§ 101. Adjectives are a part of speech characterized by the following typical features:
1. The lexico-grammatical meaning of 'attributes (of substances)'. It should be understood that by 'attributes' we mean different properties of substances, such as their size (large, small), colour (red, blue), position in space (upper, inner), material (wooden, woolen), psychic state of persons (happy, furious), etc.
2. The morphological category of the degrees of comparison.
3. The characteristic combinability with nouns (a beautiful girl), link-verbs (...is clever), adverbs, mostly those of degree (a very clever boy), the so-called 'prop word' one (the grey one).
4. The stem-building affixes -ful, -less, -ish, -ous, -ive, -ic, un-, pre-, in-, etc.
5. Its functions of an attribute and a predicative complement.
§ 102. The category of the degrees of comparison of adjectives is the system of opposemes (like long — longer — longest) showing quantitative distinctions of qualities. More exactly, it shows whether the adjective denotes the property of some substance absolutely, or relatively as a higher or the highest amount of the property in comparison with that of some (or all) other substances.
Accordingly we speak of the 'positive' (long, good, beautiful), 'comparative' (longer, better, more beautiful) and 'superlative' (longest, best, most beautiful) degrees.
§ 103. The 'positive' degree is not marked. We may speak of a) zero, morpheme. The 'comparative' and 'superlative' degrees are built up either synthetically (by affixation or suppletivity) or analytically, which in the main depends on the phonetic structure of the stem, not on its meaning. If the stem is monosyllabic, or disyllabic with a stress on the second syllable or ending in -er, -y, -le, -ow, the comparative and superlative degrees are usually built up synthetically by adding the suffixes -er and -est respectively.
E. g. bright — brighter — brightest.
In all other cases the comparative and superlative degrees are formed analytically with the help of the word-morphemes more and most.
E. g. cheerful — more cheerful — most cheerful.
§ 104. Suppletive opposemes are few in number but of very frequent occurrence.
E.g. good — better — best
bad — worse — worst
The quantitative pronominal adjectives or adjective pronouns many, much and little form opposites of comparison in a similar way.
many — more — most
much –– more –– most
little — less — least
§ 105. Some authors treat more beautiful and (the) most beautiful not as analytical forms, but as free syntactical combinations of adverbs and adjectives. One of their arguments is that less and least form combinations with adjectives similar to those with more and most, e. g. more beautiful — less beautiful, the most beautiful — the least beautiful.
The similarity, however, is but superficial. Let us compare nicer and more beautiful. In order to prove that more beautiful is an analytical form of the comparative degree, we have to prove that more is a grammatical word-morpheme identical with the morpheme -er in spite of the utter difference in form. Hence we are to apply the criteria of § 12.
1. More and -er are identical as to their meaning of "a higher degree".
2. Their distribution is complementary. Together they cover all the adjectives having the degrees of comparison, yet those adjectives which have comparative opposites with the suffix -er have usually no parallel opposites with more, and vice versa. Beautiful has no other 'comparative' opposite but more beautiful (* beautifuller is impossible), and the comparative opposite of nice is nicer, not * more nice.
This is not the case with less:
1. Less and -er have different, even opposite meanings. - 2. The distribution of -er and less is not complementary. One and the same lexical morpheme regularly attaches both less and -er: prettier — less pretty, safer — less safe.
E. g. I feel less safe than I have ever done in my life. (Gilbert).
A comet usually has a bright centre and a less bright tail. (Hornby).
Besides, unlike more, less is regularly replaced by not so: less pretty = not so pretty.
These facts show that more in more beautiful is a grammatical word-morpheme identical with the morpheme -er of the 'comparative degree' grammeme. Hence more beautiful is an analytical form. The word less is not a word-morpheme and less beautiful is not an analytical form.
The meanings of less "to a smaller extent" contains the lexical meaning "to a small extent" common to all the words of the lexeme little — less — least and the grammatical meaning of "the comparative degree". So less is an ordinary word and less beautiful is a combination of words!
§ 106. The same holds true with regard to (the) most beautiful and (the) least beautiful. But here a new objection is raised. In the expression a most interesting theory the indefinite article is used, whereas* a prettiest child is impossible. Thus there seems to be some difference between the synthetic superlative and the analytical one.
