasons, presupposing
many-sided categorial estimation of statives, are undoubtedly serious and
worthy of note. Still, a closer consideration of the properties of the analysed
lexemic set cannot but show that, on the whole, the said reasons are hardly
instrumental in proving the main idea, i.e. in establishing the English stative
as a separate part of speech. The re-consideration of the stative on the basis
of comparison with the classical adjective inevitably discloses (lie
fundamental relationship between the two, — such relationship as should be
interpreted in no other terms than identity on the part-of-speech level,
though, naturally, providing for their distinct differentiation on the subclass

The first scholar who undertook this
kind of re-consider­ation of the lexemic status of English statives was L. S.
Barkhudarov, and in our estimation of them we essentially fol­low his
principles, pointing out some additional criteria of argument.

First, considering the basic meaning
expressed by the stative, we formulate it as "stative property", i.e.
a kind of property of a nounal referent. As we already know, the adjective as a
whole signifies not "quality" in the narrow sense, but
"property", which is categorially divided into "substantive
quality as such" and "substantive relation". In this respect,
statives do not fundamentally differ from classical adjectives. Moreover,
common adjectives and partici­ples in adjective-type functions can express the
same, or, more specifically, typologically the same properties (or "qual­ities"
in a broader sense) as are expressed by statives.

Indeed, the main meaning types
conveyed by statives are:

the psychic state of a person (afraid,
ashamed, aware
); the physical state of a person (astir, afoot); the
physical state of an object (afire, ablaze, aglow); the state of an
object in space (askew, awry, aslant). Meanings of the same order are
rendered by pre-positional adjectives. Cf.:

similar cases
— cases alike; an excited crowd  — a crowd astir.

It goes without saying that many
other adjectives and participles convey the meanings of various states
irrespective of their analogy with statives. Cf. such words of the order
of psychic state as despondent, curious, happy, joyful; such words of
the order of human physical state as sound, refreshed, healthy, hungry;
such words of the order of activity state as busy, functioning, active,
, etc.

Second, turning to the combinability
characteristics of statives, we see that, though differing from those of the
com­mon adjectives in one point negatively, they basically coin­cide with them
in the other points. As a matter of fact, sta­tives are not used in attributive
pre-position. but, like ad­jectives, they are distinguished by the left-hand
categorial combinability both with nouns and link-verbs. Cf.:

household was nil astir.——The household was all excited — It was strange
to see (the household active at this hour of the day.— It was strange to
see the household active at this hour of the day.

analysing the functions of the stative correspond­ing to its combinability
patterns, we see that essentially they do not differ from the functions of the
common ad­jective. Namely, the two basic functions of the stative are the
predicative and the attribute. The similarity of functions leads to the
possibility of the use of a stative and a common adjective in a homogeneous
group. E.g.: Launches and barges moored to the dock were ablaze
and loud with wild sound.

the predominant function of the stative, as differ­ent from the common
adjective, is that of the predicative. But then, the important structural and
functional peculiari­ties of statives uniting them in a distinctly separate set
of lexemes cannot be disputed. What is disputed is the status of this set in
relation to the notional parts of speech, not its existence or identification
as such.

from our point of view, it would not be quite consistent with the actual
lingual data to place the stative strictly out of the category of comparison.
As we have shown above, the category of comparison is connected with the func­tional
division of adjectives into evaluative and specificative, Like common
adjectives, statives are subject to this flexible division, and so in principle
they are included into the expression of the quantitative estimation of the
corre­sponding properties conveyed by them. True, statives do not take the
synthetical forms of the degrees of comparison, but they are capable of
expressing comparison analytically, in cases where it is to be expressed.

Cf.: Of
us all, Jack was the one most aware of the delicate situation in which
we found ourselves. I saw that the adjust­ing lever stood far more askew
than was allowed by the di­rections.

quantitative considerations, though being a sub­sidiary factor of reasoning,
tend to support the conjoint part-of-speech interpretation of statives and
common adjectives. Indeed, the total number of statives does not exceed several
dozen (a couple of dozen basic, "stable" units and, probably, thrice
as many "unstable" words of the nature of coinages for the nonce).
This num­ber is negligible in comparison with the number of words of the
otherwise identified notional parts of speech, each of them counting thousands
of units. Why, then, an honour of the part-of-speech status to be granted to a
small group of words not differing in their fundamental lexico-grammatical
features from one of the established large word-classes?

