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Types of adjectives

a. Proper adjectives restrict the application of a noun in such persons or things as are included with in the scope of a proper name: a Spanish sailor; the English language. Proper adjectives, just like proper nouns, may be used in a descriptive sense: French bread;

b. Descriptive adjectives indicate a quality or state restricting the application of a noun to such a person or thing as possess the quality or state donated by the adjective: a brave boy, a sick lion, a large field;

c. Quantitative adjectives restrict the application of a noun to such things as are of the quantity or degree donated by the adjective: much, little, no, none, some, any, enough, sufficient, all, whole, half. 'No' is always an adjective, 'none' is always a pronoun. Adjectives of quantity are always followed by a singular noun, which must be a noun of material or an abstract noun;

d. Numeral adjectives may be definite (cardinals, ordinals and multiplicative) and indefinite (all, some, enough, no, many, few, etc.). A definite numeral can be made indefinite by placing the word 'some' or 'about' before it: some twenty men;

e. Demonstrative adjectives may also be definite (this, that, such, the same, the other, these, those) and indefinite (a, an, one, any, a certain, certain, such, some, another, any, other);

f. Distributive adjectives restrict the application of a noun by showing that the persons or things donated by the noun are taken singly or in separate lots: each, every, either, neither. According to their meaning the adjectives are divided into two categories:

- qualitative adjectives which donate qualities of size, shape, colour, which an object may possess in various degrees. These adjectives have degrees of comparison and have corresponding adverbs derived by means of the suffix '-ly' or homonymous in form with the adjective;

- relative adjectives which have no degrees of comparison. A few such adjectives are formed from nouns by means of the suffix '-en': wooden, woollen;

g. Interrogative adjectives: which, what, whose, how much, how many;

h. Possessive adjectives: my, your, her, his, its, our, their.

Agreement Adjectives in English have the same form for singular and plural, masculine and feminine nouns: a good boy- good boys, a good girl - good girls. The only exceptions are the demonstrative adjective this and that, which change to these and those before plural nouns: this cat - these cats, that dog - these dogs.

Uses of adjectives

Adjectives may be used as epithets when they qualify the noun directly so as to make a kind of compound noun: a noble character. They may be also used predicatively when they qualify their nouns indirectly through the verb or predicate going before: his character is noble.

Functions of adjectives

The main synthetically function of an adjective is that of an attribute: a big book. The adjectives may also be used as a predicative in a nominal (compound) predicate: the book is interesting.

Adjectives with the prefix 'a-' such as alive, awake, asleep, afraid have usually the function of predicatives, subjective or objective. When they are used as attributes they follow their head known, thus preserving their predicative character.

The adjective 'ill' and 'well' are not used attributively in Modern English. They have only the function of a predicative. Survivals of the old attributive use at 'ill' are found in some phraseological combinations: ill luck, ill wind, ill news.

The adjective may be modified by an adverb which has the syntactical function of an adverbial modifier to the adjective: he was particularly happy.

The adjective may be associated with an object, usually a prepositional one. Only few adjectives, like 'busy' and 'worth' have direct objects.

Position of adjectives

Attributive adjectives come before their nouns: this book, which boy, my dog.

Adjectives of quality, however, can come either before their nouns (a rich man, a happy girl), or after a verb such as 'be', 'become, 'seem' (Tom became rich or She seems happy) or 'appear', 'feel', 'get'/'grow' (= appear), 'make', 'smell', 'sound', 'taste', 'turn' (I felt cold, He got/grew impatient, He made her happy, The idea sound interesting).

Some adjectives can be used only attributively or only predicatively, and some change their meaning when moved from one position at the other. Bad/good, big/small, heavy/light and old, used in such expressions as bad sailor, good swimmer, big eater, small farmer, heavy drinker, light sleeper, old boy, cannot be used predicatively without changing the meaning: 'a small farmer' is a man who has a small farm but 'the farmer is small' means that he is a small man physically.

Chief, main, principal, sheer, utter come before their nouns. Frightened may be in either position, but afraid and upset must follow the verb and so must adrift, afloat, ashamed, alike, alive, alone, asleep.

The meaning of early and late may depend on their position. An early/a late train means a train is scheduled to run early or late in the day. The train is early/late means that it is before/after its proper time.