One must not forget that more and most are not only word-morphemes of comparison. They can also be notional words. Moreover, they are polysemantic and polyfunctional words. One of the meanings-of most is "very, exceedingly". It is in this meaning that the word most is used in the expression a most interesting book.
The notional word more in the meaning "to a greater extent" can also be used to modify adjectives, as in It's more grey than brown (Hornby). More grey is here a combination of words. It is not the comparative opposite of grey.
§ 107. As we know, with regard to the category of the degrees of comparison adjectives fall under two lexico-grammatical subclasses: comparables and non-comparables. The nucleus of the latter is composed of derived adjectives like wooden, Crimean, mathematical, etc., denoting some relation to the phenomena the basic stems refer to. Thus, a wooden house is 'a house of wood', Crimean weather is 'weather typical of the Crimea', etc. These adjectives are called relative as distinct from all other adjectives called qualitative.
Most qualitative adjectives build up opposemes of comparison, but some do not:
a) Adjectives that in themselves express the highest degree of a quality.
E. g. supreme, extreme, etc.
b) Those having the suffix -ish which indicates the degree of a quality.
E. g. reddish, whitish.
c) Those denoting qualities which are not compatible with the idea of comparison.
E. g. deaf, dead, lame, perpendicular.
Naturally, all the adjectives which have no comparative and superlative opposites are outside the category of comparison, but they are united by the oblique or lexico-grammatical meaning of the positive degree.
§ 108. The positive degree does not convey the idea of comparison. Its meaning is absolute. It is, as it were, the initial stage, the norm of some quality. As Jespersen puts it, the positive degree is, as a matter of fact, negative in relation to comparison.
E. g. A nice girl, a witty remark.
The comparative degree and the superlative degree ate both relative in meaning. If we say Peter is older than Mary, it, by no means, implies that Peter is old (he may be five years old, whereas Mary is four), it only indicates that Peter has more of this quality (being old) that Mary. James is the oldest boy in our class does not signify that James is advanced in years, it just shows that he has the highest degree of this quality as compared with the rest of the class.
A.I.Smirnitsky,following O.Jespersen, thinks that there is good ground to speak of two forms of comparison only: the positive degree and the relative degree which exists in two varieties —-the comparative degree and the superlative degree.
§ 109. In all the Indo-European languages adjectives can be substantivized, i.e. converted into nouns. In English it is easier than in other languages owing to the scarcity of stem-building elements. Cf. (a) chick (n.) — sick (a.), tender (a.) — gender (n.).
When adjectives are converted into nouns they no longer indicate attributes of substances, but substances possessing these attributes. I felt it my duty to help the sick.
Adjectives wholly converted into nouns acquire not only the lexico-grammatical meaning of nouns, but their typical morphological categories and combinability, as in a young native's hut where the word native not only expresses 'substantivity' but has the grammatical meanings of number and case, left-hand connections with an article and an adjective.
In "He is one of those bitter sceptical young moderns, with no real knowledge of the world" (Galsworthy) moderns is a 'plural', 'common case' noun, modified by a demonstrative pronoun, some adjectives, etc.
More frequently substantivization is but partial. Adjectives may acquire the lexico-grarnmatical meaning of the noun and to some extent its combinability, as in the following sentences:
She has as much, faith in what the British Government's going to do for the deserving poor as the rest of us. (Gilbert). All the self-righteous are going to say he is infernally careless. (Gilbert). It means the ugly have a look in. (Galsworthy). Here the poor, the self-righteous, the ugly express 'substantivity' and are associated with the definite article, but unlike the noun native, the word poor has no case and number opposites. It may be modified by an adverb, as in the fabulously rich. Such partially substantivized adjectives as the rich, the young, etc. mostly have collective force, while in earlier English substantivized adjectives were freely used to denote individuals. In contemporary English this is rare, though possible.
E. g. Many times he looked over the people's heads to where his son's wife sat alone, and he saw the fair face the unforgiven dead had loved. (Burnett).
Theoretically speaking, any adjective may be converted into a noun, though the conversion is often temporary, unstable, conversion "for the nonce", as in The mysterious attracted him.