According to the meaning and grammatical characteristics adjectives fall into two classes: 1) qualitative adjectives, and 2) relative adjectives.
Qualitative adjectives denote such properties as size, colour, physical or mental qualities, etc. which a living being or an object, etc. may possess in various degrees and thus their amount or quantity can be measured: a clever boy, a very clever boy, rather a clever boy, such a clever boy; a big house — a very big house, rather a big house, such a big house.
Their most typical suffixes are -ful, -less, -ous, -ant/ -ent, -able/ible, -ing, -like, -some, -y: colourful, colourless, industrious, confidant, current, usable, intelligible, surprising, businesslike, troublesome, easy.
Most qualitative adjectives can be further transformed into adverbs by means of the suffix -ly: colourfully, colourlessly, industriously, confidantly, currently, surprisingly, easily.
Relative adjectives denote properties of a substance in relation to other substances such as materials: silken > silk, woolen > wool, watery > water; places — American > America, European > Europa, Austrian > Austria; periods of time — daily > day, weekly > week, monthly > month, yearly > year; shape — rectanglular > rectangle, triang-lular > triangle; to actions — compulsory > compulsion, preparatory > preparation, consolatory > consolation.
Their most typical suffixes are: -en, -an, -ic/-ical, -al: wooden, Italian, photographic, grammatical, historic — historical.
Relative adjectives do not usually form adverbs with the suffix -ly with the exception of adjectives in -ic/-ical: grammatically, geographically, historically.
Qualitative adjectives: the category of comparison
The ability of qualitative adjectives to express measured properties accounts for their specific grammatical feature, namely the category of comparison, which is regarded as the formal sign of this class of adjectives.
The category of comparison suggests the idea of gradience of a property and is constituted by the opposition of three categorial forms: 1) the positive degree of comparison, 2) the comparative degree, 3) the superlative degree.
The form of the positive degree, the unmarked member of the opposition, is a simple form of a qualitative adjective which expresses no comparison: big, clever, interesting, important.
The other two are the marked members of the opposition because they are expressed grammatically.
The form of the comparative degree shows some increase or decrease in property while the superlative form expresses the highest or least degree of property denoted by qualitative adjectives. Both comparative and superlative forms may be realized synthetically and analytically.
The synthetic way of the degree formation is characterized by adding grammatical suffixes to 1) one-syllable adjectives: big, large, high, low, etc; 2) two-syllable adjectives ending in -y, -er, -ow: easy, happy, clever, narrow, etc. 3) two-syllable adjectives with the last syllable stressed: complete, concise, etc.
The analytical way presupposes the use of special words in preposition to adjectives consisting of more than one syllable: difficult, careful, interesting, enthusiastic, etc.
Thus, synthetically the comparative degree of adjectives is formed by adding the suffix -er while the superlative degree — by means of the suffix -esf. bigger — biggest, larger — largest, higher — highest; easier — easiest, cleverer — cleverest, narrower — narrowest; com-pleter — completest, conciser — concisest.
Analytically the comparative degree of adjectives is expressed with the help of the words more — to show increase of property and less to to show its decrease whereas the superlative degree is formed by means of words most and least correspondingly, more/less, most/least, being the comparative and superlative forms of the adjectives much/many and little: more difficult, less difficult — the most difficult (task), the least difficult (task); more interesting book, less interesting book — the most interesting book, the least interesting book.
Note that most as part of the analytical superlative degree of adjectives must not be confused with the homonymous adverb in the meaning very. Compare: This is the most interesting book I have ever read. — This is a most interesting book. This book is most interesting.
Apart from the great number of adjectives which form their degrees of comparison in accordance with the rules given above there may be found some adjectives with the irregular comparative and superlative degrees, on the one hand, and those that have missing forms of the comparative degree, on the other. They are as follows: much/many — more — most little — less — least good — better — best bad/evil/ill — worse — worst eastern — more eastern — easternmost
northern — more northern — northern most
southern — more southern — southern most
inner — — innermost
outer — — outermost/utmost
utter — — uttermost/utmost
hind — — hindmost
rear — — rearmost
top — — top most
upper — — upper most/upmost
old — older — oldest
elder — — eldest
far — farther/further — farthest/furthermost/furthest
Elder/eldest (with no comparative) are used only before a noun to denote members of a family. Compare the way elder/eldest and older/oldest occur in speech: My elder sister is a teacher. — My sister is older than me. She looks older than she really is. My eldest son is 10 years old. — This is the oldest building in the town.
