Which tests correctly identify English adjectives?
This is the second of five lessons about Adjectives. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Outline why tests are necessary to determine word class
– Provide five tests for identifying adjectives
– Include diagrams and examples to help guide the learner
This second lesson about adjectives now focusses specifically on the accurate identification of this particular word class. In addition to recognising and using the six functions of adjectives as previously described in Lesson 1, any speaker of English that wishes to improve their language to the level required for academia must also be able to quickly and confidently determine a word’s class (whether verb, noun or adjective, for example) for the purposes of editing and proofreading, essay writing and seminar discussions.
To assist with confident identification, it’s important to first realise that any word in the English language may have multiple word classes depending on its form, function, and syntax. The word ‘fast’, for example, might function as an adjective in the sentence ‘that’s a fast animal’ but as an adverb in the sentence ‘that animal’s running fast’. Because it’s not always clear to the speaker which word belongs to which class and when, we’ve outlined five tests for you below that can be used to more easily and consistently identify adjectives.
Test 1: Collocation
One easy sign that the word you have might be an adjective is if you can intensify that word with either ‘really’ or ‘very’, as in ‘she’s a very clever person’. If you can intensify the word you’re investigating grammatically in this way, that word is most likely an adjective.
Test 2: Function
As was explained in Lesson 1, there are six common functions that adjectives can perform in the English language, such as by making comparisons or by mitigating nouns. If you wish to increase your chances of accurate identification, check whether the words you have can be used for any of these six.
Test 3: Morphology
Morphology is the study of how words are formed. While adjectives in English do not change form to indicate the gender or number of a nouns as they might do in other languages, there are still some common adjectival suffixes in English that you should watch out for. We’ve provided two tables on the following page that should demonstrate how nouns and verbs (particularly academic ones) can become adjectives through a simple process of suffixation, thereby assisting identification:
In addition to common derivational suffixes such as ‘-ical’ and ‘-en’, please note that the comparative and superlative suffixes ‘-er’ and ‘-est’ may also help you when identifying this word class.
Test 4: Syntax
As it’s the study of how words are ordered, syntax is also very useful when identifying adjectives. Comparative and superlative adjectives that don’t use the suffixes ‘-er’ and ‘-est’ for example can be easily recognised by the terms ‘less/more’ or ‘least/most’ that precede them. Ultimately, the two most important syntactic rules are (1) attributive adjectives should precede the noun they modify (such as ‘dog’) and (2) predicative adjectives should follow a copula or linking verb (such as ‘be’):
In addition to these comparative, attributive and predicative constructions, there are four common syntactic patterns in which adjectives are usually found:
Test 5: Exceptions
Of course, there are always exceptions in grammar that simply need to be memorised if you wish to identify adjectives correctly every time. As will be explained in detail in Lesson 3, there are examples such as postpositive adjectives which are oddly placed after the nouns they modify – making identification somewhat more troublesome. Additionally, for words such as ‘my/our/his/her/their’ which may be referred to as possessive adjectives by some grammarians, Academic Marker prefers to label these as possessive determiners due to their syntactic distribution.
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