Theoretical aspects of degrees comparison. Comparativa analysis of degrees of comparison

The pillars of any degree of comparison. Morphological composition of the adjectives. An introduction on degrees of comparison. Development and stylistic potential of degrees of comparison. General notes on comparative analysis. Contrastive linguistics.

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Language is the means by which we are enabled to understand the thoughts, feelings, and desires of others. Language contains individual sounds, signs, or words for all man's thoughts, feelings, and desires. This is why language is the spiritual heritage and treasure of a nation through which all the thoughts, feelings, and desires the people have experienced in the past are unlocked and released through words and sounds to be handed down as something sacred from one generation to another. Language is the biggest treasure of every nation.

In the first chapter of this research work we have investigated the theoretical and linguistic information about both, degrees of comparison in English and Romanian. In the first subchapter we gathered some information about adjectives and adverbs, their classification into several groups, the functions they posses as we cannot imagine the degrees of comparison without adjective and adverbs. They are the pillars of any process of comparison. Then we collected some information about the degrees of comparison in English and Romanian.

The ability to establish orderings among objects and make comparisons between them according to the amount or degree to which they possess some property is a basic component of human cognition. Languages re?ect this fact: all languages have syntactic categories that express gradable concepts, and all languages have designated comparative constructions, which are used to express orderings between two objects with respect to the degree or amount to which they possess some property. English and Romanian is not an exception.

1.1 The pillars of any degree of comparison

Comparison is the act of comparing one thing to another, in order to determine similarities and differences, relative size, relative importance, and so on. It may specifically refer to computer science, for example: file comparison, the automatic comparison of file data by a computer program, or comparison (computer programming), code that makes decisions and selects alternatives based on them, and comparison sort, a type of data sort used in computer programming.

Also, the process of comparison may refer to language: comparison (grammar), a feature of many languages, degree of comparison, an English language grammatical feature and mass comparison, a test for the relatedness of languages. [Dekeyser, Xavier p. 449.]

Comparison, in grammar, is a property of adjectives and adverbs in most languages; it describes systems that distinguish the degree to which the modifier modifies its complement.

As I have mentioned above we cannot imagine any process of comparison without adjectives and adverbs. Only with the help of them we can compare things, phenomenon or persons. These components of degrees of comparison are the most important ones. We also may use the degrees of comparison to emphasize that an object is superior or inferior compared to another object. In this case we use adjectives, which are 'describing' words, the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun, giving more information about the object signified.

We may also use adverbs, which is usually defined as a word expressing either property of an action or property of circumstances in which an action occurs.

1.1.1 The adjective

The adjective expresses the categorial semantics of property of a substance. It means that each adjective used in the text presupposes relation to some noun the property of whose referent it denotes, such as its material, colour, dimensions, position, state, and other characteristics both permanent and temporary.

In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified. Adjectives are one of the traditional eight English parts of speech, though linguists today distinguish adjectives from words such as determiners that were formerly considered to be adjectives. [ Biber Douglas, p 59]

Morphological composition of the adjectives

Adjectives are divided into simple, derivative and compound.

Simple adjectives are adjectives, which have neither prefixes nor suffixes. They are indecomposable: good, red, black

Derivative adjectives are adjectives which have derivative elements, suffixes or prefixes or both: beautiful, foolish, hopeless, unkind, unimportant.

Compound adjective are adjectives build from two or more stems. The main types of compound adjectives are as following:

Noun-stem + adjective-stem: snow-white;

Noun-stem+ participle stem: life-giving, smoke dried;

Adjective-stem + adjective-stem: deaf-mute;

Adjective-stem + noun-stem + suffix -ed: cold-hearted;

Noun-stem + noun-stem + suffix -ed: lynx-eyed;

Numeral-stem + noun-stem + suffix -ed: four-wheeled;

Adverb-stem + noun-stem + suffix -ed: over-peopled;

Classification of adjectives

According to their meaning and grammatical characteristics adjectives fall under two classes: [Bloch M.Y., p.330]

1) qualitative adjectives- denote qualities of a substance directly, not through it's relation to another substance, as size, shape, colour, physical and mental qualities, qualities of general estimation; little, large, high, soft, hard, warm, white, blue, strong, bold, beautiful, important, necessary, etc.