As for
the set-forming prefix a-, it hardly deserves a se­rious consideration
as a formal basis of the part-of-speech identification of statives simply
because formal features cannot be taken in isolation from functional features.
More­over, as is known, there are words of property not distinguished by this
prefix, which display essential functional character­istics inherent in the
stative set. In particular, here belong such adjectives as ill, well, glad,
sorry, worth (while), subject (to), due (to), underway
, and some others. On
the other hand, among the basic statives we find such as can hardly be ana­lysed
into a genuine combination of the type "prefix + root", because their
morphemic parts have become fused into one indivisible unit in the course of
language history, e.g. aware, afraid, aloof.

the undertaken semantic and functional analysis shows that statives, though
forming a unified set of words, do not constitute a separate lexemic class
existing in lan­guage on exactly the same footing as the noun, the verb, the
adjective, the adverb; rather it should be looked upon as a subclass within the
general class of adjectives. It is essentially an adjectival subclass, because,
due to their pe­culiar features, statives are not directly opposed to the no­tional
parts of speech taken together, but are quite particu­larly opposed to the rest
of adjectives. It means that the gen­eral subcategorization of the class of
adjectives should be effected on the two levels: on the upper level the class
will be divided into the subclass of stative adjectives and com­mon adjectives;
on the lower level the common adjectives fall into qualitative and relative,
which division has been discussed in the foregoing paragraph.

As we
see, our final conclusion about the lexico-grammatical nature of statives
appears to have returned them into the lexemic domain in which they were placed
by traditional grammar and from which they were alienated in the course of
subsequent linguistic investigations. A question then arises, whether these
investigations, as well as the discussions accompanying them, have served any
rational purpose at all.

answer to this question, though, can only be given in the energetic
affirmative. Indeed, all the detailed studies of statives undertaken by quite a
few scholars, all the dis­cussions concerning their systemic location and other
related matters have produced very useful results, both theoretical and

traditional view of the stative was not supported by any special analysis, it
was formed on the grounds of mere surface analogies and outer correlations. The
later study of statives resulted in the exposition of their inner properties,
in the discovery of their historical productivity as a sub­class, in their
systemic description on the lines of competent inter-class and inter-level comparisons.
And it is due to the undertaken investigations (which certainly will be
continued) that we are now in a position, though having rejected the
fundamental separation of the stative from the adjective, to name the subclass
of statives as one of the peculiar, idio­matic lexemic features of Modern

As is
widely known, adjectives display the ability to be easily substantivized by
conversion, i.e. by zero-deriv­ation. Among the noun-converted adjectives we
find both old units, well-established in the system of lexicon, and also new
ones, whose adjectival etymology conveys to the lexeme the vivid colouring of a
new coinage.

instance, the words a relative or a white or a dear bear
an unquestionable mark of established tradition, while such a noun as a
used in the following sentence fea­tures a distinct flavour of
purposeful conversion: He was a regional man, a man who wrote about sensitives
who live away from the places where things happen.

this with the noun a high in the following exam­ple: The weather report
promises a new high in heat and humidity.

the purely categorial point of view, however, there is no difference between
the adjectives cited in the examples and the ones given in the foregoing
enumeration, since both groups equally express constitutive categories of the
noun, i.e. the number, the case, the gender, the article determina­tion, and
they likewise equally perform normal nounal func­tions.

On the
other hand, among the substantivized adjectives there is a set characterized by
hybrid lexico-grammatical features, as in the following examples:

The new
bill concerning the wage-freeze introduced by the Labour Government cannot
satisfy either the poor, or the rich (Radio Broadcast). A
monster. The word conveyed the ultimate in infamy and debasement
inconceivable to one not native to the times (J. Vance). The train, indulging
all his English nostalgia for the plushy and the genteel, seemed to him
a deceit (M. Bradbury).

mixed categorial nature of the exemplified words is evident from their
incomplete presentation of the part-of speech characteristics of either nouns
or adjectives. Like nouns, the words are used in the article form; like nouns,
they express the category of number (in a relational way); but their article
and number forms are rigid, being no sub­ject to the regular structural change
inherent in the normal expression of these categories. Moreover, being
categorially unchangeable, the words convey the mixed adjectival-nounal
semantics of property.