Poor meaning 'without enough money' can precede the noun or follow the verb; when meaning 'unfortunately' it must precede the noun; when meaning 'weak' it precedes nouns such as 'student', 'worker', but when used with inanimate nouns can be in either position: he has poor sight, his sight is poor.

Substituts for adjectives

Words that restrict a noun in the same way as an adjective are:

a) a participle (a verbal adjective): a fallen tree;

b)      an adverb: the then king, the down trains;

c)      a noun or gerund: a river fish, a bathing place;

d)      a noun in the genitive case: my son`s friend;

e)      a verb in the infinitive mood: a chair to sit on, water to drink;

f)        a preposition with its object: a bird in the hand;

g)      pronouns used as adjectives: this house;

h)      a verb: a would-be hero.

Adjective building

Adjectives can be formed from other parts of speech by derivation, conversion and composition.

The most common sufixes used to form adjectives are:

  • -able: navigable, returnable;
  • -al: legal, official;
  • -ant: defiant, ignorant, rampant;
  • -ate: desperate, delicate;
  • -ent: affluent, confident, silent;
  • -ful: regretful, resentful;
  • -ible: credible, inaudible;
  • -ic: dogmatic, heroic;
  • -ish (= rather): oldish, biggish, (= having the bad qualities of) childish, amateurish;
  • -ive: active, effective;
  • -less: useless, boundless, penniless;
  • -like: childlike, godlike;
  • -ly: friendly, Fatherly;
  • -ous: fabulous, obvious;
  • -worthy: trustworthy;
  • -some: quarrelsome, troublesome;
  • -y: sandy, stony;
  • -en: golden, silken.

Most long verbs ending in '-ate' drop '-ate' before adding '-able': appreciate - appreciable, navigate - navigable.

Adjectives ending in '-y' are mostly formed from uncountable nouns. If the noun ends in '-e' the 'e' is dropped before '-y'. If it ends in a single consonant preceded by a single short vowel, the consonant is doubled before '-y'. The same spelling changes ocur when the ending '-ish' is added.

Adjectives may also be formed by adding '-ed' to a noun: detailed description.

The most common prefixes used to derive adjectives are:

  • dis- (negative): disconsolate, dishonest;
  • under- (not enough): underdown, underdeveloped;
  • in- (negative): inaccurate, inaccessible;
  • mis- (wrongly): mistrustful, misinformed;
  • over-: overconfident;
  • super-: superfluous, supercillious;
  • un- (negative): unprintable, unprofessional.

Note: The prefix 'in-' before 'b', 'm' and 'p' becomes 'im-' as in: impracticable or impossible; before 'l' becomes 'il-': illegible, illogical; before 'r' becomes 'ir-' as in irrelevant, irresistable.

Others adjectives

There are certain prepositions, adverbs and verbs that are used as adjectives: about, through, after, inside, up, away, mock, sham, big, above, inner, down, hitherto, off, outside, then: an about turn, an outside trip, an upper room.

Compound adjectives may be formed of:

a)      adjective + present participle: good-looking, pleasant-sounding;

b)      adverb + past participle: well-dressed, ready-made;

c)      noun + past participle: hand-made, brick-built, machine-made;

d)      adjective + past participle: broad-shouldered, bad-tempered, fair-haired;

e)      noun + present participle: heart-breaking, soul-destroying;

f)        numeral + noun: second-hand, first-year.

There are words that can function both as adjectives and adverbs: a high mountain/a bird fly high, a deep water/to swim deep in the water.

Note: if these words add '-ly', they are used only as adverbs with a change in meaning: deeply hurt, highly placed.

With certain verbs such as: be, became, feel, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, taste, an adjective should be used when the subject of the verb is being described; an adverb should be used when the manner of the action of the verb is being described: He felt good./He felt cautiously along the wall.

Use, place and meaning of adjectives:

Adjectives may qualify two or more nouns: We have only clever boys and girls here. The adjective is repeated to stress the idea expressed by it: Our University has new librairies and new laboratories.

Generally two adjectives used in front of a noun are not conected by the conjonction 'and'. But 'and' is used:

  • when the adjectives are antonymous as in: They sell old and new cars;
  • when they complete each other: a red and white ball;
  • when we want to stress each adjective: a long and boring English course;
  • when the two adjectives form a common sense: It is a vain and fruitless attempt.

If the adjectives are not connected by 'and' they are separate by a comma.

