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I. O.

Macari, Lecture 11 sem I,


5.5. The adjective

5.5.1. Definition and characteristics1

An adjective is a word that can be the only or main word in an adjective phrase. Adjectives
typically describe nouns and denote qualities, characteristics and properties of people, things
and phenomena. Most adjectives can be compared for degree and have three forms, called
positive, comparative and superlative, respectively.
Because adjective phrases either modify nouns (or their equivalents) or express a quality/status of
a NP (when they function as subject or object complements), the grammatical relationship
between adjectives and nouns is significant for any analysis. The noun - adjective rapport is
noticeable in the grammatical categories of these two parts of speech.
Thus, in Romanian, nouns are masculine, feminine or neutral (see. 5.1, 5.2, 5.3). Adjectives
are gender neural (they do not have a gender of their own), but they have agreement in gender,
number and case with their governing nouns. Unlike in Romanian, adjectives in Modern
English have lost grammatical agreement with the noun they modify, and, consequently, the
only paradigmatic forms of the adjective are those of degrees of comparison.
There are however two English adjectives that still have gender-marked forms, both colour
adjectives of French origin: blond and brunet. Like the other colour and nationality adjectives,
they can also be used as nouns, and in that case they take plural suffixes and are accompanied
by determinatives, as in a blonde, two brunettes, etc.
meaning2 masc fem meaning
1. adjective: (of hair, skin, etc.) light- blond blonde 1. adjective: (of a woman or girl)
colored. having fair hair and usually fair skin
and light eyes.
2. (of a person) having light-colored
hair and skin. 2. noun: a woman or girl having this
3. (of furniture wood) light in tone.
Related forms: blondeness, noun
4. noun: a blond person.
5. silk lace, originally unbleached but
now often dyed any of various colors,
especially white or black.
Usage note
Although blond and blonde correspond to masculine and feminine forms in French, this distinction is not
consistently made in English. The spelling blonde is still widely used for the noun that specifies a woman
or girl with fair hair: The blonde with the baby in her arms is my anthropology professor.
Some people object to this as an unnecessary distinction, preferring blond for all persons: My sister
is thinking of becoming a blond for a while.
As an adjective, the word is more usually spelled blond in reference to either sex (an energetic blond
girl; two blond sons), although the form blonde is occasionally still used of a female: the blonde
model and her escort. In conclusion, blonde is the commoner form both as a noun and an adjective,
As identified by Biber, Conrad and Leech in The Longman student grammar of spoken and written English.
London: Longman, 2002.
The meanings described in this table are proposed in www.dictionaryreference.
I. O. Macari, Lecture 11 sem I,

and is more frequently used to refer to women than men. The less common variant blond occurs
usually as an adjective, occasionally as a noun, and is the preferred form when referring to men with
fair hair.
1. adjective: (especially of a brunet brunette 1. adjective: (of hair, eyes, skin, etc.) of a dark
male) brunette. color or tone.
2. noun: a person, usually a 2. (of a person) having dark hair and, often,
male, with dark hair and, dark eyes and darkish or olive skin.
often, dark eyes and darkish
or olive skin. 3. noun: a person, especially a female, with
such coloration.
 a blonde by any other name is just a brunette – a parodical paraphrase of the Shakespearian line
a “rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet).
 to have a blonde moment – an expression young people use to excuse themselves if they make a
mistake or do something stupid.

English adjectives have the following characteristics, although, as Biber, Conrad and Leech
note (2002, pp. : 188-9), not all adjectives exhibit each of them. The authors distinguish
between adjectives that have all these features (called central adjectives) and adjectives with
fewer of the features (called peripheral adjectives).
A. Morphological characteristics
 Central adjectives can be inflected with the inflectional suffixes -er (comparative) and –est
(superlative) to show comparative and superlative degree (big, bigger, biggest – see
 Ungradable adjectives do not take part in this morphological paradigm.
 Adjectives can be complex in morphology:
- simple adjectives are one-word adjectives: 1. derived adjectives (with affixes in
bold): acceptable, forgetful, impossible3, influential, unacceptable, unimaginable,
etc.; 2. non-derived/pure adjectives (simple words that function only as adjectives:
good, bad, tall, short, long, etc.)
- compound adjectives are formed of two or more words, often linked with
hyphens: color-blind, home-made, ice-cold.
Alexander (1988, p. : 107) distinguishes the following types of compound adjectives:
1) Compound adjectives formed with participle:
 Compounds formed with past participles: e.g. a candle-lit table, a horse-drawn cart, a
self-employed author, a three-lined avenue.
 Compounds formed with present participles: e.g. a long-playing record, a long-
suffering parent, a time-consuming job.
 -ed words that look like participles although they are formed from nouns: e.g. cross-
eyed, flat-chested, hard-hearted, open-minded, quick-witted, slow-footed

A prefix added to an adjective generally has a negative effect. The most productive prefixes are: -im
(impossible, immortal, impractical), -in (informal, inactive, inhuman) –il (illegal, illegible, illimitable), -ir
(irresponsible, irregular, irreligious), -dis (dishonest, disagreeable, disgraceful), -non (non-specific, non-
cyclic), -un (unimportant, uncooked, unimaginable). Other prefixes pre- (pre-war), hyper- (hyperactive),
ultra- (ultraviolet), super- (superfine) do not create opposites but modify or intensify the meaning of the
word in some way. (Alexander, 1988, pp. 82-3)
I. O. Macari, Lecture 11 sem I,