The adjectival-nounal
words in question are very specific. They are distinguished by a high
productivity and, like sta­tives, are idiomatically characteristic of Modern

On the
analogy of verbids these words might be called "adjectivids", since
they are rather nounal forms of adjectives than nouns as such.

adjectivids fall into two main grammatical sub­groups, namely, the subgroup pluralia
{the English, the rich, the unemployed, the uninitiated,
etc.), and the sub­group singularia tantum (the invisible, the
abstract, the tangible
, etc.). Semantically, the words of the first
subgroup express sets of people (personal multitudes), while the words of the
second group express abstract ideas of various types and connotations.

category of adjectival comparison expresses the quantitative characteristic of
the quality of a nounal referent, i.e. it gives a relative evaluation of the
quantity of a quality. The purely relative nature of the categorial semantics
of comparison is reflected in its name.

Position of Adjectives.


  1  Most
adjectives can be used in a noun group, after determiners and numbers if there
are any, in front of the noun.

e.g. He had a beautiful smile.

      She bought a loaf of white bread.

      There was no clear evidence.

 2  Most adjectives can also be used after a link verb
such as ‘be’,

‘become’, or ‘feel’.

e.g. I’m cold.

3. Some adjectives are normally used only after a link

For example, we can say ‘She was glad’, but you do not
talk about ‘a glad woman’.

I wanted to be alone.

We were getting ready for bed.

I’m not quite sure.

He didn’t know whether to feel glad or sorry.

4. Some adjectives are normally used only in front of a

For example, we talk about ‘an atomic bomb’, but we do
not say ‘The bomb was atomic’. He sent countless letters to the newspapers.

This book includes a good introductory chapter on

5. When we use an adjective to emphasize a strong
feeling or opinion, it always comes in front of a noun.

Some of it was absolute rubbish.

He made me feel like a complete idiot.

6. Some adjectives that describe size or age can come
after a noun group consisting of a number or determiner and a noun that
indicates the unit of measurement.

He was about six feet tall.

The water was several metres deep.

The baby is nine months old.

Note that you do not say ‘two pounds heavy’, you say
‘two pounds in weight’.

7. A few adjectives are used alone after a noun.

designate   |elect |galore  |incarnate 

She was now the president elect.

There are empty houses galore.

8. A few adjectives have a different meaning depending
on whether they come in front of or after a noun.

For example, ‘the concerned mother’ means a mother who
is worried, but  ‘the mother concerned’ means the mother who has been

It’s one of those incredibly involved stories.

The people involved are all doctors.

I’m worried about the present situation.

Of the 18 people present, I knew only one.

Her parents were trying to act in a responsible manner.

We do not know the person responsible for his death.


Degrees of Comparison

category is constituted by the opposition of the three forms known under the
heading of degrees of comparison: the basic form (positive degree),
having no features of corn" parison; the comparative degree form,
having the feature of restricted .superiority (which limits the comparison to
two elements only); the superlative degree form, having the fea­ture of
unrestricted superiority.

It should be noted that the meaning
of unrestricted su­periority is in-built in the superlative degree as such,
though in practice this form is used in collocations imposing certain
restrictions on the effected comparison; thus, the form in question may be used
to signify restricted superiority, name­ly, in cases where a limited number of
referents are com­pared. Cf.: Johnny was the strongest boy in the

As is evident from the example,
superiority restriction is shown here not by the native meaning of the
superlative, but by the particular contextual construction of comparison where
the physical strength of one boy is estimated in rela­tion to that of his

Some linguists approach the number of
the degrees of comparison as problematic on the grounds that the basic form of
the adjective does not express any comparison by itself and therefore should be
excluded from the category. This exclusion would reduce the category to two
members only, i.e. the comparative and superlative degrees.

However, the oppositional
interpretation of grammatical categories underlying our considerations does not
admit of such an exclusion; on the contrary, the non-expression of superiority
by the basic form is understood in the oppositional presentation of comparison
as a pre-requisite for the ex­pression of the category as such. In this
expression of the category the basic form is the unmarked member, not distin­guished
by any comparison suffix or comparison auxiliary, while the superiority forms
(i.e. the comparative and super­lative) are the marked members, distinguished
by the com­parison suffixes or comparison auxiliaries.