Grammatical characteristics of qualitative adjectives

- Most qualitative adjective have degrees of comparison: big bigger the biggest; interesting more interesting, the most interesting. Some qualitative adjective such as greenish, darkish, incurable, unsuitable, chief, principal have no degrees of comparison.

- They have certain typical suffixes such as - full, -less, -ous, -ent, -able, -y, -ish: careful, careless, dangerous, convenient, comfortable, silvery, watery, whitish.

- From most of them adverbs can be formed by the suffix -ly: graceful- gracefully

- Most qualitative adjectives can be used as Attributes and Predicatives.

How lovely the little river is, with its dark, changing waves! (Attributes)

But you're nearly as old as I am. ( Predicatives)

2) relative adjectives - denote qualities of a substance through their relation to materials ( silken, woollen, wooden), to place ( Italian, Asia), to time (monthly, weekly), to some action ( preparatory, rotatory)

Grammatical characteristics of relative adjectives

- Relative adjectives have no degrees of comparison

They do not form adverbs with the suffix -ly.

They have certain typical suffixes such as -en, -an, -ist, -ic, -ical: wooden, Italian, socialist, synthetic, analytical.

Relative adjectives are chiefly used as Attributes: She was a fair example of the Middle American class.

The use of adjective

A given occurrence of an adjective can generally be classified into one of four kinds of uses:

* Attributive adjectives are part of the noun phrase headed by the noun they modify; for example, happy is an attributive adjective in "happy people". In some languages, attributive adjectives precede their nouns; in others, they follow their nouns; and in yet others, it depends on the adjective, or on the exact relationship of the adjective to the noun. In English, attributive adjectives usually precede their nouns in simple phrases, but often follow their nouns when the adjective is modified or qualified by a phrase acting as an adverb.

Examples: "I saw three happy kids"

"I saw three kids happy enough to jump up and down with glee."

* Predicative adjectives are linked via a copula or other linking mechanism to the noun or pronoun they modify.

Example: "They are happy"

"That made me happy.

* Absolute adjectives do not belong to a larger construction (aside from a larger adjective phrase), and typically modify either the subject of a sentence or whatever noun or pronoun they are closest to.

Example: "The boy, happy with his lollipop, did not look where he was going."

*Nominal adjectives act almost as nouns. One way this can happen is if a noun is elided and an attributive adjective is left behind. In the sentence, "I read two books to them; he preferred the sad book, but she preferred the happy", happy is a nominal adjective, short for "happy one" or "happy book". Another way this can happen is in phrases like "out with the old, in with the new", where "the old" means, "that which is old" or "all that is old", and similarly with "the new". In such cases, the adjective functions either as a mass noun (as in the preceding example) or as a plural count noun, as in "The meek shall inherit the Earth", where "the meek" means "those who are meek" or "all who are meek".

Adjective order

There are 2 basic positions for adjectives: [Declerck, Renaat, p.595]

a) before the noun

b) after certain verbs (be, become, get, seem, look, feel, sound, smell, taste)

a) Adjective before noun

We sometimes use more than one adjective before the noun:

Examples: I like big black dogs.

She was wearing a beautiful long red dress.

What is the correct order for two or more adjectives?

1. The general order is: opinion, fact: (Opinion is what you think about something. "Fact" is what is definitely true about something.)

Example: A nice French car (not a French nice car)

2. The normal order for fact adjectives is size, age, shape, colour, material, origin:

Example: A big, old, square, black, wooden Chinese table

3. Determiners usually come first, even though they are fact adjectives:

articles (a, the)

possessives (my, your...)

demonstratives (this, that...)

quantifiers (some, any, few, many...)

numbers (one, two, three)

When we want to use two colour adjectives, we join them with "and":

Examples: Many newspapers are black and white.

She was wearing a long, blue and yellow dress.

b) Adjective after certain verbs

An adjective can come after some verbs, such as: be, become, feel, get, look, seem, smell, sound

Even when an adjective comes after the verb and not before a noun, it always refers to and qualifies the subject of the sentence, not the verb.

