Syntactic Theory

The Adjective

Tests to identify adjectives

  • semantic test:
    • Adjectives refer to properties
  • morphological test:
    • Adjectives can combine with comparative and superlative markers (-er/-est, or more/most)
    • Adjectives can combine with -ly to form an adverb
  • syntactic test
    • Adjectives can be between a determiner and a noun, i.e. in the environment ('attributive use'):\\ Det __ N (Pat read the __ book.)
    • Adjectives can occur in the following copula ('linking') verbs ('predicative use'):
      They felt/seemed/sounded __

Some problems with these definitions:

  • semantic test: nouns may also refer to properties (hunger, honesty)
  • morphological test:
    • not all adjectives have a comparative form (such as absent, unique)
    • adverbs also form their comparatives this way: she ran faster/ more frequently than Pat
    • adjectives ending in -ly do not form an adverb this way: friendly, lively, deadly, ...
  • syntactic tests:
    • some NPs can also occur in copula environments: John felt an idiot.
    • some adjectives only have a predicative use: asleep, aloft, adrift
    • some adjectives only have an attributive use: former

Categories: Glossary