These constructions are directly
correlative with comparat­ive constructions of inequality built around the
comparative and superlative degree forms. Cf.: That was the bitterest
remark I have ever heard from the man. The Caucasus is higher than the

Thus, both formally and semantically,
the oppositional basis of the category of comparison displays a binary nature.
In terms of the three degrees of comparison, on the upper level of presentation
the superiority degrees as the marked member of the opposition are contrasted against
the positive degree as its unmarked member. The superiority degrees, in their
turn, form the opposition of the lower level of pres­entation, where the
comparative degree features the func­tionally weak member, and the superlative
degree, re­spectively, the strong member. The whole of the double op­positional
unity, considered from the semantic angle, con­stitutes a gradual ternary

The synthetical forms of comparison
in -er and -(e)st coexist with the analytical forms of comparison
effected by the auxiliaries more and most. The analytical forms
of comparison perform a double function. On the one hand, they are used with
the evaluative adjectives that, due to their phonemic structure (two-syllable
words with the stress on the first syllable ending in other grapho-phonemic
complexes than -er, -y, -le, -ow or words of more than two-syllable
composition) cannot normally take the synthetical forms of comparison. In this
respect, the analytical com­parison forms are in categorial complementary
distribution with the synthetical comparison forms. On the other hand, the
analytical forms of comparison, as different from the synthetical forms, are
used to express emphasis, thus com­plementing the synthetical forms in the
sphere of this im­portant stylistic connotation. Cf.: The audience
became more and more noisy, and soon the speaker’s words were
drowned in the general hum of voices.

The structure of the analytical
degrees of comparison

The structure of the analytical
degrees of comparison is meaningfully overt; these forms are devoid of the
feature of "semantic idiomatism" characteristic of some other categor­ial
analytical forms, such as, for instance, the forms of the verbal perfect. For
this reason the analytical degrees of com­parison invite some linguists to call
in question their claim to a categorial status in English grammar.

In particular, scholars point out the
following two fac­tors in support of the view that the combinations of more/most
with the basic form of the adjective are not the analytical expressions of the
morphological category of comparison, but free syntactic constructions: first,
the more/most-com­binations are semantically analogous to combinations
of less/least with the adjective which, in the general opinion, are syntactic
combinations of notional words; second, the most-combination, unlike the
synthetic superlative, can take the indefinite article, expressing not the
superlative, but the elative meaning (i.e. a high, not the highest degree of
the respective quality).

reasons advanced, though claiming to be based on an analysis of actual lingual
data, can hardly be called con­vincing as regards their immediate negative

Let us
first consider the use of the most-combillation with the indefinite

combination is a common means of expressing elative evaluations of substance
properties. The function of the elative most-construction in distinction
to the function of the superlative most-‘construction will be seen from
the fol­lowing examples:

speaker launched a most significant personal attack on the Prime
Minister. The most significant of the arguments in a dispute is not
necessarily the most spectacular one.

the phrase "a most significant (personal) attack" in the first of the
two examples gives the idea of rather a high degree of the quality expressed
irrespective of any directly introduced or implied comparison with other
attacks on the Prime Minister, the phrase "the most significant of the ar­guments"
expresses exactly the superlative degree of the quality in relation to the
immediately introduced com­parison with all the rest of the arguments in a
dispute; the same holds true of the phrase "the most spectacular
one". It is this exclusion of the outwardly superlative ad­jective from a
comparison that makes it into a simple elative, with its most-constituent
turned from the superlative aux­iliary into a kind of a lexical intensifier.

definite article with the elative most-construction is also possible, if
leaving the elative function less distinctly recognizable (in oral speech the
elative most is commonly left unstressed, the absence of stress serving
as a negative mark of the elative). Cf.: I found myself in the most
situation, for I couldn’t give a satisfactory answer to any
question asked by the visitors.

the synthetical superlative degree, as is known, can be used in the elative
function as well, the distinguishing feature of the latter being its exclusion
from a comparison.


our cooperation with Danny proved the worst experience for both of us.
No doubt Mr. Snider will show you his collection of minerals with the greatest

this fact gives us a clue for understanding the ex­pressive nature of the
elative superlative as such — the na­ture that provides it with a permanent
grammatico-stylistic status in the language. Indeed, the expressive peculiarity
of the form consists exactly in the immediate combination of the two features
which outwardly contradict each other:

categorial form of the superlative on the one hand, and the absence of a
comparison on the other.

the categorical form of the superlative (i.e. the su­perlative with its general
functional specification) is essen­tial also for the expression of the elative
semantics can, how­ever paradoxical it might appear, be very well illustrated
by the elative use of the comparative degree. Indeed, the com­parative
combination featuring the dative comparative de­gree is constructed in such a
way as to place it in the func­tional position of unrestricted superiority,
i.e. in the po­sition specifically characteristic of the superlative. E.g.:

gives me greater pleasure than to greet you as our guest of honour.
There is nothing more refreshing than a good swim.

