Adjectives in Different Grammars

Seminar Paper, 2009

11 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Definitions and General Remarks on Adjectives

3. Classifications of Adjectives
a. Semantic Types of Adjectives
b. The Formation of Adjectives

4. The Comparison of Adjectives

5. Different Usages of Adjectives and Their Syntactical Roles
a. Attributive and Predicative Use
b. Adjectives as Nouns and Vice Versa
c. Further Syntactical Roles

6. Adjectives in Different Occasions of Language Usage

1. Introduction

This term paper will, in its first part, try to compare certain grammar books focussing on what they say about adjectives. Those books are English Grammar in Use: A Self-Study Reference and Practice Book for Intermediate Students of English, A Grammar of Present-Day English, An A-Z of English Grammar and Usage, English Grammar: The Principles and Practice of English Grammar Applied to Present-Day Usage, the Longman English Grammar, An Advanced English Grammar and the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English.

The last part then will briefly look at adjectives in different text types or ways of language use.

The result should be a useful overview about a number of approaches to one grammatical topic, which might be especially useful for teachers who have to deal with different grammar books, compare them and finally find the best one for their own class.

The end as well aims to give an overview about the use of adjectives in present-day language which again can help teachers to choose appropriate but also interesting texts for their lessons when practicing adjectives to either improve grammar knowledge or the student’s style in writing and speaking.

2. Definitions and General Remarks on Adjectives

Some of the books used for comparing name some general characteristics of adjectives and one even gives a definition. Curme says that an adjective is a word “to describe or point out [a] living being or lifeless thing” (CURME, 18), which is the definition probably every child learns at school already in their German lessons and later on in their English lessons. Further characteristics are that they never vary their form depending on gender, number or case (ALEXANDER, 107) and that “any word that can take have the inflectional suffixes ‘–er’ and ‘–est’ ” (CHRISTOPHERSEN/ SANDVED, 36) is an adjective which is a morphological feature. The Longman Student Grammar divides adjectives into central (typical) and peripheral (less typical) adjectives. Semantically this means that adjectives are gradable and that they describe nouns. (The syntactical features will be dealt with later.) Peripheral adjectives on the contrary miss at least one of those typical characteristics, e.g. they need another inflection than ‘–er’ or ‘–est’ when used in their comparative or superlative forms (e.g. boring), or they do not even have these forms (e.g. absolute). Others, for example, can only be used in every syntactical way or do not have a descriptive function (e.g. different).

Another linguistically interesting remark provides Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English ; adjectives are one of the four lexical word classes besides nouns, adverbs and verbs (BIBER, CONRAD, LEECH, 187) and in general they form the third largest word class after nouns and verbs (LEECH, CRUICKSHANK, IVANIČ, 13).

The given information might in a classroom be useful to give pupils some additional information so that it is not only a pure grammar lesson but also a chance to gain a small insight into the scientific field of linguistics.

3. Classifications of Adjectives

a. Semantic Types of Adjectives

Among the seven compared grammar books four classify adjectives in similar ways and only two (An Advanced English Grammar and A Grammar of Present-Day English) do not mention this topic at all. The other four, however, categorize adjectives and then explain which of those categories has which position in a sentence when there is more than one adjective to describe a particular thing. The category in first place is always very subjective; i.e. opinion (English Grammar in Use) or quality adjectives (Longman English Grammar) come first to express or describe feelings and emotions or to evaluate something (Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English and An A-Z of English Grammar & Usage). Adjectives to add facts have to follow: according to the English Grammar in Use the first category is the size, then the age, (the temperature and shape (Longman English Grammar)), the colour and finally the origin or what something is made of (cf. Longman English Grammar, Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English and An A-Z of English Grammar & Usage). The A-Z of English Grammar and Usage additionally offers some more semantic categories like topical (e.g. oral), affiliative (e.g. French) or relational classifiers (e.g. primary).

On the contrary, it might be less effective to include articles in the word class as it is done in the English Grammar by Curme because they actually form an independent word class. Moreover he used slightly different semantic categories; according to him there are descriptive (i.e. compounds and derivatives) and limiting adjectives. Among the second group there are nine subordinate classes; possessive (my), intensifying (myself), demonstrative (this), numeral (one, second, threefold), relative (which), indefinite (any), interrogative (which), proper (Harvard (University)) and exclamatory (What (a nice weather!)) adjedectives. These categories could actually be included in those of the other grammar books (Harvard is an adjective to describe the origin of something) or belong to a completely different word class (e.g. which is a relative pronoun) in order to not confuse learners of English more than necessary. (There even is a separate chapter on limiting adjectives used as pronouns). Therefore the most suitable explanation is probably the one given in the English Grammar in Use as the division into opinion and fact adjectives seems relatively easy to understand.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Adjectives in Different Grammars
Dresden Technical University  (Sprachwissenschaft)
Syntactic Patterns in English
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adjectives, different, grammars
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Cordula Zwanzig (Author), 2009, Adjectives in Different Grammars, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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