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Linguistic Properties of Adjectives Bridget Schuberg Colorado State University

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES Abstract This paper uses the criteria of form, semantics, and function to analyze typical syntactic patterns regarding the grammatical category of adjectives, which are then contrasted with those in other


languages, in order to predict problems that may potentially arise in ELL comprehension and use of adjectives. Through an awareness of these differences and similarities, teachers may better equipped to counteract and/or prevent misunderstandings and to facilitate learning with relevant explanations. Keywords: adjective, form, semantics, function, position

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES Linguistic Properties of Adjectives According to Huddleston and Pullum (2002, p. 526), as there are not enough nouns and verbs in English to express the finer degrees of meaning, “words (and phrases) that alter, clarify, or adjust the meaning contributions of nouns and verbs” are necessary. This may be why adjectives are the third most frequently-used word class (Leech & Svartvik, 2002, p. 417) and why almost every sentence of “more than trivial length” contains adjectives (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002, p. 526). Delahunty and Garvey (2010, p. 147) believe that every literate person needs to have at least a basic understanding of parts of speech so that they are able to use dictionaries and


thesauruses. Writers and writing teachers also need to know this information, they claim, so they can use and teach students to how to use style manuals and school grammars (p. 147). It is especially important that ESL/EFL teachers are familiar with the parts of speech and the characteristics of each word class so that they can help their students “expand the contexts in which they effectively communicate” (p. 147). Based on this need and the idea that a particular part of speech can often be determined by a cluster of criteria (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 14), I believe examining the formal, semantic, and functional characteristics of adjectives is worthwhile. In order to narrow my focus and to maximize the benefits of this paper for ESL/EFL teachers and students, I will limit the content of this paper based on corpora-informed grammars such as the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad, & Finegan, 1999) and A Communicative Grammar of English (Leech & Svartvik, 2002). I will also use sections regarding adjectives from an analysis of student interference in the acquisition of English (Swan

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES & Smith, 1987) to detect potential areas of trouble for ELLs. The first half of each section will be composed of a list of the defining characteristics of adjectives for each dimension of grammar (either formal, semantic, or functional, depending on the section). Each section will conclude with a list of issues English Language Learners (ELLs) commonly have related to the forms, semantics, or functions of adjectives. I will give explanations both teachers and students can use to avoid any misunderstandings. Form In the context of this paper, form refers to structural aspects of adjectives, such as its position in a sentence, adjacent function words, and its constituents (Celce-Murcia & LarsenFreeman, 1999, p. 14). Formal Characteristics of Adjectives Though it is usually difficult to tell whether a word is an adjective simply by looking at its form in isolation (Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, & Svartvik, 1985, p. 402), there are exceptions. Certain suffixes are found exclusively or almost exclusively with adjectives. Some of the most common derived adjectives across all registers, according to Biber et al.(1999, pp. 531-532) are those ending in the following derivational suffixes: -al (e.g. local, personal), -ent (e.g. different,


present), -ive (e.g. conservative, expensive), -ous (e.g. curious, enormous), -ate (e.g. appropriate, separate), -ful (e.g. beautiful, useful) and -less (e.g. homeless, helpless). New adjectives can be formed by adding such adjectival affixes depending from which part of speech they were derived (Biber et al., 1999, p. 530); for example, the derivational suffix -ive marks adjectives related to nouns or verbs1 (e.g. mass → massive; elude → elusive). Despite these common suffixes (and


For a thorough list of derivational suffixes used with adjectives and their meanings, both teachers and students can refer to the charts on pages 215-220 of Hamawand's (2007) Suffixal Rivalry in Adjective Formation (Appendix A).