parallelism of functions between the two forms of comparison (the comparative
degree and the superlative de­gree) in such and like examples is

As we
see, the elative superlative, though it is not the regular superlative in the
grammatical sense, is still a kind of a specific, grammatically featured
construction. This grammatical specification distinguishes it from common
elative constructions which may be generally defined as syn­tactic combinations
of an intensely high estimation. E.g.:

an extremely
amendment; a matter of exceeding urgency; quite an unparalleled
beauty; etc.

from a grammatical point of view, the elative su­perlative, though semantically
it is "elevated", is nothing else but a degraded superlative, and its
distinct featuring mark with the analytical superlative degree is the
indefinite article: the two forms of the superlative of different function­al
purposes receive the two different marks (if not quite rig­orously separated in
actual uses) by the article determina­tion treatment.

It follows from the above that the
possibility of the most-combination to be used with the indefinite
article cannot in any way be demonstrative of its non-grammatical character,
since the functions of the two superlative combinations in question, the
elative superlative and the genuine superla­tive, are different.

Moreover, the use of the indefinite
article with the syn­thetical superlative in the degraded, dative function is
not altogether impossible, though somehow such a possibility is bluntly denied
by certain grammatical manuals. Cf.: He made a last lame effort
to delay the experiment; but Basil was impervious to suggestion.

But there is one more possibility to
formally differentiate the direct and dative functions of the synthetical
superlative, namely, by using the zero article with the superlative. This
latter possibility is noted in some grammar books (Ganshina, Vasilevskaya, 85).
Cf.: Suddenly I was seized with a sen­sation of deepest regret.

However, the general tendency of
expressing the super­lative dative meaning is by using the analytical form.
Inci­dentally, in the Russian language the tendency of usage is reverse: it is
the synthetical form of the Russian superlative that is preferred in rendering
the dative function. Cf.: слушали с живейшим интересом; повторялась скучнейшая
история; попал в глупейшее положение и т.д.

Let us examine now the combinations
of less/least with the basic form of the adjective.

As is well known, the general view of
these combinations definitely excludes them from any connection with categorial
analytical forms. Strangely enough, this rejectionist view of the
"negative degrees of comparison" is even taken to sup­port, not to
reject the morphological interpretation of the more/most-combinations.

The corresponding argument in favour
of the rejectionist interpretation consists in pointing out the functional
parallel­ism existing between the synthetical degrees of comparison and the more/most-combinations
accompanied by their com­plementary distribution, if not rigorously pronounced
(the different choice of the forms by different syllabo-phonetical forms of
adjectives). The less/least-combinations, according to this view, are
absolutely incompatible with the synthetical degrees of comparison, since they
express not only different, but opposite meanings.

Now, it does not require a profound
analysis to see that, from the grammatical point of view, the formula
"opposite meaning" amounts to ascertaining the categorial equality of
the forms compared. Indeed, if two forms express the op­posite meanings, then
they can only belong to units of the same general order. And we cannot but
agree with B. A. Ilyish’s thesis that "there seems to be no sufficient
reason for treating the two sets of phrases in different ways, saying that
‘more difficult’ is an analytical form, while ‘less difficult’ is not"
[Ilyish, 60]. True, the cited author takes this fact rather as demonstration
that both types of constructions should equally be excluded from the domain of
analytical forms, but the problem of the categorial status of the
more/most-combinations has been analysed above.

Thus, the less/least-combinations,
similar to the more/most-combinations, constitute specific forms of
comparison, which may be called forms of "reverse comparison". The
two types of forms cannot be syntagmatically combined in one and the same form
of the word, which shows the unity of the category of comparison. The whole
category includes not three, but five different forms, making up the two ser­ies
— respectively, direct and reverse. Of these, the reverse series of comparison
(the reverse superiority degrees) is of far lesser importance than the direct
one, which evidently can be explained by semantic reasons. As a matter of fact,
it is more natural to follow the direct model of comparison based on the
principle of addition of qualitative quantities than on the reverse model of
comparison based on the prin­ciple of subtraction of qualitative quantities,
since subtrac­tion in general is a far more abstract process of mental ac­tivity
than addition. And, probably, exactly for the same reason the reverse
comparatives and superlatives are rivalled in speech by the corresponding
negative syntactic construc­tions.

