There is no one-to-one relation between modifiers and adjective phrases. Modifiers are not necessarily adjective phrases, as illustrated in (1).
|(1)||a.||Adjective phrase||a very aggressive driver|
|b.||Adverb phrase||They drive very aggressively.|
|c.||Prepositional phrase||the desk next to the window, they arrived on time|
|d.||Noun phrase||They will arrive Monday night|
Conversely, adjective phrases are not necessarily modifiers. For instance, the adjective phrase in (2) is the predicate of a small clause.
|(2)||We consider this candidate very suitable.|
|(3)||a.||a very big box, that blue book|
|b.||*||a box very big, that book blue|
By contrast, there are other languages that typically require adjectival modifiers of nouns to be postnominal. The examples in (4) are from French.
une boîte très grande, ce livre bleu a box very big that book blue
une très grande boîte, ce bleu livre a very big box that book blue
Note that English adjective phrases can occur postnominally when they are 'heavy' enough, and even relatively short adjectives are sometimes used postnominally to convey elegance or high style.1
|(5)||a.||a story unlikely to be true|
|b.||*||a story unlikely|
|(6)||a.||??||an unlikely to be true story|
|b.||an unlikely story|
|(7)||House Beautiful (upscale interior decorating magazine)|
A convenient cover term for 'prenominal' and 'postnominal' is adnominal.
The postnominal use of adjective phrases should not be confused with their predicative use, illustrated in (8).
|(8)||a.||Predicate of ordinary clause||This box is very big, that book is blue|
|b.||Predicate of small clause||We consider this candidate very suitable.|
It is worth noting that certain adjectives can only be used adnominally, and not predicatively.
|(9)||a.||the mere fact, her utter surprise|
|b.||*||the fact is mere, her surprise was utter|
|(10)||beautiful, dark, kind, loud, rich|
Gradable adjectives are associated with three so-called degrees of comparison, as illustrated in (11).
|more compatible |
|most compatible |
English is unusual in having two ways of forming the degrees of comparison, an inflectional way involving the use of the bound morphemes -er> and -est, and an analytical way involving the use of the free morphemes more and most. Most languages allow only one option or the other.2 For instance, German allows only the inflectional option.3
|dunkel 'dark' |
|kompatibel 'compatible' |
The Romance languages, on the other hand, generally only allow the analytical option, as illustrated in (13) for French.4
|belle 'beautiful.fem' |
|plus belle |
|la plus belle |
le plus long
|compatible 'compatible' |
|plus compatible |
|le/la plus compatible |
le plus intelligent
Gradable adjectives can also be modified by means of degree adverbs like enough, exceedingly, overly, too, very, and so on.
In contrast to gradable adjectives, some adjectives denote categorical properties - properties that entities can either have or not have. For instance, integers are either prime or not. Some further examples of categorical adjectives are given in (14).
|(14)||dead, married, pregnant, unique|
It is possible for adjectives that are basically categorical to have restricted or extended senses that are gradable. For instance, pregnant has a restricted sense of 'visibly pregnant,' and unique has an extended vernacular sense of 'unusual,' rather than the original strict sense of 'one of a kind'. Given these senses, sentences like (15) are expected.
|(15)||a.||Lois looks more pregnant to me than Delilah.|
|b.||A more unique present would be hard to find.|
The situation in English is the reverse of that in Walloon, a variety of French spoken in Belgium. Unlike in standard French, adjective phrases modifying nouns are prenominal in Walloon, the result of language contact with Flemish, a variety of Germanic.
2. Once again, the unusual situation in English is a result of the complicated history of the language (see Note 1). Originally, English, like the other Germanic languages, allowed only inflectional comparison. Contact with Norman French introduced the option of analytical comparison. Most adjectives are associated with one or the other of the options, but usage differs across speakers and sometimes even within the same individual.
3. The hyphen is intended to indicate that further endings must be added before the superlative is a full-fledged word in German.
4. Certain adjectives in Romance do require inflectional comparison. These are irregular adjectives whose comparison involves suppletion (that is, the stems from which the comparative and/or superlative degrees are formed are etymologically unrelated to the positive). Some examples of inflectional comparison in Romance are French bon 'good' versus mieux 'better' and mal 'bad' versus pire 'worse'. Notice that the English equivalents show suppletion as well. Suppletion is not restricted to adjective comparison; the relation between go and its past tense went is also suppletive (went is etymologically related to wend as in to wend one's way.