2) Compound adjectives of measurement

 with cardinal numbers combining with nouns (usually singular) to form
compounds with hyphens relating to:
 age: a three-year-old building
 volume: a two-liter car
 length: a twelve-inch ruler
 price: a fifty-dollar dress
 weight: a five-kilo bag
 area: a fifty-acre farm
 duration: a four-hour meeting
 depth: a six-foot hole
 time/distance: a ten-minute walk
 with ordinal numbers: a first-rate film, a second-hand car, a third-floor flat,
a nineteenth-century novel, etc..
3) Compound adjectives formed with adverbs: well-built, badly-behaved, ill-
mannered, poorly-advised, wrongly-addressed, ready-made, carefully-worded, so-
called, short-lived, above-mentioned, far-fetched, downcast, etc.
4) Compound adjectives formed of two adjectives: e.g. a red-hot chilly, a light blue
sky, dark blue eyes, Anglo-Saxon literature, etc.
5) Compound adjectives formed of an adjective and the adverb most: innermost,
inmost, farthermost, uppermost, etc.
6) Compounds formed with prefixes and suffixes: e.g. class-conscious, tax-free, loose-
fitting, waterproof, fire-resistant, car-sick, tight-lipped, vacuum-sealed, airtight, etc.
7) Noun compounds may function as adjective compounds. Such compounds usually
require hyphens: a high-school girl (vs. she goes to high school), a stock-market report,
twentieth-century literature (vs. literature of the twentieth century).
8) Compound adjectives may include various syntactic combinations:
 a prepositional phrase: a wall-to-wall carpet, a fly-by-night scheme, an up-to-the-
minute office, etc.
 an infinitive: a hard-to-please employer, a never-to-be-forgotten plot, a well-to-do
banker, etc.
 coordinate elements (joined by and): a life-and-death struggle, a black-and-blue
mark, a hit-and-run driver, etc.
Some set phrases or specially coined phrases may also function as adjective compounds: a get-
rich-quick scheme, a catch-as-catch-can policy, a publicity-shy actor, etc.
B. Syntactic characteristics
Central adjectives serve both attributive and predicative syntactic roles.
In attributive position, an adjective is part of a noun phrase: it precedes and modifies the head
noun. To put it differently, adjectives are attributive (attributing a quality to what is denoted
by a noun) when they are used as pre-modifiers.
I. O. Macari, Lecture 11 sem I,

Most adjectives can be both attributive and predicative, but some categories can fill only one
of the positions. One example of an attributive adjective is only: we can say an only child, but
not the child is only.
The class of attributive adjectives includes:
 adjectives ending in -en, formed from concrete nouns: wool → woollen, wood →
wooden, etc.
 adjectives indicating cardinal points: eastern, northern, etc.
 adjectives derived from nouns: medical, environmental, etc.
 adjectives that can form adverbs: former, late, utter, very, chief, etc.
Adjectives are predicative when they occur in the position of subject complement (especially
after the verb be, for example nice in She was nice) or of object complement (We found her
nice). Some adjectives are restricted to predicative use: we can say The child was alone, but
not the alone child. The class of predicative adjectives includes:
 the adjectives ill, well, drunk
 adjectives containing the prefix –a: ablaze, afraid, alike, alive, alone, ashamed,
asleep, averse, awake, aware. Some of these adjectives have attributive
correspondents that are either present or past participles (alive – living, ablaze –
blazing, asleep – sleeping, afraid - frightened) or synonymic adjectives (alike –
similar, ashamed – shameful, alone – lonely, etc.).
o Notice: Some of these adjectives can also be used attributively when they are
premodified by an adverb such as fully, very, totally, half, etc., as in a totally alone
Some predicative adjectives require a post-modifier, typically a PpP; they are also known as
adjectives with obligatory preposition: afraid of, aware of, loath to, subject to, etc.
Note that predicative adjectives are not part of a NP. They actually characterize a NP with a
separate syntactic function:
 subject – when they are subject complements
She was nice. (the AdjP nice characterizes the subject follows the copular verb
 object – when they are object complements.
We found her nice. (the AdjP nice characterizes the object her)
Other syntactic roles of adjectives
Biber et al additionally identify several other roles of the adjectives besides their attributive
and predicative uses, including postposed modifiers, noun phrase heads, clause linkers, free
modifiers, and exclamations. Adjectives also have an important role in comparative clauses
(2002, p. : 202).
1. Adjectives as postposed modifiers
A postposed adjective is part of a noun phrase as well, but it follows the head word. It
commonly occurs with compound indefinite pronouns (no one, anything, somebody, etc.) as
I. O. Macari, Lecture 11 sem I,