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES prefixes in cases of adjectives derived from other adjectives, e.g. negative prefixes such as un-, -in-, non-) (Biber et al., 1999, p. 531), many common adjectives have “no identifying form” (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 402), such as good, little, and young. Therefore, this test alone is not sufficient to determine whether or not a given word belongs to the adjective word class. Another formal test that is commonly used to identify adjectives is to determine whether or not it can be made comparative and/or superlative (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 403). This can be through either the addition of the inflectional suffixes -er and-est for words of fewer than two syllables (e.g. darker, darkest) or through the addition of the premodifiers more and most for words of more than two syllables (e.g. the more/most beautiful flower). These tests, even in conjunction with other tests, are not sufficient either, for several reasons. First of all, as Quirk et al. (1985) point out, adverbs can also take comparison (e.g. more easily). Secondly, due to their semantics, nongradable adjectives (see Semantic characteristics of adjectives) by definition cannot be made comparative or superlative, neither with inflections nor with the addition of more/most (Biber et al., 1999, p. 521). The existence of gradable adverbs and nongradable adjectives is also why determining whether or not a word can be premodified by the intensifiers very, quite, or rather, although often a useful test in identifying adjectives, is inadequate as well (Biber et al., 1999, p. 51). One might also be able to identify a word as an adjective by considering what follows it and/or what precedes it. According to Quirk et al. (1985 p. 402), adjectives occur in the attributive position if they can appear between a determiner (including zero article) and the head of a noun phrase (e.g. an ugly painting, dirty linen). Most adjectives can occur freely in this position (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 382).


LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES Most adjectives can also occur freely in the predicative position (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 402), in which they appear after the be copula and other copular or linking verbs such as seem,


look, feel, become (e.g. We grew tired, That dresser is brown) (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, p. 384). Additionally, many of the frequent predicative adjectives typically occur with a phrasal or clausal complement, such as a prepositional phrase (e.g. curious about), a to-infinitive clause (e.g. It's good to have you back), or a that clause (e.g. I'm not sure that I understand) (Biber et al., 1999, p. 515). Leech & Svartvik (2002, p. 227) note that adjectives that commonly occur with prepositions (e.g. worried about, interested in) are often participial adjectives (particularly those that end in -ed). In a limited number of cases, some adjectives can occur in the postpositive position; that is, they immediately follow the nouns/noun phrases they modify (they are typically found after compound determinatives such as something, anyone, nobody, etc., as in someone happy) (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002, pp. 528-529), though the adjectives involved, available, and concerned also have a strong tendency to be postpositive as well (e.g. She was unacquainted with any of the people involved) (Biber et al., 1999, p. 519). Both predicative and postpositive adjectives can be followed by a prepositional phrase (e.g. I was really surprised at her appearance; She got me interested in quilting) (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 387). Although Huddleston and Pullum (2002) state that no one of the aforementioned properties is unique to the adjective word class alone, they also claim that “words that do have this combination of properties are clearly distinct from other categories” (p. 528). Adjectives which have all the aforementioned core defining characteristics of adjectives—“are gradable, are inflected morphologically, and can be used in both attributive and predicative positions” (e.g.

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES big)—are often referred to as central adjectives; the rest are referred to as peripheral adjectives


(Biber et al., 1999, p. 507). With some exceptions, peripheral adjectives typically “show a strong preference” for either an attributive or predicative role (Biber et al., 1999, p. 507). For example, corpus findings show that adjectives beginning with the prefix -a (e.g. afraid, alive, alone) and the words easier, glad, ill, impossible, ready, and sure occur 95-98% of the time as predicative adjectives, while mere and adjectives ending in -al occur in the attributive position 98-100% of the time (Biber et al., 1999, p. 508). Issues of Form The semantic qualities of an adjective often affect its formal properties (see Semantic features of adjectives). As mentioned above, an adjective's gradability is a measure of its ability to be used in the comparative, superlative, and its ability to be intensified (Biber et al., 1999, p. 521). Additionally, whether an adjective is thought to be stative or dynamic affects what may occur with it; as Quirk et al. (1985, p. 434) demonstrate, though dynamic adjectives can be used with the progressive aspect and with the imperative (e.g. He's being careful; Be careful), stative adjectives cannot (e.g. *He's being tall; Be tall). Finally, the inherency of an adjective—to what degree it directly denotes an attribute of the noun it modifies—has effects on formal properties of adjectives; Quirk et al. (1999, p. 436) show that it is only possible to derive a noun from an adjective that is inherent (e.g. a firm handshake → the firmness of the handshake vs. a firm friend → *the firmness of the friend). Though most adjectives are gradable, dynamic, and inherent, these exceptional restrictions may present problems for learners who attempt to generalize the patterns that they notice. The morphological differences between adjectives and adverbs are starting to be lost,