Examples : subject verb adjective

Ram is English.

Because she had to wait, she became impatient.

Is it getting dark?

The examination did not seem difficult.

Your friend looks nice.

Dinner smells good tonight.

It smells bad.

These verbs are "stative" verbs, which express a state or change of state, not "dynamic" verbs which express an action. Note that some verbs can be stative in one sense (she looks beautiful | it got hot), and dynamic in another (she looked at him | he got the money)

1.1.2 The adverb

An adverb is a part of speech that changes the meaning of a verb or any part of speech other than nouns (modifiers of nouns are primarily adjectives and determiners). Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives (including numbers), clauses, sentences, and other adverbs. Adverbs typically answer questions such as : how?; in what way?; when?; where?; and to what extent?. [Maetzner, Eduard Adolf Ferdinand, p.124]

We make many adverbs by adding -ly to an adjective, for example:

Examples: quick (adjective) = quickly (adverb)

careful (adjective) = carefully (adverb)

beautiful (adjective) = beautifully (adverb)

Classification of adverbs

a) According to word formation, adverbs fall into two groups:

simple adverbs and derivative adverbs. * Simple adverbs @Simple adverbs are those that consist of only one free morpheme; they are mostly identical in form with corresponding adjectives, e.g. hard, clean, right, slow, etc.

* Derivative adverbs Derivative adverbs are those that are derived from adjectives by adding the suffix -ly, e.g. carefully, slowly, hardly, politely, considerably, constantly, shortly, etc.

Most adverbs are derivatives.

b) Semantically, adverbs can be divided into:

Adverbs of time, place, manner, degree, and mood * Adverbs of time @Adverbs of time answer the question "When", "How long", and "How often?" once, always, again, often, daily, seldom, frequently, sometimes, occasionally, etc.

With words like daily we know exactly how often. On the other hand, words like often give us an idea about frequency but they don't tell us exactly. We separate them into two groups because they normally go in different positions in the sentence.

Adverbs of definite frequency tell us exactly how often this or that action will take place.

Examples: hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly

every second, once a minute, twice a year

once, twice, once or twice, three times

Adverbs of definite frequency, like all adverbs of definite time, typically go in END position.

Examples: Most companies pay taxes yearly.

The manager checks the toilets every hour.

The directors meet weekly to review progress.

Sometimes, usually for reasons of emphasis or style, some adverbs of definite frequency may go at the FRONT.

Example: Every day, more than five thousand people die on our roads.

Adverbs of indefinite frequency give us an idea about frequency, but they don't tell us exactly.

Examples: never, seldom, sometimes, often, always

Adverbs of indefinite frequency mainly go in MID position in the sentence. They go before the main verb (except the main verb "to be"):

Examples: We usually go shopping on Saturday.

I have often done that.

She is always late.

Occasionally, sometimes, often, frequently and usually can also go at the beginning or end of a sentence:

Examples: Sometimes they come and stay with us.

I play tennis occasionally.

Rarely and seldom can also go at the end of a sentence (often with "very"):

Examples: We see them rarely.

John eats meat very seldom.

*Adverbs of place Adverbs of place answer the question "Where", here, inside, upstairs, abroad, everywhere, up, down, etc.

* Adverbs of manner Adverbs of manner answer the question "How?" carefully, slowly, beautifully, undoubtedly, surprisingly, admiringly, etc

* Adverbs of degree Adverbs of degree answer the question "To what degree or extent?" Negative: not, little, scarcely, hardly, etc. Slight degree: a little slightly, somewhat, rather, etc. Great degree: much, very, far, greatly, extremely, etc. Excessive degree: exceedingly, too, too much, etc. Completeness: quite, wholly, entirely, thoroughly, etc. Sufficiency: enough, exactly, etc. Deficiency: almost, nearly, partly, etc. Limitation: only, simply, but, etc

Adverbs of degree are often used to modify comparatives and superlatives

Example: This is much ( far, somewhat, little, decidedly) better than that.

