Tuesday, January 31, 2017

ENGL 3663: Modifiers


Adjectives are modifiers. In function, they are words that modify nouns.

What’s a modifier? A modifier is a word that changes the meaning of another word. So, for instance, take these sentences:

                The truck is mine.
                The orange truck is mine.
                The old orange truck is mine.
                The old orange truck in the carport is mine.

In each sentence, we have modified – changed the meaning – of truck a bit more. Each time, we’ve given you a slightly different truck to look at. In the second and third sentence we’ve done that with prototypical adjectives (they are adjectives in form as well as function).

In the last example, when we modified truck with “in the carport,” we are using a prepositional phrase as an adjectives. The form is prepositional phrase; the function is adjective. Prepositional phrases often function as adjectives; so do nouns. (In the sentence The Ford truck is mine, Ford is a proper noun.) 

Verbs can also function as adjectives – in the phrase the dancing bear, for instance, dancing is acting as an adjective, even though its form is a verb.

How do we know when we have an adjective? You guessed it – we have proofs.

Formal proofs for Adjectives (on page 81 of your book)

1.    Has an adjective-making morpheme (silly, adorable)
2.   Takes a comparative or superlative morpheme (older, oldest)

Functional proofs

3.   Can be made comparative/superlative by adding more/most
More adorable, most adorable
4.   Can be qualified
Rather old
5.   Can fit in both slots of the frame sentence
The _______ man seems very _________.

So, take the word sweet. Is this an adjective?

It doesn’t have an adjective-making morpheme, but it will take a comparative and a superlative – sweeter, sweetest. And we can qualify it – rather sweet. Also, it fits the frame sentence: The sweet man seems very sweet.

So yes, it’s an adjective.

On the other hand, look at the word frog. Also no adjective making morpheme. And we can’t make it comparative or superlative – frogger, froggest, or say more frog, or most frog, or rather frog.  We can say The frog man, but it doesn’t fit the second slot it the sentence. The frog man seems very frog – nope. So frog is not an adjective, though froggy may well be.

Adjective subclasses

Adjectives break down into two classes – attributive and predicative.

Attributive means the adjective occurs before the noun. This is the sort of adjective we’re used to seeing.

                The orange truck drove away.
                I have a ginger kitten.
                Elvis baked a lemon pie.

Predicative adjectives are in the predicate, and don’t modify a following noun. (What’s the predicate? It’s everything in the sentence outside the subject.) So predicative adjectives are adjectives like this:

                Elvis is always happy.
                My kitten seems sleepy.
                That truck is orange.

Almost all adjectives can be either attributive or predicative, but there are a few (as your book tells you) that can only be one or the other.

Usage: Gradable adjectives

Can something be most unique, or more perfect? Can someone in your class draw a better circle than someone else?

According to prescriptive grammarians, nope. These things, and terms like them – unique, perfect, circle, honest, and so on – described states that were perfect and incomparable, and so could not be graded. They couldn’t, that is, be more or less something. The thing was either unique or it was not. It was a circle or it was not. You were honest or you were not. And so on. You couldn’t be more honest than someone – if someone was anything less than perfectly honest, he wasn’t honest.

But in fact when we use English, we use language like more perfect, more honest, more unique, and similar terms all the time. Like using a the pronoun their with a singular subject, this is really becoming standard usage.


Adjectives modify nouns; adverbs modify everything else. Their function, thus, is relatively easy to grasp. If we have a modifier of any sort which is modifying anything except a noun, that modifier is functioning as an adverb.

The adverb form is more difficult to pin down.

This is because their form overlaps with adjectives to a significant degree. It can be hard to tell adverbs and adjectives apart if we’re looking only at form. Both are modifiers, and both are shaped in much the same way.

Thus, for the most part, we’re going to find ourselves depending on how adverbs function in the English sentence to identify them.

There are proofs for adverbs, but they are not as useful as the proofs for the other form classes, since adjectives often work for these proofs as well.

Adverb Proofs:

Form Proofs: (on page 86 of your text)
1.    Has adverb-making morpheme (awkward, evenly, crosswise)
2.   Takes a comparative/superlative morpheme (later, latest)

Functional Proofs:
3.   Can be made comparative / Superlative with more/most (more quickly/most quickly)
4.   Can be qualified (rather quickly)
5.   Can be moved within the sentence (She answered the question quickly, She quickly answered the question, Quickly she answered the question.)
6.   Can fit the frame sentence: The man told his story________.

Adverb Subclasses

Adverbs are divided into subclasses based on the information they convey – on their semantics.

The usual divisions are
·        Adverbs of manner
·         Adverbs of time
·        Adverbs of place
·        Adverbs of degree
·        Adverbs of number/duration

Thus, these sentences:

        Ivy dances wonderfully. (Adverb of manner.)
        That bread went stale yesterday. (Adverb of time.)
        I want a house somewhere in Idaho. (Adverb of place.)
        The kitten is very fluffy. (adverb of degree.)

        Elvis baked cookies once. (Adverb of number/duration.)

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