Attributive adjectives come after the noun they qualify in the following cases:

  • when accompanied by a phrase expressing measurement: a river two hundred miles long, a house ten storeys high;
  • when there are two or more coordinate adjectives: He was a big man, square-shouldered and handsome;
  • when the adjective is followed by a prepositional phrase: He is a man worthy of respect, he is a man greedy for money;
  • in a number of fixed expressions, usually based on French model: curt martial, time immemorial;
  • after indefinite pronouns: something important, nothing new.

Note: The adjectives come before personal pronouns: poor you;

  • when they are preceded by 'the' and follow a proper name: Charles-the-Great;
  • adjectives ending in '-ible' can be post-positive if they have a verbal association. They often follow a noun with a superlative or 'only' or a similar adjunct attached: the only person visible;
  • the combination of 'too', 'so', 'as' + adjective with its complementary phrase: too large a flat for two people.

Articles, possessives, demonstratives and indefinite adjectives precede qualifying adjectives. A general descriptive adjective precedes an adjective of colour. An adjective of nationality is next to the noun unless there is another noun used as an adjective. A noun used as an adjective is next to the noun it modifies. Generally, several variations are possible but a fairly usual order is: adjectives of

size (except 'little')

general description (excluding adjectives of personality or emotion)

age (and the adjective 'little'






a long sharp knife, an old plastic bucket, a small round bath, an elegant French clock, blue velvet curtains, this new grey wollen coat, etc.

Adjectives of personality or emotion come after adjectives of physical description, including dark, fair or pail, but before colours: a pail anxious girl, a kindly black doctor.

The Comparison of Adjectives

There are three degrees of comparison of adjectives in English: positive, comparative and superlative: big - bigger - the biggest.

One syllable adjectives form their comparative and superlative by adding '-er' and '-est' to the positive form. Adjectives ending in 'e' add 'r' and 'st': brave - braver - the bravest.

Adjectives of three or more syllables form their comparative and superlative by adding 'more' and 'the most' before the positive form: beautiful - more beautiful - the most beautiful.

Adjectives of two syllables follow one or other of the above rules. Adjectives ending in '-ful' or '-re' usually take 'more' and 'the most': doubtful - more doubtful - the most doubtful; obscure - more obscure - the most obscure. Adjectives ending in '-er', '-y' or '-ly' usually add '-er', '-est': clever - cleveler - the cleverest; pretty - prettier - the prettiest; silly - sillier - the silliest.

Than/as + pronoun + auxiliary

When the same verb is required before and after than/as we can use an auxiliary for the second verb:

I earn less than he does. (= less than he earns)

The same tense need not be used in both clauses:

He knows more than I did at his age.

When the second clause consists only of than/as + I/we/you + verb, and there is no change of tense, it is usually possible to omit the verb:

I'm not as old as you (are).

In formal English we keep 'I' or 'we', as the pronoun is still considered to be the subject of the verb even though the verb has been omitted. In informal English, however, 'me' or 'us' is more usual:

He has more time than me.

They are richer than us.

When than/as is followed by he/she/it + verb, we normally keep the verb:

He is strong. I am stronger than he is.

In very formal English we can drop the verb and use he/she/they or, in very colloquial English him/her/them:

I swim better than he does/better than him.

These rules also apply to comparisons made with adverbs.

Adjective + one/ones

Most adjectives can be used with the pronouns one/ones when one/ones represents a previously mentioned noun:

Don't buy the expensive apples; get the cheaper ones.

I've lost my old camera; this is a new one.

Many and much

Many is used before countable nouns and much before uncountable nouns:

He didn't make many mistakes.

We haven't got much coffee.

They can be used quite freely with negative verbs, but with affirmative and interrogative verbs they have a restricted use:

with affirmative verbs, many is possible when preceded by a good/a great:

I made a good many friends here.

Both many and much are possible when modified by so/as/too:

She read as much as she could.

They drink too much gin.

When not modified, many, as object or part of the object, is usually replaced by a lot/lots of (+noun). Much, as object or part of the object, is usually replaced by a great/good deal of (+noun):

I saw a lot of/lots of sea birds.

He spends a lot/lots/a great deal of money on books.

As subject or part of the subject, either many or a lot of can be used, but much is normally replaced by one of the other forms. Much, however, is possible in formal English:

Much will depend on what the teacher says.

with interrogative verbs, both many and much can be used with how:

How many times have I told you to stop?