*Adverbs of mood (Modal adverbs) Modal adverbs are used to show whether an assertion is true, doubtful or not doubtful. Modal adverbs are, in form, like adverbs of manner, but they modify the whole sentence.

Example: Certainly you are in the right.

Adverbs expressing certainty include certainly, surely, really,

Adverbs expressing doubt: probably, likely, perhaps, maybe, possibly, etc.

Adverb position

A) When an adverb modifies a verb, there are usually 3 possible positions within the sentence or clause: [Meyer-Myklestad, p.627]

* Front - before subject

Example: Now I will read a book

* Mid - between subject + verb

Example: I often read books.

* End - after verb/object

Example: I read books carefully.

When an adverb modifies an adjective or another adverb, it usually goes in front of the word that it modifies.

Examples: She gave him a really dirty look.

We quite often study English.

1.2 An introduction on degrees of comparison

Comparison is the act of comparing one thing to another, in order to determine similarities and differences, relative size, relative importance, and so on. It may specifically refer to computer science, for example: file comparison, the automatic comparison of file data by a computer program, or comparison (computer programming), code that makes decisions and selects alternatives based on them, and comparison sort, a type of data sort used in computer programming.

Also, the process of comparison may refer to language: comparison (grammar), a feature of many languages, degree of comparison, an English language grammatical feature and mass comparison, a test for the relatedness of languages. [Dekeyser, Xavier p. 449.]

Comparison, in grammar, is a property of adjectives and adverbs in most languages; it describes systems that distinguish the degree to which the modifier modifies its complement.

English, has two parallel systems of comparison. [Kolln, Martha J.; Funk, Robert W, p. 453]

The first system involves the suffixes -er (the "comparative") and -est (the "superlative"). These inflections are of Germanic origin. They are typically added to shorter words, words of Anglo-Saxon origin, and borrowed words that have been fully assimilated into the English vocabulary. Usually the words that take these inflections have fewer than three syllables. This system contains a number of irregular forms, some of which, like good, better, best, contain suppletive forms.

The second system of comparison in English appends the grammatical particles more and most, themselves the irregular comparatives of many, to the adjective or adverb being modified. This series can be compared to a system containing the diminutives less and least.

This system is most commonly used with words of French or Latin derivation; adjectives and adverbs formed with suffixes other than -ly (e.g.beautiful); and with longer, technical, or infrequently used words. Knowing which words fall into which system is a highly idiomatic issue in English syntax. Some words require the suffixing system; taller is required; more tall is not idiomatic English.

Some words (e.g. difficult) require more and most. Some words (e.g. polite) can be used with either system; curiously, while polite can go either way, the derived word impolite requires more and most.

The general rule is that words with one syllable require the suffix, words with three or more syllables require more or most and words with two syllables can go either way. [Quirk, Randolph, p. 1779.]

There are Grammarians, as Max Morenberg, Otto Jespersen Otto and James E. Augerot, who classify the adjectives in a original way. It this system belong and so-called "absolute" adjectives, adjectives that logically do not seem to admit of comparison. There are many such adjectives -- generally adjectives that name qualities that are either present or absent: nothing is "more igneous" than anything else. Other examples include perfect, unique, and parallel, which name qualities that are inherently superlative: if something is perfect, there can be nothing better, so it does not make sense to describe one thing as *"more perfect" than something else; if something is unique, it is one of a kind, so something cannot be "very unique", or *"more unique" than something else.

1.3 Development and changes of adjectives and degrees of comparison

Originally, adjectives differed from nouns only in meaning and syntactic use but not graphically:

Examples: lat. lupus (n. `wolf') - bonus (adj. `good'), aqua (n. `water') - bona (adj. `good').

In Old English, whose usage covered a period of approximately 700 years - from the Anglo-Saxon migrations that created England in the 5th century to some time after the Norman Conquest of 1066 the adjective could change for number, gender and case.

