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Adjectives of participial origin

§ 210. Only certain adjectives derived from participles reach full adjectival status. Among those in current use are interesting, charming, crooked, learned, ragged and those compounded with another element, which sometimes gives them quite a different meaning (good-looking, heart­breaking, hard-boiled, frost-bitten, weather-beaten, etc.).

In most cases, however, the difference between the adjective and the participle is revealed only in the sentence. The difference lies in the verbal nature retained by the participle. The verbal nature is explicit when a direct object or a by-object is present. This can be seen from the following pairs of sentences:

With an adjective With a participle
You are insulting. His views were alarming The man was offended. You are insulting us. His views were alarming the audience. The man was offended by the secretary’s remark.

The verbal force of the participle is revealed in its limited combinability - it is not combinable with very. In the above sentences, it is possible to use very in the left-hand column, but not in the right-hand column.

Some adjectives only look like participles, there being no corresponding verbs:

downhearted, talented, diseased.


In some cases there are corresponding verbs, but the -ed- participle is not interpreted as passive, because the corresponding verb can be used only intransitively:


the escaped prisoner (the prisoner who has escaped)

the departed guests (the guests who have departed)

the faded curtains (the curtains which have faded)

the retired officer (the officer who has retired)


(See participles of intransitive verbs, § 143.)

Adjectives and adverbs


Some adjectives coincide in form with adverbs, for example, slow, long, fast, above, real, mighty, sure, the last three being used as adverbs only in colloquial style.

Adjectives Adverbs
The examples above (given above) a fast walk It is real. He is sure of it. We could see nothing above or below to walk fast He is real good. It sure will help.

Patterns of combinability

§ 211. Adjectives are combined with several parts of speech.


1. They may combine with nouns, which they may premodify or postmodify: a black dress, a chivalrous gentleman, the delegates present.

If there are several premodifying adjectives to one headword they have definite positional assignments. Generally descriptive adjectives precede the limiting ones, as in a naughty little boy, a beautiful French girl, but il there are several of each type, adjectives of different meanings stand in the following order:


Adjectives   Adjectives   Adjectives   Adjectives   Adjectives   Limiting      
expressing   denoting   denoting   denoting   denoting   adjectives      
judgement   size   colour   form   age          
or general                       Noun  
pleasant   large   pale green   thick   old   French      
horrid   small   bright red   round   young   left      
nice   little   blue   square              


For example: a large black and white hunting dog, a small pale green oval seed.


This order of words is of course not absolutely fixed, since many adjectives may be either descriptive or limiting (see above), depending on the context. The adjectives are not separated by commas, unless they belong to the same type: a nice little old man. However, if there is more than one adjective of the same type they are separated by commas: nasty, irritable, selfish man (all three belong to the type of ‘judgement or general characterization’).

Postmodification is usual for the adjectives elect, absent, present, concerned, involved, proper.

The president elect (that is: who has been elected and is soon to take office).


In several noun-phrases of French origin (mostly legal or quasilegal) the adjective is also postpositional.


attorney general heir apparent time immemorial body politic Queen Regnant Lords Spiritual (Temporal)


These noun-phrases are very similar to compounds and some of them are spelt as a compound, with a hyphen (knight-errant, postmaster-general). The plural ending is attached either to the first element, or to the second:


court-martials postmaster-generals courts-martial postmasters-general


Postmodification may be due to the structural complexity of postmodifiers (the children easiest to teach, the climate peculiar to this country), or to the presence of only or all in preposition (the only actor suitable, the only person visible, all the money available).


2. Beside their usual function, that of modifying nouns, adjectives may be combined with other words in the sentence.

They may be modified by adverbials of degree, like very, quite, that, rather, most, a lot, a sort of, a bit, enough, totally, perfectly, so... as: very long, a bit lazy, sort of naive, far enough, a little bit tired, a most beautiful picture, not so foolish as that, she is not that crazy.


The adverb very can combine only with adjectives denoting the gradable properties. Thus it is possible to say very tired (tiredness may be of different degree), but it is impossible to say *very unknown, *very ceaseless, *very unique, as these adjectives do not allow of gradation.

With the adverb too the indefinite article is placed between the adjective and the head-noun. With the adverb rather the article is placed after it:


This is too difficult a problem to solve at once.

This is rather a complicated matter.


3. Predicative adjectives are combined with the link verbs tobe, toseem, to appear, to look, to turn, or notional verbs in a double predicate:

He looks tired. She does not seem so crazy as before. She is quite healthy. She felt faint. If sounded rather

fussy. The food tasted good. The flowers smell sweet.


