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Sep 16, 2016

How To Identify Adjectives

Traditionally, adjectives are words that qualify a noun in a sentence, e.g. 
The good man is coming.
        Adj.   N

In the sentence above, 'good' is an adjective because it is qualifying the noun, 'man.' Again, you can see that in the sentence above, only one adjective is preceding the noun but it is also possible to have more than one adjectives preceding or coming before a noun in a sentence. For example:
The beautiful,  tall,  fair  Nigerian girl.
          Adj.       Adj.  Adj.    Adj.    N

When you have a situation like this, learners of English of Language and even its native speakers find it very difficult to properly arrange the adjectives preceding the noun. Anything aside the above arrangement of the adjectives preceding the noun, 'girl,' alters the grammaticality of the sentence, so you must know how to arrange the adjectives in a sentence anytime you have more than one preceding a noun in a sentence.

You can read how to arrange more than one adjectives preceding a noun in a sentence here.

Now to the crux of the matter.
There are four criteria that we use in identifying adjectives:

1. Attributive function. If a word can function attributively or as an epithet in a sentence, then it is an adjective. In other words, a word is an adjective if it can qualify a noun in a sentence.
good man.     A strong case.  A new car.
     Adj.  N.              Adj.   N.        Adj.  N

The underlined words in the phrases above are all adjectives because they qualify the nouns coming after them.

2. Predicative or complimentary function: If a word can function predicatively or as a compliment in a sentence, it is an adjective, especially with what we call a copula verb. A copula verb is a verb that shows an intensive relationship between the noun in the subject position and whatever is after the verb. Examples of adjectives functioning as compliments:
         S.      P.   C
A.The man is  nice.
           S.         P    C
B.The painting is  ugly.
           S.  P.     C
C.The girl is beautiful.                          
The examples are just numerous. 'Nice' 'ugly' and 'beautiful' in the examples above, are all adjectives because they are functioning as compliments. On the other hand, their verb, 'is' is a copula verb because it shows the relationship between the noun in the subject position and the adjective coming after it.

3. Modifiability: If a word is modifiable by adverbs, then that word is an adjective.
A. The man is very handsome.
                      Adv.    Adj
B. John's behaviour is extremely bad.                            
                                    Adv.     Adj
From the examples above, you can see that 'handsome' and 'bad' are adjectives because they can be modified by the adverbs, 'very' and 'extremely' respectively.

4. Comparativity: If a word can have a comparative and superlative form, then you know that it is an adjective.
The children are happier now but they were happiest when their mother was around.

It is important to note that not all adjectives can meet the four criteria above. While some adjectives can meet the four criteria mentioned above, others can either meet criteria 1 &2 or criteria 3 & 4. Any adjective that meets the four criteria is regarded as a pure/central adjective. For example let's see the adjective, 'hungry.'
'Hungry' can be used to qualify a noun so it meets criterion one. 
e.g. A hungry man.
             Adj.    N

'Hungry' can function as a compliment in a sentence, so it meets criterion two. E.g.

        S.    P.    C
The man is hungry.

'Hungry' can be modified by an adverb, so it also meets criterion three. For example:
The man is very hungry.
                  Adv.  Adj
The man is excessively hungry.                                      
                       Adv.        Adj
'Hungry' can have a comparative form, so it meets criterion four. For example:
You are hungrier than I am so take the cake.

Therefore, 'hungry' is a pure or central adjective because it meets the four criteria used in identifying adjectives.

Any adjective that meets criteria 1 & 2 is regarded as a Peripheral Adjective while words that meet only criteria 3 & 4 are regarded as Non Adjectives.

Please, just prove to me you understood the lesson. Using the comment box, tell me whether the following words are Pure Adjectives or Peripheral Adjectives or Non Adjectives:
  • Bad
  • Happy
  • Heard
  • Abroad
  • Soon
  • Nice 
  • Total
  • White
  • Mad
  • Intelligent
  • Good