Like nouns, adjectives had three genders (masculine, neuter, and feminine) and two numbers (singular and plural). The category of case in adjectives differed from that of nouns: in addition to four cases of nouns (Nominative, Genitive, Accusative and Dative) they had one more case, Instrumental. It was used when the adjective served as an attribute to a noun in the Dative case expressing an instrumental meaning: l?tel werede (`with (the help of) a small troop').[ Strang, Barbara M. H., p.93]

Like adjectives in other languages, most OE adjectives distinguished between three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative and superlative. The regular means used to form the comparative and superlative from the positive were the suffixes -ra and -est/-ost. Sometimes suffixation was accompanied by an interchange of the root-vowel. Besides that, some adjectives had suppletive forms of degrees of comparison. Several examples of comparison of adjectives in Old English are given in chart 1.

Chart 1. Comparison of Adjectives in Old English

Means of form-building





soft `soft'

wri? `weary'

sweotol `clear'

heard `hard, fierce'









Suffixation plus vowel interchange

?ld `glad'

lon? `long'

eald `old'




(also: ealdra




ealdost, ealdest)


?d `good'

lytel `little'

micel `large'

yfel `bad'

betera, bettra, selra




bet(e)st, slest



wierrest, wierst

As follows from the Chart 1, those adjectives, which have the suffix -ost in the superlative degree, have the same root-vowel in all forms with the exception of the adjectives with the root-vowel --. In the superlative degree it alternates with the root-vowel -a- before the back vowel in the suffix -ost: ?ld - ?ladost.

However, some linguists say that, since ?ld refers to the words which used to form their degrees of comparison by adding the suffixes -ora and -ost, it had no vowel interchange: ?ld - ?ldra - ?ldost.

Degrees of comparison with -mest are generally derived from adverbs but they function as adjectives. We can see several examples in Chart 2.

The initial adverb

Comparative degree

Superlative degree

te `outside'

inne `inside'

lt `late'

terra, yterra



temest, ytemest



The degrees of comparison is the only set of forms which the adjective has preserved through all historical periods. However, the means employed to build up the forms of the degrees of comparison have considerably altered.

In Middle English the degrees of comparison could be built in the same way as in Old English - by adding the suffixes to the form of the positive degree (sometimes suffixation was accompanied by an interchange of the root-vowel; a few adjectives had suppletive forms). But the comparative degree suffix -ra had been weakened to -er; afterwards, the final unstressed -e disappears completely and before -r we find a weak vowel, i.e. -ra > -re > -r > -er. As a result of weakening of an unstressed vowel, the OE suffix -ost coincided in Middle English with the suffix -est.

The new system of comparisons emerged at the end of the Middle English period. To form the comparative and superlative degrees they began to use such words as more and most. But the ground for this method had already been prepared by the use of the OE adverbs m, bet, betst, swpor - `more', `better', `to a greater degree' with adjectives and participles. It is noteworthy that in Middle English the phrases with more and most became popular and were used with all kinds of adjectives, regardless of the number of syllables and were even preferred with mono- and disyllabic words. [Curme, George O, p33]

1.4 Degrees of comparison in English

In English grammar the degree of comparison of an adjective or adverb describes the relational value of one thing with something in another clause of a sentence. An adjective may simply describe a quality, (the positive); it may compare the quality with that of another of its kind (comparative degree); and it may compare the quality with many or all others (superlative degree).

The degree of comparison may be expressed morphologically, or syntactically. In English, for example, most monosyllabic and some disyllabic adjectives have morphological degrees of comparison: green (positive), greener (comparative), greenest( superlative), while most polysyllabic adjectives use syntax: complex, more complex, most complex. [Biber, Douglas, p. 203]

There are three Degrees of Comparison in English.

They are: * Positive degree. * Comparative degree.

* Superlative degree.

The Positive Degree

The positive degree is the most basic form of the adjective, because it does not relate to any superior or inferior qualities of other things in speech. We use it when we speak about only one person or thing. Examples: * This house is big. * He is a tall student. In these sentences only one nouns The house and student are talked about.

Some linguists approach the number of the degrees of comparison as problematic on the grounds that the basic form of the adjective does not express any comparison by itself and there-fore should be excluded from the category. This exclusion would reduce the category to two members only: the comparative and superlative.

