Adjectives

 An adjective is a word that describes a noun, giving extra information about it. For example:

  • a sweet taste
  • a red apple
  • a technical problem
  • an Italian woman
 
Attributive and predicative
 
Most adjectives can be used in two positions. When they are used before the noun they describe, they are called attributive:
  • a black cat
  • a gloomy outlook
  • a slow journey
  • a large suitcase
When they are used after a verb such as be, become, grow, look, or seem, they’re called predicative:
  • The cat was black
  • The future looks gloomy
  • The journey seemed slow
  • They were growing tired
There are some adjectives that can only be used in one position or the other. For example,
these two sentences are grammatically correct:
 
√ She was alone. [‘alone’ = predicative]
√ It was a mere scratch. [‘mere’ = attributive]
 
These sentences, on the other hand, are not correct:
 
X I saw an alone woman. [‘alone’ cannot be used in the attributive position]
X The scratch was mere. [‘mere’ cannot be used in the predicative position]
 
 
Comparing adjectives
 
Most adjectives have three different forms, the absolute (also known as the positive), the comparative, and the superlative:
 
absolute
comparative
superlative
sad
sadder
saddest
happy
happier
happiest
unusual
more unusual
most unusual
 
The comparative form is used for comparing two people or things, while the superlative is used for comparing one person or thing with every other member of their group:
 
He is taller than me. [comparative]
He was the tallest boy in the class. [superlative]
The book was more interesting than the movie. [comparative]
It’s the most interesting book I’ve ever read. [superlative]
 
The comparative and superlative are formed in different ways, depending on the base adjective itself. For more information about this, see spelling rules and tips.
 
You’ll find that most dictionaries will show you the spellings of adjectives that change their form. For example, if you look up 'happy' in Oxford Dictionaries Online, you’ll see that the comparative and superlative forms are given in brackets directly after the part of speech:
 
happy adjective (happier, happiest)
 
Always look up an adjective if you are unsure about how to spell its comparative or superlative form.
 
Grading adjectives
 
Most adjectives are gradable. This means that their meaning can be modified by placing one or more adverbs in front of them. For example:
  • an expensive car
  • a very expensive car
  • a fairly expensive car
  • an extremely expensive car
The adverbs very, fairly, and extremely are telling us where this particular car belongs on the scale of ‘expensiveness.’ By using them, we can make a significant difference to the meaning of an adjective.
 
 
Qualitative and classifying adjectives
 
Not all adjectives have a comparative and superlative form, nor can they all be graded. This is because there are two types of adjective, known as qualitative and classifying.
 
Qualitative adjectives describe the qualities of a person or thing—whether they are large or small, happy or sad, etc. This type of adjective can be graded. For example:
  • a tall man
  • a very boring movie
  • a really long holiday
  • an expensive car

Classifying adjectives place people and things into categories or classes. Do you read a daily newspaper or a weekly one? Does your kitchen have an electric range or a gasrange? Here are some more examples of classifying adjectives:

  • the western hemisphere
  • an annual event
  • the external walls
  • a nuclear weapon
Classifying adjectives don't generally have comparative and superlative forms. It would sound strange to describe one event as ‘more annual’ than another, for example, or one weapon as ‘the most nuclear.’ In general, classifying adjectives cannot be graded either. An event cannot be ‘very annual,’ nor a newspaper ‘fairly weekly.’
 
See the OxfordWords blog for more about gradable and non-gradable adjectives. 

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