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Morphological characteristics. § 209. Adjectives in English do not take any endings to express agreement with the head-word

§ 209. Adjectives in English do not take any endings to express agreement with the head-word.

The only pattern of morphological change is that ofdegrees of comparison, which is possible only for descriptive qualitative adjectives the meaning of which is compatible with the idea of gradation of quality.

There are three grades of comparison:positive, comparative, and superlative. The superlative is generally used with the definite article. Ways of formation may be synthetic, analytic, and suppletive (irregular). The synthetic way is by adding the inflection-er, -est, as fine -finer - finest. This means is found with monosyllabic and some disyllabic adjectives in which the stress falls on the last syllable:


1) full - fuller - fullest


polite profound complete - politer - profounder - completer - politest - profoundest - completest


2) in which the second syllable is the syllabic [1]:


able noble - abler - nobler - ablest - noblest


3) with adjectives in-er, -y, -some, -ow:,


tender happy handsome narrow - tenderer - happier - handsomer - narrower - tenderest - happiest - handsomest - narrowest


Synthetic inflection, however, is often found in other disyllabic adjectives:


You are the horridest man I have ever seen.


Polysyllabic adjectives form their degrees of comparison analytic­ally, by means ofmore andmost:


difficult - more difficult - most difficult

curious - more curious - most curious

Note 1:

Even monosyllabic adjectives used in postposition or predicatively have a greater tendency towards analytic forms of comparison than when used attributively.



He is a man more clever thап you.

He is a cleverer man.


The superlative is sometimes used withoutthe when the aqjective denotes a very high degree of quality and no comparison with other objects is implied.


The path is steepest here.

She is happiest at home.


Note 2:


This morphological pattern (long - longer - longest) is not confined to adjectives, there are also a number of adverbs which may have the same endings, i.e. soon - sooner - soonest, hard - harder - hardest.

Superlatives are often used alone before an of-phrase:

the best of friends, the youngest of the family.


Several adjectives form their degrees of comparison by means of (suppletive forms) irregularly:


good/well bad little many - better - worse - less - more - best - worst - least - most

far farther - farthest (with reference to distance) further - furthest (with reference to distance, abstract notions and in figurative use)

old older - oldest (with reference to age) elder - eldest (with reference to the sequence of brothers and sisters)


Adjectival compounds can be inflected in two ways, either the first element is inflected (if it is an adjective or adverb), or comparison is with more andmost, for example:


well-known dull-witted kind-hearted - better-known - more dull-witted - more kind-hearted - best-known - most dull-witted - most kind-hearted  

The following adjectives generally do not form degrees of comparison:


1. Limiting qualitative adjectives which single out or determine the type of things or persons, such as:

previous, middle, left, childless, medical,dead, etc.

2. Relative adjectives (which are also limiting in their meaning) such as:

woollen, wooden, flaxen, earthen, ashen.


3. Adjectives with comparative and superlativemeaning (the so-called gradables) which are of Latin origin:

former, inner, upper, junior, senior, prior, superior, etc. (originally with comparative meaning), and

minimal, optimal, proximal, etc. (originally with superlative meaning).

With most of them the comparative meaning has been lost and they are used as positive forms (the inner wall, the upper lip, superior quality, minimal losses).

However, some comparatives borrowed from Latin (major, minor, exterior, interior, junior, senior) may form their own comparatives with a change of meaning.


4. Adjectives alreadydenoting some gradation of quality, suchasdarkish, greenish, etc.

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