Syntactic functions

§ 212. Adjectives may have different functions in the sentence.

The most common are those of an attribute or a predicative.

The attributes (premodifying and postmodifying) may be closely attached to their head-words (o good boy, the delegates present), or they may be loose (detached) (Clever and ambitious, he schemed as well as he could). In the first case the adjective forms a group with the noun it modifies; in the second case the adjective forms a sense-group separate from the head-word and the other parts of the sentence. A detached attribute is therefore separated by a comma from its head-word if it adjoins it, or from other parts of the sentence if it is distant from the head-word. As predicatives, adjectives may form a part of a compound nominal or double predicate (he was alone, the window was open. Old Jolyon sat alone, the dog went mad). Predicative adjectives may be modified by adverbials of manner, degree, or consequence and by clauses, forming long phrases as, in:


He is not so foolish as to neglect it.

She is not so crazy as you may imagine.

It is not as simple as you think.


Adjectives may also function as objective or subjective predicatives in complex constructions:


We consider him reliable. I can drink coffee hot. He pushed the door open. Better eat the apples fresh. I consider what he did awful.     objects + objective predicatives
The fruits were picked ripe. The windows were flung open.   subjective predicatives


Adjectives may be used parenthetically, conveying the attitude of the speaker to the contents of the sentence (strange, funny, curious, odd, surprising), often premodified by more or most.

Strange, it was the same person.

Most incredible, he deceived us.


A certain type of exclamatory sentence is based on adjectives, often modified by other words: How good of you! How wonderful! Excellent! Just right!

Substantivized adjectives

§ 213. Substantivized adjectives may fall into several groups, according to their meaning and the nominal features they possess.


1. Some substantivized adjectives have only the singular form. They may have either the singular or plural agreement, depending on their meaning. These are:


a) substantivized adjectives denoting generalized or abstract notions.

They are used with the definite article and have singular agreement:

the fabulous, the unreal, the invisible:

The fabulous is always interesting.


There are, however, certain exceptions. Substantivized adjectives denoting abstract notions may sometimes be used in the plural. Then no article is used:

There are many variables and unknowns.


b) substantivized adjectives denoting languages are used without a determiner, but are often modified by a pronoun. They also have singular agreement.


My Spanish is very poor.

He speaks excellent English.


c) substantivized adjectives denoting groups of persons or persons of the same nationality are used with the definite article the and admit only of plural agreement the old, the poor, the rich, the blind, the dumb and deaf, the mute, the eminent, the English.


He did not look an important personage, but the eminent rarely do.

The poor were robbed of their lands.


2. Some substantivized adjectives have the category of number, that is they can have two forms - the singular and the plural. These are:


a) substantivized adjectives denoting social rank or position, military ranks, party, creed, gender, nationality, race, groups of people belonging to certain times or epochs, etc. In the plural the use of the article is not obligatory: nobles, equals, superiors, inferiors, commercials, domestics, privates, regulars, ordinaries, marines, Christians, primitives, moderns, ancients, contemporaries, liberals, conservatives, Europeans, Asiatics, Eurasians, Indians, Easterns, blacks, whites, etc.

When denoting an individual such words are used in the singular and are preceded by the indefinite article: a noble, a private, a regular, an ordinary, a Christian, a primitive, a liberal, etc.


There were a few deads missing from the briefing.


- How many have you killed?

- One hundred and twenty two sures. Not counting possibles.


He’s been working like a black.


b) substantivized adjectives denoting animals and plants: evergreens, thoroughbreds (about horses).


3. Some substantivized adjectives have only the plural form. These are:


a) substantivized adjectives denoting studies and examinations. They have either the singular or plural

agreement depending on whether they denote one notion or a collection of notions: classics, finals

(final examinations), midsessionals, etc.

Finals were approaching.


b) substantivized adjectives denoting collection of things, substances and foods. Some of these admit

either of both the singular and plural agreement (chemicals, movables, necessaries, valuables, eatables,

greens), others admit only of a singular agreement (bitters).


c) substantivized adjectives which are the names of the parts of the body are used with the definite article

the and admit of the plural agreement: the vitals, the whites (of the eyes).


d) substantivized adjectives denoting colours are used in the plural without any article: greys, reds,

purples, greens.



§ 214. Pronouns are deictic words which point to objects, their properties and relations, their local or temporal reference, or placement without naming them. They constitute a limited class of words (that is a closed system) with numerous subclasses. They are generally differentiated into noun-pronouns (substituting nouns) and adjective-pronouns (substituting adjectives).




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