The Romans used the term adjectivum to identify a word that was “thrown beside” or added to a noun. It is a part of speech that denotes a quality or attribute of a noun: a good woman, a warm kiss, an evil person. Accordingly, we can define an adjective as a WORD THAT DESCRIBES OR MODIFIES A NOUN.
By the structural rules of English, an adjective may occur in two rather different environments: “my —– friend” or “My friend is —–.” Any of the following English adjectives may be used to complete either of those structural patterns:
- good, old, fat, late, wise, dear
- better, older, best, oldest, dearest
- manly, foolish, catlike, wonderful
- smiling, forgotten, forgetful, bewildered
- one, first, third
- ill-mannered, left-handed
All these English examples, as you may have guessed, are adjectives of Germanic descent. The words in group 1 are simple adjectives, whereas those in group 2 are forms in the comparative or superlative degree. Group 3 consists of adjectives that are derived from English nouns, while group 4 illustrates adjectives that are derived from English verbs. Numerals belong to the general category of adjectives, as we see from group 5; of course, if we used a plural number, we would have to pluralize the noun: “my five friends.” Finally, group 6 introduces a couple of compound adjectives.
In due course, you will learn that all these adjectival types existed in the Latin language, and that their various derivatives have had a profound influence on English. In this chapter, however, we are not going to worry about the more complex Latin forms; for the present, we’ll confine our survey to simple adjectives, like those in group 1 above, with a brief glance at the comparatives and superlatives of group 2.