In the case of far, when speaking of real places and distances either farther/farthest or further/furthermost/ furthest can be used while further/furthest are used in the meaning «more», «extra», «additional»: I’m tired. I can’t walk much farther/further. What’s the farthest/furthest place have you ever been to ? In the furthermost corner of the hall sat a tall thin man. — For further information write to the above address.
Among adjectives with irregular comparative and superlative forms listed above there is also the adjective little which deserves special attention. It is used to describe uncountable nouns while countables are modified by the adjective few: I have very little money to live on. — I have very few chocolates left. There was little food left. — / have few friends.
Both little and few may be used with the indefinite article: a few — in the meaning «a small number, but at least some» whereas a little — in the meaning «a small amount, but at least some». Compare: There are a few eggs and a little milk in the fridge. I have a few friends. We ate a little food.
Note that little/a little may also be used as pronouns and adverbs: There’s little I can do for you.— If there’s any milk, I’ll have a little, (pronouns) / see very little of him. — I’m a little hungry, (adverbs)
Many/much can function both as adjectives whereas many may occur as a pronoun and much — as an adverb: I’ve got many books on the subject. I’ve got much work to do. (adjectives) — Not many of the children will pass the exam, (pronoun) — It was much worse than I thought. I don’t much like the idea, (adverb)
The comparison of adjectives may be expressed by some other grammatical means, namely double conjunctions. They are: a) not as…as/not so…as used in the negative sentences — My salary is not as high as yours. / My salary is not so high as yours. (=Your salary is higher.) b) as…as (but not so…as), the same, twice as…as, three times as…as, as in positive sentences: Your salary is as high as mine. Your salary is the same as mine. His salary is twice as high as mine.
As it has already been pointed out the morphological category of comparison is generally relevant to the class of qualitative adjectives which are supposed to evaluate the property of a substance in terms of its amount or quantity. The exceptions are adjectives with negative meanings formed by negative suffixes such, as unimportant, disreputable, immoral, irresponsible, etc., and adjectives denoting
colour, size like greenish (to some degree green), darkish (to some degree dark), tallish (to some degree tall).
Note that relative adjectives, which are unable to form the degrees of comparison by definition, may sometimes become evaluative, i.e. qualitative. Consider the following examples, wooden bed, wooden spoon — wooden face, wooden performance (of an actor). In the first two word-combinations wooden is used in its literal, relative meaning — «made of wood» while in the second — it has the qualitative meaning «awkwardly stiff, not lifelike». Consequently, the quality may be measured: The actress gave a rather wooden performance.
Syntactic functions of adjectives
Syntactically adjectives may function both as 1) attributes and 2) predicatives, i.e. parts of the predicate. Here are the examples of the attributive use: She returned in the early morning. After careful consideration we accepted the offer. Trying to conceal her embarrassment she turned away her red face.
Sometimes adjectives used attributively may occur in postposition, i.e. after the noun they describe: This is the only possible answer. — This is the only answer possible. In some cases the postpositional use of adjectives is obligatory: I’ll do everything possible to help you.
When used predicatively, adjectives are combined with link-verbs: be, feel, get, grow, look, seem, smell, taste, turn. For instance: / was early for work today. When driving he is always careful. They feel nervous. He looked happy. Honey tastes sweet. She turned red with embarrassment.
Such adjectives as long, high, wide, deep, etc. find themselves in predicative position together with nouns denoting periods of time and units for measuring height, length and so on. For example: The garden is 20 metres long and 15 metres wide. The well is 25 metres deep.
The most frequently recurrent link-verb is the verb to be which enters a considerable number of set expressions of adjective + preposition type: be ready for/with, be fond of, be late for, be jealous of, be happy about, be afraid of, be frightened of, be dependent on, be persistent in, be grateful to/for, be angry with, be certain about/of, be suspicious of, etc. The predicative function of the adjectival collocations is often supported by their synonymous verbal counterparts: be fond of— love, be grateful to/for — thank, be suspicious of— suspect of.
The predicative function may be performed by double comparative forms of adjectives in the elliptical (or predicatively incomplete sentences with missing verbal elements): The more expensive the hotel, the better the service. (=The more expensive the hotel is…) The warmer the weather the better I feel.
Note that qualitative adjectives perform their attributive and predicative functions on equal terms while relative adjectives tend to occur in the function of attribute more frequently than in that of predicative: In her silken garment she looked grand. The historic meeting between the two leaders marked the beginning of a new era.
Adjectives with the a- prefix like afire, afloat, agape, ajar, akin, etc. usually function predicatively: The house was aflame. The company somehow managed to keep afloat. The problem facing him is akin to that of ours.
However in some rare cases they may be used attri-butively: He got down to work afire with enthusiasm.