The adjective is a part of speech which denotes the property of substance. This is the nominative class of words though functionally limited as compared with nouns. This means that adjectives are not supposed to name objects: they can only describe them in terms of the material they are made of, their colour, size, quality, etc: red, white, big, high, long, good, kind, happy. Therefore they find themselves semantically and syntactically bound with nouns or pronouns: We bought white paint. We painted the door white. She is a happy woman. She is happy. He made her happy.
The exceptions are substantivized adjectives, i.e. those that in the course of time have been converted to nouns and therefore have acquired the ability to name substances or objects: The bride was dressed in white. You mix blue and yellow to make green.
The substantivation of adjectives may be either complete or incomplete. In the case of complete substantivation, words like a native, a relative, a conservative, an alternative, a cooperative, a derivative, a savage, a stupid, a criminal, a black, a white, a liberal, a radical, a general, a corporal, a Russian, an American, a Greek, a Hungarian, a weekly, a monthly and so on share all the nounal grammatical characteristics: number, case, the ability to be used with the definite and indefinite articles: a native,
two natives, the native’s hut; an American, two Americans, the American’s accent.
The incomplete substantivation presupposes only some of nounal grammatical characteristics. For example, some of substantivized adjectives have only the plural form: valuables, eatables, ancients, sweets.
Most of substantivized adjectives of the kind are similar to collective nouns since they denote a whole class. They are used with the definite article: the rich, the poor, the unemployed, the black, the white, the deaf and dumb, the English, the French, the Chinese. In a sentence they are normally associated with a plural verb: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
The substantivized adjectives denoting abstract notions are used with the definite article but are associated with the singular verb: the good, the evil, the beautiful, the future, the present, the past: The evil that men do lives after them/The good is oft interred with their bones. (W. Shakespeare)
Morphological structure of adjectives
As well as nouns adjectives are structurally classified into simple, derivative and compound.
Simple adjectives have no affixes and thus cannot be further segmented: red, white, big, kind.
Derivative adjectives derive from either nouns, verbs or even adjectives themselves by means of suffixes and prefixes: beautiful < beauty, friendless < friend, illogical < logic, unreliable < rely, independent < depend, repentant < repent, reddish < red, greyish < grey, childish < child.
The productive adjective-forming suffixes arc:
-able/-ible: usable, readable, intelligible, responsible;
-ful: colourful, useful, deceitful;
-less: colourless, useless;
-like: businesslike, childlike.
The less productive suffixes are:
-ish after the nounal root-stem: British, Turkish. Spanish; selfish, foolish, childish;
-ish after the adjectival root-stem: greyish, yellowish, youngish, tall ish:
-ish after the numeral root-stem: eightish, fortyish;
-ant/-ent: confidant, expectant; consequent, current;
-ous: curious, obvious, industrious, infectious;
-some: troublesome, quarrelsome;
-en: woolen, wooden, silken;
-an: American, Italian, Austrian;
-y: watery_, snowy, rainy, easy;
-al: principal, accidental, parental;
-ic/-ical: photographic; grammatical, hysterical, musical; historic — historical, economic — economical:
-ive/-ative: active, explosive; communicative, derivative;
-ate/-ite: delicate,, animate, accurate; definite, composite;
-or/ory/ary: inferior, superior; compulsory, consolatory, preparatory; customary, stationary, sanitary:
-ing: surprising, perplexing:
-ed: barbed, beaded;
-ly: friendly, womanly, monthly.
Note that -ed, -ing and -ly can be regarded as adjectival suffixes only with some reservation for adjectives like surprising, perplexing and barbed, beaded
are in fact adjectivized present and past participles correspondingly while the -ly suffix is more typical of adverbs. (See 7.2.)
The adjective-forming prefixes are:
pre-: prearranged, prewar;
un-: unusual, unpredictable, unhappy;
in-: insensitive, inanimate;
im-: impossible, immoral;
il–: illiterate, illogical;
dis-: dishonest, disinterested; \
a-: aloof, agog, ajar, ablaze, aglow, afire.
Note that words with the a- prefix are traditionally discussed within the class of adjectives though actually their morphological status is rather ambiguous: they are in between adjectives and adverbs.
Compound adjectives are made up of two or more stems. Here are the main types of compound adjectives:
a) noun-stem + adjective-stem: point-blank, raven-haired,
b) adjective-stem + noun-stem: small-scale, smalltime, blue-collar,
c) adjective-stem + adjective-stem: deaf-mute, good-looking, small-minded.