Anyone ready?
He did everything possible to help her.
Postposed adjectives also appear in some titles (attorney general, governor general, heir
apparent, notary public, poet laureate postmaster general, president elect, sergeant major)
and a number of fixed phrases, such as Asia minor, body politic, goodness gracious, hope
eternal, penny dreadful, sum total, time immemorial, etc.
The adjective phrase often follows the head noun when a modifying adjective phrase is very
He has always wanted a much bigger car than the one he owns now.
Alexander (1988, pp. , 6.1.1) notes that a limited number of adjectives, mostly ending in -able
and -ible, can come either before or after nouns, with no change of meaning (available
eligible, imaginable, taxable, etc.)
I doubt whether we can complete our contract in the time available/in the available time.
A few adjectives (elect involved present, proper responsible, etc.) change in meaning
according to their position, as shown in Alexander‟s examples below.
The concerned doctor rang for an ambulance. - worried
The doctor concerned is on holiday. - responsible
This elect body meets once a year. - specially chosen
The president elect takes over in March. - who has been elected
It was a very involved explanation. - complicated
The boy involved has left. - connected with this
Present employees number 3.000. - those currently employed
Employees present should vote on the issue. - those here now
It was a proper question. - correct
The question proper has not been answered. - itself
Janet is a responsible girl. - She has a sense of duty
The girl responsible was expelled. - who can be blamed

In Romanian, where the normal position of adjectives is after the noun they modify, when
adjectives precede the head noun, they normally acquire extra intensity. This use is normally
restricted to written and poetic language and is illustrated in the short excerpt below.
A fost odată ca-n povești, Luceafărul așteaptă.
A fost ca niciodată,
Din rude mari împărătești, Privea în zare cum pe mări
O prea frumoasă fată. […] Răsare și străluce,
Pe mișcătoarele cărări
Din umbra falnicelor bolți Corăbii negre duce. (M. Eminescu, Luceafărul)
Ea pasul și-l îndreaptă
Lânga fereastră, unde-n colt

However, quite similarly to what happens in English, meaning variations may result from
changes in the position of the Romanian adjective, as well. As Forăscu notes 4 , the pre-
nominal adjective position may indicate either an inherent quality (the NP adj + noun

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I. O. Macari, Lecture 11
expressing a global characteristic) or the speaker‟s subjective attitude, while the post-nominal
adjective position expresses either a quality with a distinctive value or the speaker‟s objective
Talentaţii interpreţi au fost felicitaţi toţi interpreţii au talent
Interpreţii talentaţi au fost felicitaţi doar cei talentați au fost felicitați
săracul/sărmanul om o persoană pe care o compătimim (fără referire la situația
sa materială)
om sărac/sărman lipsit de mijloace financiare
Au vizitat diferite muzee. au vizitat diverse feluri de muzee
Au vizitat muzee diferite. cineva a vizitat un tip de muzee, iar altcineva, un alt tip

2. Adjectives as noun phrase heads

Adjectives that function as NP heads are typically accompanied by the definite article the.
The adjective-headed NP usually refers to a group of people with the characteristic described
by the adjective.
Everyone picks on the Welsh, don't they?
They can be modified by adverbs, which is typical of adjectives but not nouns:
I think the contrast between the very rich and the very poor in this country is disgusting.
These adjectives can also take premodifiers, which is typical of nouns:
These people may be the real working poor, the elderly, the very young, the unemployed, or
the transient.
3. Adjectives as linking expressions
Adjectives sometimes link clauses or sentences to one another. In this role, they can also have
Still more important, children who grew up in elite homes enjoyed advantages that helped
them maintain elite status.
4. Adjectives as free modifiers
Adjectives can also be syntactically free modifiers of a NP, although they are not
syntactically part of that NP. In such structures – most common in fiction - the AdjP has a
peripheral role in the clause and typically occurs in sentence initial position.
Green, bronze and golden, it flowed through weeds and rushes.
Free modifiers can also occur in sentence-final position:
Victor chuckled, highly amused5.
5. Adjectives as exclamations
Adjectives have this function especially in conversation and fictional dialog:
Great! I need some of those.
Sorry! I have none left.

“In some contexts the status of a participle-like form is ambiguous. Thus I was annoyed can be interpreted
verbally (eg. I was annoyed by their behavior) or as an adjective (eg. I was very annoyed), or perhaps even
as both (I was very annoyed by their behaviour)."(Aarts, Chalker, & Weiner, The Oxford Dictionary of
English Grammar, 2nd ed., OUP, 2014)
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C. Semantic characteristics
Central adjectives are descriptive, as they typically characterize the referent of a nominal
expression (blue and white flag, unhappy childhood). They are also gradable (they can show
different degrees of a quality).
Many of the most common adjectives in English are central adjectives that share all of these
characteristics. The class of central adjectives includes colour adjectives (red, black),
adjectives of size and dimension (big, wide), and adjectives of time (new, old).5.5.2.
Adjective classes
1. Central adjectives (that are typically descriptive) have all the main characteristics of
the adjective class: they have the ability to occur both attributively and predicatively, are
gradable and have comparative and superlative forms.
1. (a). Attributive and predicative functions
Most central adjectives can be used in both the attributive and the predicative functions:
1. She was a nice girl. attributive (premodifier for girl)
2. The girl was nice. predicative (sC)
3. We found the girl nice. predicative (oC)
Several adjectives are restricted in this way only in particular meanings6. For example, old is
 exclusively attributive7 in:
She is an old friend of mine. („a friend for many years‟)
My elder brother is a doctor. („a person who is my brother and who is also older than
 a central adjective in:
She is an old woman. premod. in NP
She is old. sC in all 3 clauses old refers to age.
I consider her old. oC
Another example is the pair ill and sick. Both adjectives are used to mean „unwell‟, but in
American English ill is restricted to formal style.
Ill is mostly predicative; thus, I took my sick cat to the vet is more common than … my ill cat.
When sick is used predicatively, after the verb be, it can have an additional meaning:
The baby was sick twice last night. (~ The baby vomited…)
Participial adjectives are adjectives which have the same form as the -ed and -ing participles
of the verbs, as in most cases they are derived from verbs. The fact that they are not
participles proper, although they are identical in form with such verb forms is indicated by
the fact that, unlike verbs, they can be modified by intensifying adverbs (a very badly
organised company, a very exciting talk, etc.).
In a simplified description, -ing adjectives normally have an active meaning, while -ed
adjectives a passive meaning.
The organizing committee finished registration at nine.
The conference organized in Iași last year was a success.