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES primarily and initially in spoken English; however, the syntactic differences are not. For example, many adjectives “provide the base from which adverbs are derived by means of an -ly suffix” (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 402). However, in some cases, an adverb may have the identical form as a related adjective (Biber et al., 1999, p. 542). For example, consider the following authentic examples from Biber et al. (1999): 1) Fast guys tire, a basketball coach once said... 2) One looter, a woman who did not run fast enough, was shot dead. Omitting the -ly suffix of the


“more accepted” adverb form is especially common in conversational English (Biber et al., 1999, p. 542). Additionally, Quirk et al. (1985) note that the comparative and superlative forms of some adjectives may be used as adverbs (e.g. Speak clearer; This newspaper reads clearest of all). Moreover, some adjectives may appear to be adverbs due to their ending in -ly (e.g. friendly, lovely) (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 407). These overlaps in form may make adjective identification even more complex for non-native speakers of English; additionally, it may cause speakers of Dutch and German, in whose languages adjectives often occur in the same form as adverbs (Swan & Smith, 1987, pp. 10, 37), to overestimate the amount of cases in which adjectives may be used as adverbs in standard English. Because Quirk et al. (1985, p. 405) claim that these adjective/adverb homomorphs are exceptional and occur mainly in fixed expressions (e.g. fair and square, good and proper) teachers could easily present learners with a comprehensive list of adjectives that commonly appear as adverbs (e.g. fast, slow, wrong, long). Adjectives can sometimes be homomorphs with nouns as well. Therefore, the distinction between the two can be unclear; this is especially true since nouns can also be used attributively (e.g. glass bowl) (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 410). For example, consider Quirk et al.'s (1985, p. 410) examples, in which the word criminal appears in both the attributive and predicative position: “a

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES criminal attack”; “The attack seemed criminal to us.” Its position alone is not enough to


categorize it as an adjective, however, as nouns can also be used as premodifiers of nouns (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 410). Nonetheless, criminal in the first phrase cannot take an article or number contrast (e.g. His attack was *a/the criminal; *criminals); furthermore, in the second phrase we know criminal is gradable, as we can say “a very/rather criminal attack” (Quirk et al., 1985, pp. 410-411). Thus, formal tests that measure a word's ability to be inflected for number, ability to take an article, and gradability are useful in distinguishing nouns from adjectives (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002, p. 536). This knowledge might be especially valuable for speakers whose L1 is French, Spanish, Catalan, and Portuguese, as nouns whose referent is readily inferable can be omitted from sentences in these languages (e.g. Le pauvre ! (The poor!) meaning The poor man/woman) (Swan & Smith, 2007, pp. 53, 84, 98). The difference between participles performing an adjectival function (referred to by Biber et al., 1999, as participial adjectives) and participles performing a verbal function is not clear-cut either; many participial adjectives have been derived from verbs and are therefore similar in form., as both contain the suffixes -ing (e.g. surprising), -ed (e.g. offended), and variants of -ed (e.g. lost) (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 413). Despite their similarities, by examining formal characteristics of sentences containing the participle in question, students can often determine whether or not a participle is adjectival or verbal. For example, if a direct object is present, particularly with the -ing participle (e.g. Her views were alarming her audience), if a by-agent phrase with a personal agent is present (e.g. The man was offended by the policeman), or if an intensifier can be used (e.g. Her views were very alarming), the participle is likely verbal (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 414).



Placement of attributive adjectives can be difficult for ELLs whose L1 is Italian, French, or Spanish, as adjectives in these languages generally occur postpositively (e.g. la camisa roja = the shirt red) (Swan & Smith, 2007, pp. 53, 68). Furthermore, adjectives in numerous languages, including French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, and Arabic, are inflected according to number, which could cause learners to produce utterances such as *the reds shirts (Swan & Smith, 2007, pp. 53, 68, 84, 112, 152, respectively). The order in which attributive adjectives occur is also a source of error for non-native speakers (Celce-Murcia, 1999, p. 392). Svatko (1979, as cited in CelceMurcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 394) claims that attributive adjectives can be thought of in terms of the following subcategories: evaluative/opinion (e.g. ugly), size (e.g. big), shape (e.g. round), condition (e.g. chipped), age (e.g. old), color (e.g. blue), and origin (e.g. French); Svatko believes these subcategories can be used as a general guideline (though not a steadfast rule) for deciding in which order adjectives should occur (Appendix B). Bailey (1979, as cited in CelceMurcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 395) notes that certain adjectives have more than one acceptable order: proper + material adjectives (e.g. These wooden Japanese chests/These Japanese wooden chests), proper + color adjectives (e.g. A German white wine / A white German wine). However, sequences of more than three adjectives are rare in both speaking and writing (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, p. 394). Semantics In the context of this paper, semantics refers to aspects related to meanings or definitions of adjectives (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 14). Semantic Characteristics of Adjectives From a semantic point of view, the core characteristic of adjectives is denotation of