Having considered the characteristics
of the category of comparison, we can see more clearly the relation to this
category of some usually non-comparable evaluative ad­jectives.

Outside the immediate comparative
grammatical change of the adjective stand such evaluative adjectives as contain
certain comparative sememic elements in their semantic structures. In
particular, as we have mentioned above, here belong adjectives that are
themselves grading marks of eval­uation. Another group of evaluative
non-comparables is formed by adjectives of indefinitely moderated quality, or,
tentatively, "moderating qualifiers", such as whitish, tepid,
half-ironical, semi-detached
, etc. But the most peculiar lexemic group of
non-comparables is made up by adjectives expressing the highest degree of a respective quality, which words can
tentatively be called "adjectives of extreme quali­ty", or
"extreme qualifiers", or simply "extremals".

inherent superlative semantics of extremals is em­phasized by the definite
article normally introducing their nounal combinations, exactly similar to the
definite article used with regular collocations of the superlative degree. Cf.:
The ultimate outcome of the talks was encouraging. The final
decision has not yet been made public.

On the
other hand, due to the tendency of colloquial speech to contrastive variation,
such extreme qualifiers can some­times be modified by intensifying elements.
Thus, "the final decision" becomes "a very final decision";
"the ultimate rejection" turns into "rather an ultimate
rejection"; "the crucial role" is made into "quite a
crucial role", etc.

As a
result of this kind of modification, the highest grade evalu­ative force of
these words is not strengthened, but, on the con­trary, weakened; the outwardly
extreme qualifiers become degraded extreme qualifiers, even in this status
similar to the regular categorial superlatives degraded in their  elative use.


Our subject of investigation was adjectives. Most
English adjectives have comparative and superlative forms. These are generally
constructed in one of two ways: either by suffixes (big, bigger, biggest) or by
the use of the grammatical particles more and most. Some adjectives have suppletive
forms in their comparison, such as good, better, best. Comparative and
superlative forms apply only to the base form of the adjective, so that
duplicate forms like most biggest or worser are nonstandard (although lesser is
sometimes permitted as a variant of less). A few adjectives have no comparative
but a superlative with -most: uppermost, westernmost, etc. We have investigated
that some adjectives have suppletive forms in their comparison, such as good,
better, best. Comparative and superlative forms apply only to the base form of
the adjective, so that duplicate forms like most biggest or worser are
nonstandard (although lesser is sometimes permitted as a variant of less).

adjective modifies a pronoun by describing,
identifying, or quantifying words. An adjective usually precedes the noun or
the pronoun which it modifies. In the following examples, the highlighted words
are adjectives:

truck-shaped balloon floated over the treetops. Mrs. Morrison papered her
kitchen walls with hideous wallpaper. The small boat foundered on the wine dark
sea. The coalmines are dark and dank.  Many stores have already begun to play
irritating Christmas music.  A battered music box sat on the mahogany
sideboard.  The back room was filled with large, yellow rain boots.  An
adjective can be modified by an clause functioning as
an adverb. In the sentence My husband
knits intricately patterned mittens.  For example, the adverb «intricately»
modifies the adjective «patterned.» Some nouns, many pronouns, and many participle phrases can
also act as adjectives. In the sentence Eleanor listened to the muffled sounds
of the radio hidden under her pillow. for example, both highlighted adjectives
are past participles.

also consider articles («the,» «a,» «an») to be adjectives.

chose and investigated adjectives with all its parts and types, also with its
degrees and positions in the sentences.

(Set 1)


Synonymous arrays

















Non-synonymous arrays
















Adjectives (Set 2)

Synonymous arrays

















Non-synonymous arrays



















B. “The structure of modern English”, M, 1971

M. “The course in the English grammar”, M, 1983

Modern English language» (Theoretical course grammar) V.N. Zhigadlo, I.P.
Ivanova, L.L. Iofik.  Moscow, 1956 y.

grammar of the English language”   B.S. Khaimovich, B.I. Rogovskaya.   Moscow,
1967 y. 

of the English language”А.I.Smirnitcky.    Moscow, 1959 y.

William F. (1993). Morphosyntactic toggles. Papers from the 29th Regional
Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society (Vol. 29, pp. 467-478). Chicago:
Chicago Linguistic Society.

Heike (2003). Numbers, language, and the human mind. Cambridge University Press,
ISBN 0-521-83182-2.


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