As identified by Greenbaum and Nelson in An introduction to English grammar, 2nd ed. 2002.
With this meaning, old is no longer a central adjective (see 2 below for a discussion of peripheral adjectives).
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I. O. Macari, Lecture 11
However, several -ed adjectives (such as talented, gifted, diseased, etc.) which are not derived
from verbs, do not have a passive sense.
1. (b). Gradability8
Leech defines a gradable word as “a word that can easily be used in the comparative or
superlative, or is capable of being modified by an adverb of degree such as very, much,
greatly, considerably, rather and little.” (2006: 48)
For example, the adjectives short and diligent are gradable, because they have comparative
and superlative forms (shorter ~the shortest, more diligent ~ the most diligent), and because
they can be modified by degree adverbs: very short, very diligent.
Adjectives are typically gradable - that is, as you can see above, they can be arranged on a
scale of comparison. However, several adjectives are not gradable (especially those which
express qualities that cannot vary in intensity belong to this class).
Non-gradable adjectives can be grouped in the following three types9:
a. extremes (as in boiling/ scorching/ freezing temperatures, icy weather, etc.): awful,
boiling, freezing, furious, overjoyed, etc.
b. absolutes (as in presumed dead, buried alive, etc.): alive, black, certain, correct, dead,
excellent, impossible, mortal, perfect, pregnant, principal, etc.
c. classifying (as in nuclear physics, chemical reactions, philological research, etc.):
domestic, environmental, etc.
English club (English club) provides a selection of examples and observations that might
prove useful for issues related to the use of gradable/non gradable adjectives. Thus, a non-
gradable adjective cannot be used with grading adverbs:
 It was rather freezing outside.
 The dog was very dead.
 He is investing in slightly nuclear energy.
Non-gradable adjectives do not normally have comparative and superlative forms:
 freezing, more freezing, the most freezing
 dead, deader, the deadest
 nuclear, more nuclear, the most nuclear
For the Romanian speaker of English, the usage of non-gradable adjectives should not pose
problems, since such adjectives behave similarly in Romanian (superb, mort, nuclear, etc.).
However, a non-gradable adjective can be modified by non-grading adverbs (which usually
give the adjective extra impact).
non-grading adverbs non-gradable adjectives
absolutely awful
utterly excellent
completely terrified
totally dead absolute

See 5.2.1.
According to
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nearly impossible
virtually unique
essentially chemical
mainly digital classifying
almost domestic
Here are some example sentences with modified non-gradable adjectives:
 Her exam results were absolutely awful.
 This must be virtually unique.
 It starts an essentially chemical reaction.
 Adjectives that can be both gradable and non-gradable
Some adjectives that have more than one meaning may be gradable with one sense and non-
gradable with another sense. For example:
example adj. type meaning
He's got a very old car. gradable „not young‟
I saw my old boyfriend yesterday. non-gradable „former/ex-„
He has some dreadfully common habits. gradable „vulgar‟
"The" is a very common word in English. gradable „prevalent‟
The two countries' common border poses problems. non-gradable „shared‟