properties of categories or entities, most commonly “in the domains of size, shape, colour, worth, and age” (Huddleston & Pullum, pp. 527-528). Biber et al. (1999, p. 508) consider all adjectives to belong to at least one of two broad semantic groups: descriptors and classifiers. According to them, descriptors can denote features such as color (e.g. black), size/quantity/extent (e.g. big, large, thin), time (i.e. denote chronology, age, and/or frequency, e.g. late, young, annual), evaluative/emotive (i.e. express judgment, affect, and/or emphasis, e.g. beautiful, bad, great), and miscellaneous descriptive (e.g. dead, hard, serious) (pp. 508-509). Classifiers, on the other hand, can be relational/classificational/restrictive (i.e. they delimit the referent of the noun, e.g. additional, entire, main), affiliative (i.e. they designate national or religious groups of a referent, e.g. Chinese, Catholic), and topical/other (i.e. they give the subject area or show a relationship with a noun, e.g. legal, political, social). Biber et al (1999, p. 513) have found that the most frequent attributive adjectives in conversation are descriptors, not classifiers. Quirk et al. (1985, p. 434) use “semantic scales” to talk about the denotative properties of adjectives. The first distinction they propose is between adjectives that are stative and those that are dynamic. Dynamic adjectives seem to denote qualities that “are thought to be subject to control by the possessor and hence can be restricted temporally” (e.g. helpful, impatient) (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 434). This semantic difference often manifests itself formally (see Issues of form). The second distinction proposed by Quirk et al. (1985) is between gradable and nongradable adjectives. Gradability measures an adjective's capability of “representing degrees” (Biber et al., 1999, p. 521). All dynamic adjectives and most stative adjectives are gradable (e.g. tall → very tall; old → older), though some stative adjectives such as those that have inherently verbal meaning (e.g. dead, alive, and perfect) (Biber et al., 1999, p. 526), those that denote



provenance (e.g. British), and those that are principally denominal (e.g. atomic, hydrochloric) are not (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 435). Whether or not an adjective is gradable has formal implications (see Formal characteristics of adjectives). The last semantic distinction named by Quirk et al. (1985, p. 435) is between inherent and noninherent adjectives. According to them, “inherent adjectives” are those that characterize and apply to the referent of the noun directly (e.g. a firm handshake, a perfect alibi), while “noninherent” adjectives are those that are seen as extending the basic sense of the noun (e.g. a firm friend, a perfect stranger). The inherency of an adjective also has formal implications (see Formal characteristics of adjectives). Finally, adjectives can be either semantically restrictive or nonrestrictive (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 390; Huddleston & Pullum, 2002, p. 554). When it is necessary to define which entity is being referred to, restrictive adjectives can be used (e.g. The house decorated by the Johnsons is quite unusual), whereas nonrestrictive adjectives merely add additional information but are not essential for identification of the referent (e.g. The house, decorated by the Johnsons, is quite unusual). Issues of Semantics Although many adjectives can occur in both attributive and predicative positions (see Formal characteristics of adjectives), some adjectives have different meanings depending on their position. For instance, an adjective that occurs in the attributive position may have a different meaning or connotation than that same adjective in a predicative position (e.g. That responsible person (i.e. That trustworthy person) vs. That person is responsible (either That person is trustworthy or That person is to blame). Compare the following examples from

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES Huddleston and Pullum (2002, p. 554): the late queen (“recently deceased”) vs. She is late. (“behind schedule); my old school (“former”) vs. He is old. (“has lived a long time”); the positions cannot be switched and retain the same meaning.


