Университет Российской академии образования
по теоретической грамматике
на тему: “Adjective”
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.
The 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.
In the sentence the adjective performs the functions of an attribute
and a predicative. 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
You 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.
When 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, etc. 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.
Alongside 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:
-ful (hopeful), -less (flawless),-ish (bluish, -ous (famous), -ive
(decorative), -ic (basic); un- (unprecedented), in- (inaccurate), pre-
Among 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.
All the adjectives are traditionally divided into two large
subclasses: qualitative and relative.
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;
surgery — surgical treatment; the Middle Ages — mediaeval rites.
The 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;
Qualitative 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.
However, 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
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,
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
military design — of a more military design;
a grammatical topic ~ a purely grammatical topic — the most grammatical of
the suggested topics.
In 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.
For 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, excellent, it acquires the said specificative value; in other
words, it becomes a specificative, not an evaluative unit in the
(though, 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.:
Bundle 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.
The 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).
Thus, 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.
Among 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 nouns.
Notional 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
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
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 level.
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
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.:
the living predecessor — the predecessor alive; eager curiosity — curiosity
agog; the burning house — the house afire; a floating raft — a raft afloat;
a half-open door — a door adjar; slanting ropes — ropes aslant; a vigilant
man — a man awake;
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, employed, 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.:
The 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.
Third, 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.
True, 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.
Fourth, 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.
Fifth, 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.
Thus, 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.
The 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 practical.
The 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 English.
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.
For instance, the words a relative or a white or a dear bear an
unquestionable mark of established tradition, while such a noun as a
sensitive 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.
Compare this with the noun a high in the following example: The
weather report promises a new high in heat and humidity.
From 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
On the other hand, among the substantivized adjectives there is a set
characterized by hybrid lexico-grammatical features, as in the following
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
The 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