 Adverbs used with both gradable and non-gradable adjectives

The adverbs really (meaning very much), and fairly and pretty (meaning "to a significant
degree, but less than very") can be used both with gradable and with non-gradable adjectives:
gradable adjectives non-gradable adjectives
Please don't forget! It's really important. He was really terrified.
He's a fairly rich man. It's a fairly impossible job.
He's pretty tall. It's a pretty ridiculous idea.
 Quite with gradable and non-gradable adjectives
The meaning of the adverb quite changes according to the type of adjective we use it with:
example adjective meaning of quite
It's quite warm today. gradable „fairly‟, „rather‟
Are you quite certain? non-gradable „completely‟, „absolutely‟
1. (c). Comparison of adjectives
The comparative is defined by Leech (2006, p. : 20) as the form of a gradable word which
ends (if regular in comparison) in -er, and which indicates a comparison of two things in
terms of a higher or lower position on some scale of quality or quantity, for example wider,
colder, happier.
Two blows to the head. He took the more severe of the two here on the parietal region.
(George, 1992, p. 201)
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Regular one-syllable gradable adjectives and adverbs form their comparative by adding -(e)r,
but for most adjectives and adverbs of more than one syllable it is necessary to add the
preceding adverb more (or less for a comparison in the opposite direction), for example more
careful, more slowly, less natural.
The superlative is the form of a gradable word which ends in –est/-st, for example oldest,
longest, most, least. It refers to the highest or lowest position on some scale of quality or
quantity, for example: That was my nicest party ever. One-syllable gradable adjectives and
adverbs form their superlative by adding -est, but for most adjectives and adverbs of more
than one syllable it is necessary to add the preceding adverb most (or least for the opposite
end of the scale), for example: most useful, most quickly, least important (Leech 2006: 110).
However, many two-syllable gradable words can usually take both forms for both the
comparative and the superlative: warmer - warmest/more warm – most warm, quieter -
quietest/more quiet – most quiet, etc.
To sum up, the comparative form is used to compare two items (e.g. he is taller than me), while
the superlative is used to comparing one item with every other member of its group (e.g. he is the
tallest boy in the class).
Greenbaum and Nelson (2002) identify three degrees of comparison: higher, same, and lower,
the first and the third having a comparative and a superlative form each, but for the Romanian
students it is more convenient to stick to the traditional terms superiority, equality and
inferiority they are familiar with from studying the Romanian grammar.
1. Superiority is expressed either through the inflections -er and -est or through the
premodifiers more and most.
(base/ absolute quiet)
comparative quieter, more quiet
superlative quietest, most quiet

2. The structure as + adj. + as is used to say people, things etc are equal (the equality degree).
There is also a negative form for this degree.
equality/ same as quiet as
negative not as/so quiet as
3. To express inferiority the premodifiers less and least are required.
comparative less quiet
superlative the least quiet
Notice that applying both the suffix and the premodifiers when comparing adjectives is a
frequent non-native mistake10. Make sure that in standard use of English, you resort to either
–er or more/less, never both.

Grammars mention that the application of both comparative marks on the same adjective can occur in native
English, as well. “Double comparison is taboo in Standard English except for fun: Your cooking is more
tastier than my mother's. I can see more better with my new glasses. These illustrate the classic double
comparative construction, with the periphrastic more or most used to intensify an adjective or adverb
already inflected for the comparative or superlative. A belt-and-suspenders usage, this is a once-Standard
but now unacceptable construction (like the double negative) that illustrates yet again our penchant for
hyperbole. Shakespeare (the most unkindest cut of all) and other Renaissance writers used double
comparison to add vigor, enthusiasm, and emphasis, and so do young children and other unwary speakers of
Nonstandard English today, but the eighteenth-century grammarians seem to have prevailed, and one
comparison per adjective is all today's Standard English will allow. The power of this usage decision shows
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She is taller than me. (not She is more taller than me.)
The evening was quieter than I expected. (not The evening was more quieter than I
Do the same for the superlative structures: use -est or most/ least, not both.
She is the tallest in her class. (not She is the most tallest in her class.)
A common error made by the Romanian speaker of English is related to the use of the
superlative instead of the structure the + comparative which is the correct choice when only
two units are compared.
I have two apples, you can have the bigger. (not I have two apples, you can have the biggest.)
As we have seen above, the English superlative is used when at least three units are
I have three apples, you can have the biggest.
The source of the Romanian learner‟s error can be traced in the difference between the ways in which
the comparative and superlative forms operate in the two languages, shown in the definitions below11:

Romanian English

comparative Formă a adjectivului și a adverbului care The form of an adjective or adverb used
exprimă superioritatea, inferioritatea sau to compare two things.
egalitatea între mai multe obiecte sau acțiuni
care au aceeași însușire sau între însușirile
aceluiași obiect sau ale aceleiași acțiuni în
momente diferite.

superlative Grad de comparație al adjectivelor și al A superlative adjective is used to

adverbelor, care arată că însușirea exprimată compare three or more objects, people,
este la un grad foarte înalt sau la gradul cel or places. Using the superlative form
mai înalt ori cel mai scăzut în comparație cu takes a comparison to the highest degree
altele de aceeași natură. possible.

In Romanian, the use of the comparative is in no way limited to only two entities.
Petrecerea de ieri a fost mai reușită decât toate cele dinainte.
Of the two types of the Romanian superlative (the relative superlative and the absolute
superlative), only the former is used to actually compare entities.

Petrecerea de ieri a fost cea mai reușită dintre toate. relative superlative
Petrecerea de ieri a fost foarte reușită dintre toate. absolute superlative
Furthermore, the Romanian relative superlative (which is the only counterpart of the English
superlative) is formed by adding cel to the structure of the comparative.
the comparative the superlative
mai + adjective cel + mai + adjective

