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10.4 Classification of adjectives

1) One-word adjectives and compound adjectives
In terms of word formation, adjectives may be classified into one-word adjectives and compound adjectives.

a. A one-word adjective may consist of only one free morpheme, such as big, small, good, bad, cold, etc.; it may also consist of a free morpheme as root plus a prefix or a suffix or both, such as unkind, useless, unlikely, voiceless, unbelievable, etc.

b. Compound adjectives are formed in different ways.
They may be "adjective + adjective", e.g.

  • bitter-sweet, deaf-mute

Adjective/adverb + -ing participle, e.g.

  • good-looking, hard-working, etc.

adjective/adverb + -ed participle, e.g.

  • well-meant

noun + adjective, e.g.

  • duty-free, grass-green

noun + -ing participle, e.g.

  • ocean-going, law-abiding

noun + -ed participle, e.g.

  • hand-made, suntanned

adjective + noun + -ed, e.g.

  • kind-hearted, absent-minded

2) Central and peripheral adjectives
ӢʶIn terms of syntactic function, adjective can be divided into two groups: central adjectives and peripheral adjectives.

a. central adjectives
Most adjectives can be used both as modifier in a noun phrase and as subject/object complement. These adjectives are called central adjectives. In the following three examples green is a central adjective, functioning as modifier of nouns, subject complement and object complement receptively:

  • Green apples are sour. (modifier in a noun phrase)
  • Those apples are green. (subject complement)
  • They have painted the door green. (object complement)

b. peripheral adjectives
Peripheral adjectives refer to the few which can not satisfy both requirements. Some peripheral adjectives can only act as pre-modifier, e.g.

  • chief, main, principal, utter, sheer, etc.

other peripheral adjectives can only act as complement, e.g.

  • afloat, afraid, asleep, alone, alive, etc.

3) Dynamic and stative adjectives
Semantically, adjectives can be dynamic or stative.

a. Stative adjectives
Stative adjectives, such as tall, short, big, small, beautiful, pretty, describe the static characteristics of animate or inanimate objects, and most adjectives are static adjectives.

b. Dynamic adjectives
Dynamic adjectives, such as ambitious, careful, generous, helpful, patient, witty, polite, describe the dynamic properties of people or things.
Dynamic adjectives are different in use from stative adjectives.
Dynamic adjectives can go with progressive aspect of the verb be, while stative adjectives cannot, e.g.

  • She is being helpful/careful/polite/patient.
  • * She is being tall/ beautiful/ pretty.

Dynamic adjectives can co-occur with imperative be, while stative adjectives cannot, e.g.

  • Be patient! Be careful!
  • * Be tall/beautiful.

Dynamic adjectives can occur in causative constructions in which it is impossible to use stative adjectives, e.g.

  • I told her to be generous/polite/careful.
  • * I told her to be beautiful/tall/pretty.

4) Gradable and non-gradable adjectives

ӢʶMorphologically, adjectives can be gradable and non-gradable.
a. Gradable adjectives
Most adjectives are gradable adjectives. The gradability can be manifested through the forms of comparison, e.g.

  • short shorter shortestbeautiful more beautiful so beautiful

The gradability can also be manifested through modification by intensifiers, e.g.

  • very short, so beautiful, extremely kind

All dynamic and most stative adjectives are gradable adjectives.

b. Non-gradable adjectives
The few non-gradable adjectives include some denominal adjective that denote classification or provenance, e.g.

  • atomic scientist
  • Chinese food

Some other adjectives, such as perfect, excellent, extreme, married, dead, etc. are also non-gradable because their lexical meaning have already denoted a high or extreme degree.

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