How much wine did he drink?

In questions where how is not used, many is possible, but a lot of is better when an affirmative answer is expected:

Did you take a lot of photos? - I expect you did.

Much without how is possible but the other forms are a little more usual:

Did you have a lot of/much snow last year?

Possessive adjectives: my, your, his, her, its, our, their.

The possessive adjective change according to the gender and number of the possessor, and not according to the person or thing possessed:

The boy has dropped his notebook.

The girl is playing with her doll.

They will write their essays.

All possessive adjectives may refer to countable nouns, singular and plural, and to uncountable nouns: my watch, my watches, our furniture. Sometimes, for extra emphasis or contrast, own/very own can be added after the possessive adjectives:

I was very surprised to find myself in my very own bedroom.

When there is an enumeration of nouns, the possessive adjective is used only before the first noun:

I usually spend my holidays with my mother, father, brother and sister.   

Possessive adjectives often occur with parts of the body: my head, your hand, his eyes. But, after a prepositional phrase, especially when speaking about injuries, the is preferred instead of the possessive adjective:

She was so angry that she hit him in the face.

Possessive adjectives may also be used before gerunds:

Excuse my interrupting you.

Demonstrative adjectives: this, that, these, those, the (= that), the other, such(a), same, very.

This/that/these/those are the only adjectives that agree in number with the nouns to which they are attached: this/that dress, these/those dresses. However, in order to express measurements, either singular or plural forms may be used:

She has been working hard this/these two days.

If the noun has the same form in the singular and the plural, the demonstrative adjective indicates the number of the noun:

This sheep is white.

These sheep are white.

This/These refer to something/somebody that is close to the speaker, or to the present, the recent past or the near future. They can be intensified with the help of "here", "right here", "over here", "right over here". These words are placed after the nouns modified by the demonstrative adjectives:

This boy over here is my friend.

These trees right here were planted three years ago.

That/those refer to somebody/something that is not close to the speaker or to the more distant past or future. They can be intensified with the help of "there", "right there", "over there", "right over there", which are placed after the head nouns:

That woman over there is my grandmother.

Those books right over there are in English.

This/That can be used when they refer to something known in the context or already mentioned:

I tried to do another exercise but this/that exercise proved to be too difficult for me.

or when they point to something to be mentioned later:

This story I'm going to tell you now is about a princess and an ogre.

or when they imply that both participants in the conversation share the same views toward the subject of discussion:

Heard that story!

Such/such a can be used as determiners, having the meaning 'this kind of' or 'that kind of'. Such a is used with singular countable nouns, such is used with plural countable nouns and uncountable nouns:

She was such a kind woman!

Where have you heard such words?

You can't walk in such weather.

Such is often used to express one's admiration or disappointment:

I have never read such a book before.

You can never rely on such people.

Such a can also be used to express admiration:

He was such a man!

The other can refer to both singular and plural nouns: w

When my son came into the house, the other children remained on the football ground.

Note: The other day usually means 'a few days ago'.

Interrogative adjectives what, which, whose, how much, how many.

What, which, and whose can be used both for persons, masculine and feminine, and for feelings. They can be followed either by singular nouns, or by plural ones: what books, what boys, which painting, whose house.

The difference between 'what' and 'which' is that 'what' is used when we make a selection from a more or less unlimited number, while 'which' is said to have a selective meaning, the speaker having into his mind a limited group of whatever the following noun denotes. Thus, What subjects are taught in your school? is a neutral question, as we are only interested in learning the number of subjects and what they are. But Which subjects do you like best? implies that the number of subjects is limited to a small group.

'What' may also be used to express admiration:

What time those were!

How much is used with uncountable nouns, while how many is used with plural countable nouns.

Indefinite adjectives

The most frequent indefinite adjectives are: some, any, several, another, other, much, many, a little, little, a few, few, each, every, either, neither, all, both, a certain, certain, enough, whole, most, sundry (= different).

Some and any have the meaning of an indefinite quantity or number, being used before singular and plural nouns.

'Some' is used:

in affirmative sentences:

He offered her some flowers.

in interrogative sentences that express an offer or an invitation:

Would you like some coffee?

in interrogative sentences, when we expect an affirmative answer:

Have you bought some books? (= yesterday I met him in front of the book shop and he had several books in his hand);

in interrogative sentences, when the question does not refer to 'some':

Why have you used wrong tenses in some sentences?

in negative sentences, when the meaning is affirmative:

He never visits us without bringing some cakes.

with the meaning of 'certain':

Some people believe they are always right.

as a synonym of 'extraordinary', either positive or negative:

Have you seen her painting? - Yes I have, that's some painting.