clearly in the ease with which most Standard speakers use double comparisons jocularly; they can do so
confidently only because they know their readers and hearers know that they know better.” (Wilson, 1993,
p. 153)
The Romanian definitions are provided by www.dexonline, while the English ones by
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mai frumos cel mai frumos
mai inteligentă cea mai inteligentă
These examples show that in Romanian the comparative is contained in the structure of the
superlative; this, together with the definitions and comments above explain some of the
related usage problems for the Romanian speaker of English.
Other error potentialities for the non-native speaker of English concern the adjectives with
irregular comparison. The following table lists the most common examples.
positive comparative superlative
ill worse worst
farther farthest
further furthest
fore former foremost, or first
better best
hind hinder hindermost
later latest
latter last
little less least
more most
near nearer nearest
nigh nigher nighest
old older oldest
elder eldest
outer outmost, outermost
utter utmost, uttermost
up upper upmost, uppermost
Alexander (1988: 6.6) lists some additional difficulties the learners of English may encounter
due to interference from their native language, in relation to the following characteristics of
English adjectives12
- English adjectives do not vary in form to 'agree' with nouns: a tall man/woman/tree, tall
- they generally precede nouns when used attributively: a cool drink, a long day, a pretty
- when used attributively, they nearly always combine with a noun or with one/ones. So we
must use a noun in expressions like You poor thing!', You lucky girl!', a young man, a one-
eyed man, etc.
- copular verbs like be, seem, etc. combine with adjectives like afraid, cold hot hungry lucky,
right sleepy thirsty, unlucky, wrong, where in some European languages such words are used

As identified by Alexander in Longman English Grammar (1988)
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as nouns after have, or an idea can be expressed by a verb. So, in English, depending on
context, she is cold may relate to temperature (i.e. not warm) or attitude (i.e. not friendly)
- several adjectives and adverbs have the same form and consequently they are often confused
(see the selection below)
adjectival use adverbial use
all right I'm all right you've done all right
best best clothes do your best
better a better book speak better
early an early train arrive early
fair a fair decision play fair
far a far country go far
farther on the farther side walk farther
fast a fast driver drive fast
further further questions walk further
hard a hard worker work hard
high a high note aim high
home home cooking go home
hourly hourly bulletin phone hourly
last the last guest come last
late a late train arrive late
long long hair don’t stay long
monthly a monthly bill pay monthly
past the past week walk past
worse worse marks do worse than
For further usage notes, refer to L. G. Alexander, Longman English Grammar, Andrei Bantaș,
Limba engleză în liste și tabele, 1993; Georgiana Gălăţeanu-Fîrnoagă, Sinteze de gramatică
engleză, 1997; Hortensia Pârlog, Pia Brânzeu, Sinteze și exerciții de limba și literatura engleză,
1996; Michael Swan, Practical English Usage, 2005; Colectivul catedrei de engleză,
Universitatea din București, Limba engleză: Exerciţii pentru admiterea în învățământul
superior, 1978.
2. Peripheral adjectives
Central adjectives have all the defining characteristics of the adjective class (the ability to
occur both attributively and predicatively, gradability, the ability to form comparative and
superlative forms - see 1 above), while peripheral adjectives share only some of them.
However, as Biber et al note,
the concept of 'central v. peripheral' is not a clear dichotomy. Big is a central adjective and
exhibits all the characteristics listed above. Some adjectives, such as beautiful, have all the
characteristics of central adjectives except that they cannot be inflected to show comparative
or superlative degree (*beautifuller). Other adjectives lack other characteristics. For
example, absolute is not gradable (something cannot be more or less absolute). Afraid is
gradable but it does not occur in attributive position, and it cannot be inflected (*afraider).
(2002, p. : 189)
At syntactic level, central adjectives can be used both as modifier in a noun phrase and as
subject/object complement. In the following three examples nice is a central adjective,
functioning as modifier of the noun girl, subject complement and object complement:
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1. She was a nice girl. attributive (premodifier for girl)
2. The girl was nice. predicative (sC)
3. We found the girl nice. predicative (oC)
Peripheral adjectives are the (fewer) adjectives which cannot fulfil both functions and,
consequently, some peripheral adjectives can act exclusively as pre-modifiers (attributive
function), others only as complements (predicative function).
The same Biber et al point to the „strong preference‟ the adjectives with the prefix a-13 have
for the predicative role (they occur over 98% of the time as complements), while those
ending in -a114 show a strong preference for attributive position (occurring 98% of the time
as pre-modifiers).
In Romanian 15 , there are fewer restrictions regarding the position and function of the
adjectives. In most cases, although the normal word order is noun + adjective, adjectives can
also precede the head noun, with the effect of intensifying the quality expressed by the
However, a few adjectives are restricted in terms of position only in particular meanings. For
example, sărac and sărman occur, exactly like poor in English
 exclusively as pre-modifiers (in attributive position) when they mean „miserable,
unhappy, pitiable‟:
Săracul/ sărmanul copil, e atât de trist! (= Poor child, he’s so sad!)
 as central adjectives in:
El este un copil sărac/ sărman. (He is postposed in NP
a poor child) In all 3 clauses (in both
El este sărac/sărman. (He is poor) nume predicativ (sC) languages) sărac/
sărman and poor refer
to possessions or
Îl consider sărac/sărman. (I consider element predicativ
him poor.) suplimentar (oC)
As we can see from the table above, the attributive use of sărac/sărman and poor is
associated with an emotive meaning, while their predicative use refers to the financial
 Another synonym for sărac and sărman used as pre-modifiers is biet. Biet is similarly
used in exclamative sentences but, unlike sărac and sărman, it is exclusively restricted to
the premodifying position and consequently does not have a second meaning.
Bietul copil, e atât de trist!
El este un copil biet. El este biet. Îl consider biet.
 A list of other pre-nominal adjectives in Romanian includes așa-zis, coșcogeamite,
ditai/ditamai, fiecare, fost, pretins, primul, orice, un anumit, nici un, etc. Such adjectives are
additionally restricted to the attributive position, as well.
attributive (pre-nominal) predicative (post-nominal)

