II.—SYNTAX OF THE ADJECTIVE.
In our Old English—the English spoken
before the coming of the Normans, and for some generations after—every adjective
agreed with its noun in gender, number, and
and even as late as Chaucer (1340-1400) adjectives had a form for the plural number.
Thus in the Prologue
to the ‘Canterbury Tales,’ he writes—
“And smalë fowlës maken melodie,”
where e is the plural inflexion.
In course of time, partly under the influence of the Normans and the Norman
language, all these inflexions dropped off; and there are now only two
adjectives in the whole language that have any inflexions at all (except for
comparison), and these inflexions are only for the plural number. The two
adjectives that are inflected are the demonstrative adjectives
this and that, which make their plurals in these (formerly
thise) and those.
which is a broken-down form of that,
never changes at all.
(ii) When an adjective is used as a noun,
it may take a plural inflection; as the blacks, goods, equals, edibles,
annuals, monthlies, weeklies,etc.
Most adjectives are
Every adjective is either an explicit or an
The following are examples:—
used as Explicit Predicates.
1. The way was long; the wind was cold.
2. The minstrel was infirm and old.
3. The duke is very rich.
used as Implicit Predicates.
1. We had before us a long way and a cold wind.
2. The infirm old minstrel went wearily on.
3. The rich duke is very niggardly.
When an adjective is used as an
it is said to be used predicatively; when it is
used as an implicit predicate,
it is said to be used attributively.
Adjectives used predicatively.
1. The cherries are ripe.
2. The man we met was very old.
Adjectives used attributively.
1. Let us pluck only the ripe cherries.
2. We met an old man.
RULE XIV.—An adjective may qualify a
noun or pronoun
not only after the verb
but after such intransitive verbs as
look, seem, feel, taste,
Thus we find: (i) She looked angry.
(ii) He seemed weary.
(iii) He felt better.
(iv) It tasted sour. (v) He fell ill.
RULE XV.—After verbs of making, thinking, considering, etc.,
an adjective may be used
factitively as well as predicatively.
Thus we can say, (i) We made all the young ones
(ii) All present thought
(iii) We considered him very clever.
comes from the Latin facio, I make.
RULE XVI.—An adjective may, especially
in poetry, be used as an abstract noun.
Thus we speak of “the True,
and the Beautiful;”
and the ridiculous;”
Mrs Browning has the phrase, “from the depths of God’s divine;”
and Longfellow speaks of
in heart and strong
RULE XVII.—An adjective may be used as
an adverb in poetry.
Thus we find in Dr Johnson the line—
rises worth, by poverty depressed;”
and in Scott—
“Trip it deft
and in Longfellow—
“The green trees whispered low and mild;”
and in Tennyson—
and sure comes up the golden year.”
(i) The reason for this is that in O.E.
adverbs were formed from adjectives by adding e.
Thus brightë was=brightly,
and deepë=deeply. But in course of time the
fell off, and an adverb was just like its own adjective. Hence we still have the
phrases: “He works hard;”
(ii) Shakespeare very frequently uses
adjectives as adverbs, and has such sentences as “Thou didst it excellent!”
spoken!” and many more.
RULE XVIII.—A participle is a pure
and agrees with its noun.
Thus, in Pope—
“How happy is the blameless vestal’s
The world forgetting, by the world forgot!”
the present active participle, and forgot,
the past passive participle, both agree with vestal
(“the vestal’s lot” being=the
lot of the vestal).
(i) But while a participle is a pure
adjective, it also retains one function of a verb—the
power to govern. Thus in the
sentence, “Respecting ourselves, we shall be respected by the world,” the
present participle respecting
RULE XIX.—The comparative
degree is employed when two
things or two sets of things are compared; the superlative
when three or more are compared.
Thus we say “James is taller than I; but Tom is the tallest
of the three.”
is a dialectic form of then.
“James is taller; then I
(ii) The superlative
is sometimes used to indicate
superiority to all others.
Thus Shakespeare says, “A little ere the mightiest Julius fell;” and we use such
phrases as, “Truest friend and noblest foe.” This is sometimes called the “superlative
(iii) Double comparatives and
superlatives were much used in O.E., and Shakespeare was especially fond of
them. He gives us such phrases as, “a more larger list of sceptres,” “more
better,” “more nearer,” “most worst,” “most unkindest cut of all,” etc. These
cannot be employed now.
each, every, either, neither,
go with singular
Thus we say: (i) Each boy got an apple.
(ii) Every noun is in its place. (iii) Either book will do. (iv) Neither woman
are dialectic forms of other
which were afterwards compressed into or
Remarks on Exceptions.
1. There are some adjectives that cannot be
but only predicatively.
Such are well, ill, ware,
aware, afraid, glad, sorry,
etc. (But we say “a glad heart,” and—in a different sense—“a sorry nag.”)
(i) We say “He was glad;”
but we cannot say “A glad
man.” Yet Wordsworth has—
“Glad sight whenever new and old
Are joined thro’ some dear home-born
We also speak of “glad tidings.”
(ii) We say “He was sorry;” but if we
say “he was a sorry man,” we use the word in a quite different sense. The attributive meaning of the word is in this instance
quite different from the
2. The phrase “the first two” means
the first and second
series; “the two first” means the first of each of two