Adjectives

Adjectives can be identified using a number of formal criteria. However, we may begin by saying that they typically describe an attribute of a noun:

cold weather
large windows
violent storms

Some adjectives can be identified by their endings. Typical adjective endings include:

-able/-ible

achievable, capable, illegible, remarkable

al

biographical, functional, internal, logical

-ful

beautiful, careful, grateful, harmful

-ic

cubic, manic, rustic, terrific

-ive

attractive, dismissive, inventive, persuasive

-less

breathless, careless, groundless, restless

-ous

courageous, dangerous, disastrous, fabulous

However, a large number of very common adjectives cannot be identified in this way. They do not have typical adjectival form:

bad
bright
clever
cold
common
complete
dark
deep
difficult
distant
elementary
good
great
honest
hot
main
morose
old
quiet
real
red
silent
simple
strange
wicked
wide
young

As this list shows, adjectives are formally very diverse. However, they have a number of characteristics which we can use to identify them.

Characteristics of Adjectives

Adjectives can take a modifying word, such as very, extremely, or less, before them:

very cold weather
extremely large windows
less violent storms

Here, the modifying word locates the adjective on a scale of comparison, at a position higher or lower than the one indicated by the adjective alone.

This characteristic is known as GRADABILITY. Most adjectives are gradable, though if the adjective already denotes the highest position on a scale, then it is non-gradable:

my main reason for coming ~*my very main reason for coming
the principal role in the play ~*the very principal role in the play

As well as taking modifying words like very and extremely,adjectives also take different forms to indicate their position on a scale of comparison:

big     bigger     biggest

The lowest point on the scale is known as the ABSOLUTE form, the middle point is known as the COMPARATIVE form, and the highest point is known as the SUPERLATIVE form. Here are some more examples:

Absolute

Comparative

Superlative

dark darker darkest
new newer newest
old older oldest
young younger youngest

In most cases, the comparative is formed by adding -er , and the superlative is formed by adding -est, to the absolute form. However, a number of very common adjectives are irregular in this respect:

Absolute  Comparative 

Superlative

good better best
bad worse worst
far farther farthest

Some adjectives form the comparative and superlative using more and most respectively:

Absolute 

Comparative 

Superlative

important more important most important
miserable more miserable most miserable
recent more recent most recent
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