abed, ablaze, abreast, afraid, aghast, aglow, alike, alive, alone, askew, asleep, aware, etc.
general, industrial, local, national, social, etc.
Gramatica română recentă recunoaște trei clase mari de adjective: adjectivele calificative, adjectivele
relaționale și adjectivele de modificare a referințe.
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• așa-zis/fost/pretins prieten • prietenul (este) așa-zis/fost/ pretins
• coșcogeamite/ditamai găliganul • găliganul (este) coșcogeamite/ ditamai
• fiecare/primul/orice/un anumit/ • omul (este) fiecare/prim/orice/ anumit/nici
nici un om un om
 A small number of adjectives which behave like their English counterparts16 that express the
sense of 'complete, exact, very' can be used only in the attributive position: apropiat (prieten
apropiat, prietenul este apropiat), simplu (simplu prieten, prietenul este simplu), vechi (vechi
prieten, prietenul este vechi), etc.
However, most of these can occur in predicative function in their normal meanings:
Termenul de predare este foarte apropiat.
Mesajul lui este simplu și clar, ceea ce-l face foarte eficient.
Vinul este vechi, iar atmosfera foarte plăcută.
 The following classes contain the most common Romanian adjectives that can occur
exclusively in post-nominal position:
- all adjectives, when preceded by the article cel.
post-nominal pre-nominal
• fata cea mică • cea mică fată
• casa cea nouă • cea nouă casă
- adjectives indicating nationality (american, britanic, român), religion (creștin,
catholic, ortodox), administrative category (județean, municipal, orășenesc, sătesc),
professional field (academic, medical, universitar), technical characteristic (electric,
mechanic, motrice), geographical class (montan, urban), social category (cetățenesc,
politic, social), etc.
post-nominal pre-nominal
• cetățean american/britanic • americanul/britanicul cetățean
• studiu academic • academicul studiu
- descriptive adjectives indicating quality (şic, tricotat, apretat), shape (pătrat, drept),
pattern/style (ecosez, renascentist, florentin), colour (alb, roz), state (eficient, folosit,
post-nominal pre-nominal
• un pulover alb/șic/tricotat • albul/șicul/tricotatul pulover
• un mecanism eficient/folosit • eficientul/folositul mecanism
- reference adjectives (colectiv, drept, individual, stâng, etc.)
post-nominal pre-nominal
• un proiect colectiv • colectivul proiect
• piciorul stâng • stângul picior
- adjectives formed from participles, with the exception of fost (adresat, decupat,
servit, scris, etc.).
post-nominal pre-nominal
• plic adresat • adresatul plic
• model decupat • decupatul model

E.g. close, complete perfect/total, mere, pure, sheer, utter, very, etc.
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- adjectives formed from adverbs (astfel, bine, gata, repede, etc.)

post-nominal pre-nominal
• femeie bine • bine femeie
• haine gata • gata haine

- adjectives formed from prepositions (aidoma, aievea, potrivit, etc.)

post-nominal pre-nominal
• imagine aievea • aievea imagine
• exprimare potrivită • potrivita imagine
- idioms and phrases (cu dare de mână; cu judecată; cu scaun la cap; de treabă; dus cu
pluta; foc şi pară; mort de foame; neagră la inimă; ochi şi urechi; ruptă din soare;
zgârie-brânză; etc.)
post-nominal pre-nominal
• om cu dare de mână • cu dare de mână om
• fată ruptă din soare • rupta din soare fată
- fixed phrases with invariable adjectives (cumsecade, get-beget, pur-sânge, sadea,
post-nominal pre-nominal
• român get-beget • get-begetul român
• boier/mitocan/prinț sadea • sadeaua boier/mitocan/prinț
- other invariable adjectives such as acătării, doldora, eficace, motrice, propice, etc.
post-nominal pre-nominal
• buzunare doldora • doldora buzunare
• condiții propice • propicele condiții
In English, nouns also are often used attributively (as in a university student, job applications,
a garden party, etc). They premodify the head noun exactly like adjectives and occur in the
same position (compare a university student and a good student), but they are not adjectives,
since they do not share the characteristics of the adjective class.
 they cannot be modified by very: a very university student, very job applications, a very
garden party.
 they do not have comparative or superlative forms: more university/ universitier, more job/
jobbier, most garden/gardenest.
 they cannot occur in predicative position:
a university student the student is university
job applications the applications are job
a garden party the party is garden