Typically, as Bolinger (1967, as cited in Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, p. 388) claims adjectives in the attributive position “tend to reject the temporary and the occasional” (e.g. The house was pink in the sunset ≠ The pink house) and can often be thought of as “more enduring” than those in the predicative position (e.g. He is sick vs. He is a sick man.) This tendency for attributive adjectives to denote permanency can also be seen in comparing them with postpositives . Bolinger (1967, as cited in Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 388) claims that attributive adjectives that directly precede nouns seem to be “semantically more permanent” than postpositives (e.g. The only navigable river (“a usual fact about a given region”) vs. The only river navigable (“a temporary state due to a drought or some other event”). Quirk et al. (1985, pp. 432-433) also mentions that predicative adjectives usually refer to a “(possibly temporary) condition rather than to characterize.” However, adjective position is not always a reliable indicator of meaning; ambiguities are widespread. For example, an old friend can mean either a friend who is old, a friend whom I have known for a long time, or a former friend (Celce-Murcia, 1999, p. 389). Adjectives that occur in the predicative position are also potentially ambiguous; a sentence such as The river is navigable does not convey specifically whether navigable is being used to describe something that is permanent or something that is temporary (Celce-Murcia, 1999, p. 389). Indeed, context is typically necessary to determine meaning, as adjectives, especially those that are very common, are often polysemous. Biber et al. (1999, p. 509) point out point out that some adjectives can be

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES either classifiers or descriptors (e.g. secondary school vs. secondary function).


Ambiguity may also occur with non-restrictive adjectives if they are not formally marked by punctuation (Leech & Svartvik, 2002, p. 65). Consider, for example, the sentence The hungry workers attacked the houses of their rich employers. Do hungry and rich refer to all the workers and all the employers, or only to those who were hungry and to those who were rich? (Leech & Svartvik, 2002, p. 65). Although these sentences could have either meaning and may be puzzling to some ELLs, it should be noted that corpus findings have found that non-restrictive meaning is more likely (Biber et al., 1999, p. 509; Leech & Svartvik, p. 65) To avoid such ambiguity in their own production, students could also choose to use an unreduced restrictive or nonrestrictive relative clauses. As mentioned earlier, there is a specific order in which attributive adjectives typically occur (see Issues of form). This pattern has semantic implications, as the ordering of adjectives can affect meaning, as is exemplified by the difference between her last great novel and her great last novel (Leech & Svartvik, 2002, p. 65). The first phrase can be paraphrased as the last of her great novels, while the second phrase means her last novel, which was great (Leech & Svartvik, 2002, p. 65). To help ELLs with this problem, I believe Huddleston and Pullum's (2002, p. 554) approach to talking about adjectives in terms of sets is useful: her last great novel = the novel which belongs to the set of last novels within the larger set of her great novels; her great last novel = the novel which belongs to the set of great novels within the larger set of last novels. Finally, issues with semantics regarding adjectives may occur when ELLs misuse participial adjectives. Although many participial adjectives may have corresponding verbal

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES participles, students should be aware that the two may differ in meaning (e.g. adjective: She is very calculating vs. participle: She is calculating our salaries) (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 414). The adjectival use of -ing and -en participles derived from “emotive” verbs such as aggravate,


disappoint, frighten, and surprise also causes problems for learners who overgeneralize the -ing participle to create sentences such as *I am interesting in sports. To help students overcome this problem, Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999, p. 389) suggest that teachers can explain that adjectives which refer to the “experiencer,” the -en participle should be used; if they want to refer to the cause of the experience, the -ing participle should be used. Function In the context of this paper, function refers to the grammatical function an adjective plays in a sentence (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 14). Functional Characteristics of Adjectives The “most characteristic function of adjectives” is to modify nouns (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002, p. 527). Attributive adjectives modify nominal expressions; in most cases, they modify common nouns (e.g. bad attitude, important ways) (Biber et al., 1999, p. 510). Attributive adjectives can also modify proper place nouns (e.g. ancient Mesopotamia, pharoanic Egypt) and in rare cases, the name of a person (e.g. the late John C. Drennan) (Biber et al., 1999, p. 510). Predicative adjectives, on the other hand, function as subject complements and object complements. Predicative adjectives that serve as subject complements are referred to by Biber et al. (1999, p. 510) as subject predicatives; those that serve as object complements are referred to as object predicatives. Subject predicatives complement a copular verb (e.g. She seems quite nice). Object predicatives, however, make some type of predication about the object of a clause