(= real painting)

John will never be a real novelist. Now he is writing some novel!

'Any' is used:

in negative sentences, as a substitute for 'some', when the noun phrase follows the negative verb:

We haven't got any coffee.

after 'hardly', 'seriously', 'barely':

He has hardly any solution in his mind.

in interrogative sentences, when we have no idea what the answer will be:

Is there any butter in the fridge?

in affirmative sentences with the meaning 'no matter what':

Any idea will be welcomed.

after 'if':

If I find any books on English history I will buy them.)

in expressions of doubt:

I don't think there is any bread in the house.

'No' is used with affirmative verbs to express a negative, as an alternative of negative verb + any:

She drank no tea. (= She didn't drink any tea.)

Both each and every are followed by a singular noun, except 'every', when the following noun is preceded by a cardinal number:

Each boy told us his name.

We get up at seven o'clock every day.

Buses run here every five minutes.

'Each' refers to all members of a group, making us think of them as one by one. It can be used for two or more persons or things:

Two students entered the classroom. Each student was carrying a bag.

Sometimes 'each' can follow a plural countable noun, emphasizing that the action, although performed by more than one, was performed separately:

The patients each had to take some medicine before going to bed.

'Every' is used when we think of people or things together in a group, being closer in meaning to 'all'. It can only be used to refer to more than two people and things:

He sent me three letters and every letter stresses how much he missed me.

All/whole. 'All' indicates the entire quantity. When it occurs directly before the noun, it shows that the entire group is being spoken about, while when it is followed by 'the', it refers only to a part of that group:

All pupils start school in September.

All the pupils in our class go on a trip on Sunday.

'All' can be followed by a possessive or a demonstrative adjective:

All my friends were coming to that party.

All these poems have been translated into French.

'Whole' means 'complete', 'every part of'. It can be preceded by a definite or indefinite article, or by a possessive adjective, and it is followed by singular countable nouns:

He learnt the whole story during his stay there.

We waited for Santa a whole night.

I've spent my whole life in this town.

'All' is usually used with uncountable nouns or with plural countable nouns:

She usually spends all her money on jewels.

All the members of the club were there, waiting for him.

'Whole' is considered to be stronger than 'all' and can combine with words like 'hour' and 'century': a/the whole hour, a/the whole century.

Some nouns combine with both 'all' and 'whole' but the word order is different:

Granny spent all the winter with us.

Granny spent the whole winter with us.

Both 'all' and 'a/the whole' can be used with time reference: all day, a/ the whole day, all night, a/the whole night, all week, a/the whole week.


'Either' refers to singular countable nouns only, meaning 'one or other of the two':

You may eat either cakes, it doesn't matter which.

'Neither' is used with singular countable nouns only, meaning 'not one and not the other of the two':

He bought her two necklaces, but she accepted neither (necklace).

Both indicates totality, but is used only for two persons or things considered together. It occurs only before plural nouns and takes a plural verb. It can be followed by 'the', a possessive or a demonstrative adjective:

Both (the) films are thrillers.

Both his cousins are doctors.

Both these schools are very popular.

Several is used with plural countable nouns to indicate a large but indefinite number:

We spent several days at the seaside that summer.

Other used with plural countable nouns to indicate something more or something different:

I had to give the teacher some other examples of indefinite adjectives.

'Other' may also be used with a singular countable noun, when it is preceded by 'no'. The verb must be affirmative:

No other person could have done more.

'Another' does not refer to anything in particular and its meaning is:

'different': I'll go there another day. (= any other day)

'one more' or 'additional': Could I have another cup of tea?

It is always followed by singular countable nouns.

Enough is a rather unusual determiner, since it can occur either before or after a plural countable noun or an uncountable noun, although its usage after the noun is considered to be very literary. So, we can say There is enough cheese or There is cheese enough. But, when used with a singular countable noun, its position is only after that noun:

I think he is man enough to understand this.

Most indicates 'almost all of a quantity or a number' and can be followed either by uncountable nouns or by plural countable nouns:

Most information proved to be true.

Most students here speak English.

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