Adjective: Grammatical meaning

June 8th, 20128:36 am


Adjective: Grammatical meaning

The Adjective is a part of speech with the categorical meaning of a rela­tively permanent property of a substance: a thick book, a beautiful city. The adjective denotes a property that does not evolve in time and it is this static character that is meant under the notion of relative permanence: cf. high quality and improved quality (the latter phrase contains the property that has sustained a certain modification).

Adjectives express a qualitative property that may be objectified, in which case a noun is derived from an adjective by means of the suffixes -ness, -ity etc. (whiteness, roughness, regularity, certainty). If an adjective expresses some relation, i.e. some relative quality, it is as a rale derived from a noun by means of the suffixes -y, -al, -ous, -ly, -en (e.g. rain rainy, com­mune communal, suspicion suspicious, week weekly, wool woollen).

According to their semantic properties, adjectives fall into two large groups: qualitative and relative. Qualitative adjectives denote qualities of size, shape, colour, etc. which an object may possess in various degrees. Consequently, qualitative adjectives may have degrees of comparison. The measure of a quality can be estimated as high or low, adequate or inadequate, sufficient or insufficient, optimal or excessive. Relative adjectives express qualities which characterize an object through its relation to another object: wooden furniture —furniture made of wood, Nigerian gold— gold from Ni­geria. One should bear in mind that it is impossible to draw a rigid line of demarcation between the two classes, for in the course of language devel­opment the so-called relative adjectives have gradually developed qualita­tive meanings.

Thus, for instance, through metaphoric extension adjectives denoting material have come to be used in the figurative sense: e.g. golden age, golden mean, golden opportunity, golden hair. Another example may be the generally qualitative adjective good that, when employed as a grading term in teaching, i.e. term forming part of the marking scale together with the grading terms bad, satisfactory, excellent, turns into a relative adjective that cannot be modified by any qualifiers.

Besides the division into the qualitative and the relative classes, some grammars distinguish also a class of quantitative adjectives: e.g. numerous, enormous, much, many, little, few. However, the status of much, many, little, few remains disputable. On the one hand, these words are morphologically close to adjectives, since they have the degrees of comparison. On the other hand, they have much in common with numerals and pronouns. Obviously these words belong to some periphery formed by overlapping areas of these three fields – those of adjectives, numerals, and pronouns.

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