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES (e.g. It makes me sick to see how people spoil the environment) (Leech & Svartvik, 2002, p. 232). However, as Delahunty and Garvey (2010, p. 172) point out, this definition of an adjective as a word that modifies a noun is inadequate, as it wrongly implies that pronouns can


be modified by adjectives, when it is more accurate to say that adjectives can be complements to pronouns. Furthermore, adjectives are not the only word class that can modify nouns; nouns can also modify nouns (e.g. stone floor), so this criterion is insufficient in the identification of adjectives. Therefore, Delahunty and Garvey claim that the more accurate defining functional characteristic of adjectives is that they serve as the head of adjective phrases (p. 177), which can be analyzed as (modifier) + head + (complement) (p. 285). Leech & Svartvik (2002) propose that the typical specific function of adjectives is to modify the head of a noun phrase (p. 237). While true, adjectives can function in a number of other roles. First of all, adjectives can serve as noun phrase heads themselves (e.g. the homeless, the supernatural). Though some may characterize these words as collective nouns in this context, because the adjective head does not take a plural -s inflection with a plural reference, and because it can be modified by adverbs (e.g. the very rich), it seems that the conversion from adjective to noun is not complete (Biber et al., 1999, p 520). Biber et al. (1999, p. 520) also mention that adjectives can serve to “link clauses or sentences to one another” as well (e.g. Worse he had nothing to say; Even more important, the prospect of a single currency would eliminate an enormous source of uncertainty for business). Adjectives can also serve as exclamations, particularly in conversation and fictional dialogue (e.g. Good!; Excellent!) (Biber et al., 1999, p. 520) without any -wh element (Quirk et al., 1985,

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES p. 428). Finally, adjectives can occur as “detached predicatives” (Biber et al., 1999, pp. 520521); that is, they are syntactically free modifiers of a noun phrase (e.g. Slender and demure, she wore a beautiful dress; Too tired to move, she stayed there). Issues of Function As mentioned in both the section on form and the section on semantics, distinguishing adjectives from participles is problematic. From a functional point of view, the two may be confusing as both fulfill the typical functions of adjectives; participles can be used attributively by premodifying heads of noun phrases and predicatively as subject and object complements


(Quirk et al., 1985, p. 413). However, by applying the aforementioned formal and semantic tests (see Issues of form and Issues of semantics, students will most likely be able to determine whether or not the word is an adjective or a participle. ELLs may also have trouble with proper identification of adjectives if they use the traditional functional criterion of noun modification, as nouns can also modify nouns (e.g. concrete wall). In this case, concrete is a noun, not an adjective, modifying wall. By helping students apply the aforementioned test of gradability, we can say with relative certainty that concrete is not an adjective in this instance (*very concrete wall, *really concrete wall). Conclusion As adjectives are the third-largest word class, an in-depth knowledge of their defining characteristics is integral for vocabulary development. If students are able to identify the formal, semantic, and functional properties and are aware of the potential issues that may arise, they may be more apt to guess meaning from context, identify their own mistakes, and correct these mistakes on their own.

LINGUISTIC PROPERTIES OF ADJECTIVES References Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow, England: Longman. Bolinger, D. (1967). Adjectives in English: attribution and predication. Lingua 18, 1-34. Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book: an ESL/EFL teacher's course. 2nd ed. Boston: Heinle & Heinle. Delahunty, G. P., & Garvey, J. J. (2010). The English language: from sound to sense. Fort Collins, CO: Parlor Press and The WAC Clearinghouse. Hamawand, Z. (2007). Suffixal rivalry in adjective formation: a cognitive-corpus analysis. London: Equinox Pub.


Huddleston, R. D., & Pullum, G. K. (2002). The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. Leech, G. N., & Svartvik, J. (2002). A communicative grammar of English. 3rd ed. Harlow: Longman. Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., Svartvik, J. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman. Swan, M., & Smith, B. (1987). Learner English: A teacher’s guide to interference and other problems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.