However, the oppositional interpretation of grammatical categories underlying our considerations does not admit of such an exclusion; on the contrary, the non-expression of superiority by the basic form is understood in the oppositional presentation of comparison as a pre-requisite for the expression of the category as such. In this expression of the category the basic form is the unmarked member, not distinguished by any comparison suffix or comparison auxiliary, while the superiority forms (the comparative and superlative) are the marked members, distinguished by the comparison suffixes or comparison auxiliaries.

There are grammarians who say that there are two more comparisons with the `positive form' of the adjective words. [Bryant, Margaret, p. 326.]

They are:

a) Degree of Equality.

This comparison is used to compare two persons, animals or things to tell us that they are equal - having the same quality.

There are two cats with the same height and weight, and look the same except for the colour.

Therefore we say:

The brown cat is as beautiful as the grey cat. ( Both the cats are the same.)

The word beautiful is an adjective in the `positive form', and with the conjunction asas it expresses the `degree of equality'.

b) Degree of Inequality

This comparison is used to compare two persons, animals or things to tell us that they are not equal - not having the same quality.


The brown cat is not so beautiful as the black and white cat. (They are not the same.)

The word beautiful is an adjective in the `positive form', and with the conjunction soas (and the negative `not') it expresses the `degree of inequality'

The comparative degree

In grammar, the comparative is the form of an adjective or adverb which denotes the degree or grade by which a person, thing, or other entity has a property or quality greater or less in extent than that of another, and is used in this context with a subordinating conjunction, such as than, [ John Sinclair, p. 145]

a) the structure

The structure of a comparative in English consists normally of the positive form of the adjective or adverb, plus the suffix -er, or (in the case of polysyllabic words borrowed from foreign languages) the modifier more (or less/fewer) before the adjective or adverb.

Example: wise, wiser, wisest bold, bolder, boldest

The form is usually completed by than and the noun which is being compared.

Example: He is taller than his father

The village is less picturesque than the town nearby.

Than is used as a subordinating conjunction to introduce the second element of a comparative sentence while the first element expresses the difference.

There are two more degrees of comparison with the `comparative form' of an adjective. They are:

* Parallel Degree

This comparison is used to show that the qualities of two items (adjectives or adverbs) talked about in the given sentence go parallel. If one quality (adjective or adverb) increases, the other quality (adjective or adverb) increases, and if one quality decreases, the other quality also decreases. [Chalker, Sylvia; Weiner, Edmund, p. 464.]

Example: The bigger the box, the heavier it is.

* Progressive Degree

This comparison is used to show that the quality of a thing (adjective or adverb) talked about in the given sentence increases as the time passes, for example:


25 > 27 > 30 > 33> 35 > 38 > 40

Example: It's getting hotter and hotter day by day. (As the time passes the temperature increases.)

b) Two-clauses sentence

For sentences with the two clauses other two-part comparative subordinating conjunctions may be used : [Thomson, A. J, p 356]

The house was as large as two put together.

not so / not

The coat of paint is not as [not so] fresh as it used to be.

the same... as

This car is the same size as the old one.

less / more... than

It cost me more to rent than I had hoped.

c) adverbs

In English, adverbs are usually formed by adding -ly to the end of an adjective. In the comparative, more (or less) is added before the adverb.

Example: This sofa seats three people more comfortably than the other one.

Some irregular adverbs such as fast or hard do not use more, but add an -er suffix, as the adjectives do.

Example: My new car starts faster than the old one

She studies harder than her sister does.

For some one-syllable adjectives, the comparative of adjectives may be used interchangeably with the comparative of adverbs, with no change in meaning:

Example: My new car starts more quickly than the old one.

My new car starts quicker than the old one.

However, if the adjective has an irregular comparative, then the adverb must use it:

Examples: She writes better than I do.

He threw the ball farther than his brother did.

There are also a number of adverbs compared irregularly. Here are some of them.

Some adverbs are never compared. They express qualities unsuitable for comparison. Here are some of them: again, almost, before, ever, never, here, there, now, then, there, thus, too, twice, very.

















Farther further

Farthest furthest

* The Superlative Degree.

