Adjective. The category of degrees of comparison

The Adjective

The adjective expresses the categorical semantics of property of a substance. It means that each adjective used in this 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.

 I want a yellow balloon.

Adjectives are distinguished by a specific combinability with nouns, which they modify, usually in pre-position, and occasionally in post-position; by a combinability with modifying adverbs.

In the sentence the adjective performs the functions of an attribute and a predicative.

 I will be silent as a grave. → I will be like a silent grave.

To the derivational features of adjective belong a number of suffixes and prefixes of which the most important are: -ful (hopeful), -less (colourless), -ish (reddish), -ous (famous), -ive (demonstrative), -ic (basic), -un (unhappy), -in (inaccurate), -pre (prehistoric).

Classification of adjectives

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

Relative adjectives express properties of a substance determined by the direct relation of the substance to some other substance, e.g. wood – a wooden hut, history – a historical event, colour – coloured postcards, surgery – surgical treatment.

Qualitative adjectives , as different from relative ones, denote various qualities of substances, which admit a quantative estimation. The measure of a quality can be estimated as high or low, adequate or inadequate, sufficient or insufficient, optional or excessive. Cf: an awkward situation – a very awkward situation, a difficult task – too difficult task, a hearty welcome – not a very hearty welcome.

 Only qualitative adjectives have the ability to form degrees of comparison, eg a pretty girl – a prettier girl.

The category is constituted by the opposition of the three forms known under the heading of degrees of comparison, eg a pretty girl – a prettier girl.

The 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 comparison; 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.

 John was the strongest boy in the company.

Some linguists approach the number of the degrees of comparison as problematic on the grounds that the basic form of 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.

Another problem is whether relative adjectives could have degree of comparison. The adjective wooden is basically related, but when used in broader meaning “expressionless” or “awkward” it acquires an evaluative force, and can presuppose a greater or less degree of denoted property.

 E. g: the superintendent was sitting behind a table and looking more wooden than ever. (A. Christie).

A more complex problem in the sphere of degrees of comparison is that of the formations more difficult, (the) most difficult, i.e. the analytical forms of comparison. The first view that formations of the type more difficult, (the) most difficult are analytical degree of comparison may be supported by the following considerations:

  1.  The actual meaning of formations like more difficult, (the) most difficult does not differ from that of the degrees of comparison larger, (the)largest
  2.  Qualitative adjectives, like difficult, express properties which may be presented in different degrees, and therefore they have degrees of comparison. The second view is that the combinations more difficult, (the) most difficult are not the analytical expression of the morphological category of comparison, but free syntactic constructions. The reasons are the following: 1) 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; 2) the most-combinations, 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).

 The speaker launched a most significant attack on the Prime Minister.

 The most significant of the arguments in a dispute is not necessarily the most spectacular one.

“A most significant attack” in the first example gives the idea of rather a high degree of the quality, the phrase “the most significant of the arguments” expresses exactly the superlative degree of quality.


Among the words signifying properties of a noun referent there is a lexemic set which is considered by many scholars to be a separate part of speech. These are words built up by the prefix –a and denoting different states, mostly of temporary duration, e.g. afraid, adrift, ablaze. In traditional grammar these words were generally termed “predicative adjectives”.

Later the English qualifying a-words were subjected to a lexico-grammatical analysis and given the part- of-speech heading “the category of state” or “statives”.

The part-of-speech interpretation of the Statives is not shared by all linguists working in the domain of English.

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)
  •  The state of an object in space (askew, awry, aslant)

Statives are not used in attributive preposition, but like adjectives, they are distinguished by the left-hand categorical combinability both with nouns and link-verbs.

 The household was all astir.

The basic functions of the stative are the predicative and the attribute, e.g. He soon fell asleep (predicative). A man alive to social interests (attribute).

Statives do not take the synthetic forms of the degrees of comparison analytically. Of us all, Jack was the one most aware of the delicate situation which we found ourselves.

The semantic and functional analysis shows that statives forming a unified set of words, do not constitute a separate lexeme class as the noun, the verb, the adverb, etc; rather it should be looked upon as a subclass within the general class of adjectives.

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Exam Questions. The Subject of Theoretical Grammar. Syntagmatic relations. Segmental units. History of English Grammars. Parts of speech. The noun as a part of speech.

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Exam Questions. The Subject of Theoretical Grammar. Syntagmatic relations. Segmental units. History of English Grammars. Parts of speech. The noun as a part of speech.

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