In conclusion, although these words occur in the typical adjective position, they are nouns,
not adjectives.
Regarding the attributive nouns, Maurer points to the necessity “to avoid having more than
two noun modifiers together. Using too many noun modifiers in sequence can be confusing.
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Look at the example Jerry Gonzales won the student portrait painter award. Is Jerry a
student who won an award for painting portraits? Is Jerry a painter who won an award for
painting students? Is the award given by the students?” (2006, p. : 157). The same author
suggests breaking up the string of noun modifiers with PpPs or rearranging the modifiers in
some other way:
Jerry Gonzales won the award for painting portraits/ Student Jerry Gonzales won the award
for painting portraits.
However, combinations with a potential for ambiguity 17 like an American history teacher
(where we do not know if the person is „a teacher of American history‟ or „an American
citizen who teaches history‟) are quite common in nowadays English. Other examples are an
old book enthusiast, a foreign language teacher, a decent college graduate, an Indian silk
shirt, basic education services, a small car factory, etc.
A similar ambiguity effect is given in Romanian by the genitival/possessive article, especially
in the structure noun + preposition + noun + al/a/ai/ale: încercarea de intimidare a
adversarului (the adversary either intimidated somebody else or was himself/herself
intimidated by another person). Other examples are tentativa de manipulare a guvernului,
strategia de restructurare a universităţii moderne, declarația de sprijinire a poliţiştilor, etc.
3. Adjectival compounds18
Adjectival compounds consist of a combination of two or more words, resulting in a compact
expression of information. The most common possible combinations include:
adjective + adjective greyish-blue, infinite-dimensional
adjective + noun full-time, cutting-edge, large-scale
noun +adjective butterfly-blue, age-old, life-long
adverb + -ed participle ill-suited, newly-restored, so-called
adverb + -ing participle free-spending, slow-moving, tightly-fitting
adverb + adjective highly-sensitive, already-tight, grimly-familiar
reduplicative wishy-washy, roly-poly, goody-goody
noun + ed-participle church-owned, classroom-based, horse-drawn
noun + ing-participle eye-catching, law-abiding, nerve-wracking
Adjectival compounds are common in the written registers, especially news. They most often
occur as attributive adjectives which present a compact form of information. They can be
expanded into full clauses, usually relative clauses.
adjectival compound expanded adjectival compound
He said he was in favour of 'socially- He said he was in favour of market policies
oriented' market policies. which are socially oriented.
Note that, especially when they are used as premodifiers, the words that make up such
compounds are normally hyphenated.
C. Semantic characteristics
Adjectives can be semantically grouped in two major classes: descriptors and classifiers.
Descriptors are typically gradable adjectives that describe
 colour (black, white, dark, bright, blue, brown, green, grey, red)

Linguistic ambiguity arises whenever a word/phrase/sentence can be interpreted in more than one way.
According to Biber, Conrad & Leech, Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English 2002, 192.
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 size/quantity/extent (big, deep, heavy, huge, long, large, little, short, small, thin,
 time descriptors that describe chronology, age, and frequency (annual, daily, early,
late, new, old, recent, young)
 evaluative/emotive descriptors that denote judgments, emotions, and emphasis (bad,
beautiful, best, fine, good, great, lovely, nice, poor)
 miscellaneous descriptors that cover many other kinds of characteristics
(appropriate, cold, complex, dead, empty, free, hard, hot, open, positive, practical,
private, serious, strange, strong, sudden).
Unlike descriptors, classifiers (typically non-gradable) limit or restrict a noun's referent,
rather than describing a characteristic.
 relational/classificational/restrictive classifiers limit the referent of a noun in relation
to other referents (additional, average, chief, complete, different, direct, entire,
external, final, following, general, initial, internal, left, main, maximum, necessary,
original, particular, previous, primary, public, similar, single, standard, top, various)
 affiliative classifiers identify the national or social group of a referent (American,
Chinese, Christian, English, French, German, Irish, Romanian)
 topical/other classifiers give the subject area or specific type of a noun (chemical,
commercial, environmental, human, industrial, legal, medical, mental, official, oral,
phonetic, political, sexual, social, visual.)
Nevertheless, the distinction between descriptors and classifiers is not always clear, since, for
instance, many topical classifiers provide descriptive content while they also limit the
reference of the head noun. Moreover, some adjectives can serve as both classifiers and
descriptors, depending on their context of use.
descriptor classifier
a popular girl in high school popular vote, popular opinion, popular culture
high roof high school, high culture
criminal activity criminal law
a primary issue primary school
Order of adjectives
Grammars generally note that multiple noun modifiers occur in a fixed order, 19 and this order
is altered only if the speaker intends to emphasize a particular adjective in the sequence. The
table below, provided by Maurer (2006, p. : 155), provides examples for the normal sequence
of the categories of adjectives.

As the author notes, if the modifiers are in different categories, the adjectives are not
separated with a comma; this happening only when there are two or more modifiers in the
same category (see the table below). The order of adjectives in the same category can vary.

The observation applies both to the adjectives and the nouns used attributively. The common order of the
categories of adjective and noun modifiers is as follows: [determiner(s)] quality/opinion, size,
age/temperature, shape, colour, origin, material [noun].
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Because grammars do not set out any reliable guidelines, the Romanian speaker of English
cannot use his/her mother tongue knowledge of ordering modifier categories. For the non-
native speaker, a useful tip to enjoin multiple adjectives in English is to realize that the
sequence normally starts with the most subjective characteristics (opinion) and goes towards
the most objective ones (origin and material) as it closes in on the premodified noun.

Din Limba engleza, The adjective