In grammar, the superlative is the form of an adjective (or adverb) that indicates that the person or thing (or action) modified has the quality of the adjective (or adverb) to a degree greater than that of anything it is being compared to in a given context. English superlatives are typically formed with the suffix est (healthiest, weakest) or the word most (most recent, most interesting). [Jespersen, Otto, pag. 385 ]

In English, the superlative and the comparative are created by inflecting adjectives or adverbs. The superlative is used to say what thing or person has the most of a particular quality within a group or of its kind. The structure of a superlative consists normally of the positive stem of the adjective or adverb, plus the suffix -est (the superlatives of monosyllable adjectives) or the modifier "most" or "least" before the adjective or adverb (the superlative of adjectives of more than one syllable). It always has the definite article and is completed by "of" or another preposition plus one or more nouns of entities that it surpasses to the highest or greatest degree. [Morenberg, Max; p. 352.]


He is the tallest of/in the class.

The town is the most beautiful in the country.

There are some writing rules, when we form superlative.

1. If the adjective ALREADY ends in -E, then we simply add -ST

nice ? the nicest safe ? the safest

2. If the adjective ends in a consonant + -Y, it change Y to i before adding -EST

pretty ? the prettiest friendly ? the friendliest

3. If the adjective ends in a consonant+vowel+consonant combination, double the final consonant before adding -EST

big ? the biggest

Do NOT double the consonant in words ending in -W or -Y

slow ? the slowest coy ? the coyest

Null comparative

The null comparative is a comparative in which the starting point for comparison is not stated. These comparisons are frequently found in advertising.

For example, in typical assertions such as "our burgers have more flavour", "our picture is sharper" or "50% more", there is no mention of what it is they are comparing to. In some cases it is easy to infer what the missing element in a null comparative is. In other cases the speaker or writer has been deliberately vague in this regard. [Jespersen, Otto, p.170 ]

Some grammarians say that there are adjectives that do not admit comparative degree. According to Bryan Garner, "complete" is one of those adjectives that does not admit of comparative degrees. Other adjectives that Garner includes in this list are as follows: [Bryan Garner, p. 597]

absolute adequate chief impossible

inevitable principal stationary sufficient

complete fatal final preferable

1.5 Stylistic potential of degrees of comparison

Sometimes there are a lot of adjectives in the text and sometimes they are used sparingly. As we know, one of the main functions of adjectives is to give more expressive description to the entities found in a text; so, the use of more adjectives will result in the descriptive richness of the text, whereas a lack of them may result in descriptive sparseness or thinness. A lot of adjectives may, however, make the style of the text ornate (or flowery), and slow down the action in the text, as one feels that one has to concentrate one's attention on the details of static entities or phenomena.

The use of comparatives is self-explanatory, and shows the interest the text has in relating the qualities of something to those of another thing. Superlatives may also serve the same purpose, but they may reveal the interest the text has in viewing things in terms of extremes (a few of these superlatives, especially when used colloquially, may even be exaggerated, and this may be a point of interest in your interpretation of the passage).

The degrees of comparison convey the degree of expressiveness produced by the adjective of indication and so, it is very close to the stylistic category of expressiveness. This is particularly fair for elative, the grammatical meaning of which is irrelatively great measure of indication: the sweetest baby, the newest fashion of all. Along with superlative degree of adjective other devices of syntactical order is used. Compare: the sweetest baby, the sweetest of babies; a foolish wife, a foolish, foolish wife, a most foolish wife, the most foolish of wives, my fool of a wife, my wife is foolishness herself, she is as foolish as can be, is she as foolish as all that?

In familiar-colloquial style of speech or just in colloquial speech intensification with `that' is possible.

Example : The girl is THAT stupid.

In literary-colloquial style of speech an emotionally-appraisal component is introduced in pair use with appraisal word: nice and warm, good and strong, etc.

Example: Oh, Josie, you are a naughty girl, you really are. I was hoping you'd have everything nice and clean and tidy when I came in.

The degree of comparison includes only qualitative and quantitative adjectives. Use of comparative and superlative degrees for other adjectives, which this degree is not characteristic for, spares the adjective with great expressiveness.

Example: You cannot be deader than the dead (E. Hemingway).

Similarly, since syntactical forms of degrees of comparison of adjectives are characteristic only for monosyllabic and few polysyllabic adjectives, violation from this rule can have a stylistic function. In the following example the word `curiouser' amuses the reader and at the same time gives away the nervousness of the little heroine, which is accentuated in the author's commentaries: Curiouser and curiouser! she cried (she was so much surprised that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English) (L. Carroll. Alice in Wonderland).

The violation of valency in the form of junctioning the suffix of the superlative degree with the base of a noun is expressive, comic and sticks in memory very well, and that satisfies the basic requirements of the language of advertising.

Example: The orangemostest drink in the world.

We can see the rise of expressiveness in colloquial speech. For example, the adjective `idiotic' characterizing the mental abilities of a person should be used with a noun of person. However, it is often collocates with object names, rendering the irritation of the speaker:

Example: My idiotic shoe-laces are undone.

There are a number of adjectives and adverbs which may be classified as interjections. Among them are the following: terrible, awful, great, wonderful, splendid. When they are used as interjections they are not used in their logical dictionary meanings. In most cases they are used in their emotive meanings as intensifiers.

Adjectives that characterize objects by their physical qualities do not contain any evaluation. But as a metaphor they can have it. For example, `dark horse' in its direct meaning this word combination does not contain any evaluation, but in metaphoric `cal negru it expresses the negative connotation. This example shows that adjectives play a very important role in creating metaphoric epithets. It is should be pointed out that metaphoric epithet is the result of second speech attribution of lexical unit.

The adjectives of evaluation which include descriptive semes which mean the adjectives of so called private evaluation, can easily assume metaphoric meanings. Transference of sign with object of physical world on other objects makes up one of the most important method of metaphorization: crude line -crude smile -straight line - straight answer.

The adjective expressing positive or negative judgment about what it is calling, that is approval or disapproval (time-tested method, out-of-date method) possesses a component of evaluation.

Evaluation can be expressed both in explicit and implicit forms.

Examples: Electric guitar packages are typically an all in one answer to the problem of getting someone started with an electric guitar. Is it the best way to go for a beginner though?

Due to the use of the adjective `good' in the superlative degree, evaluation and subjectivity are shown in explicit form. Despite the fact that, the adjective `best' has strikingly positive evaluation in this case it acquires negative connotation. It is due to the fact that in this case the adjective `best' is used in the sentence which bears the type of rhetorical question.

When adjectives that are not normally used in a comparative degree are used with this category they are charged with a strong expressive power.

Example: Mrs. Thompson, Old Man fellow's housekeeper had found him deader than a doornail

This is a vivid example of grammatical transposition of the second type built on the incongruity of the lexical and grammatical meanings.

In the following sentence the unexpected superlative adjective degree forms lend the sentence a certain rhythm and make it even more expressive:

Example:fifteen millions of workers, understood to be the strangest, the cunningest, the willingest our Earth ever had.

The transposition of other parts of speech into the adjectives creates stylistically marked pieces of description as in the following sentence:

Example: A camouflage of general suffuse and dirty-jeaned drabness covers everybody and we merge into the background.

The use of comparative or superlative forms with other parts of speech may also convey a humorous coloring.

Example: He was the most married man I have ever known.

Another stylistic aspect of the adjective comes to the force when an adjective gets substantivized and acquires the qualities of a noun such as solid, firm, tangible, hard, etc.

Example: All Europe was in arms, and England would join. The impossible had happened.

The stylistic function of an adjective is achieved through the deviant use of the degrees of comparison that results mostly in grammatical metaphors of the second type (lexical and grammatical incongruity).

The same effect is also caused by the substantivized use of the adjectives.

1.6 The category of degree modifier

There is no consensus regarding the labelling of the lexical item degree modifier. The difficulty associated with the categorization and the labelling of these items are due to the complexity and fuzziness that characterize them:

It is difficult to define the notion of degree in itself and also in relation to quantification and modality.

The items are grammatically versatile. They appear in different forms and they are able to modify a whole range of different types of phrases.

Most linguists seem to agree that degree and quantification are two notions that have measurement in common. The close relation between degree and quantification is evident from the labelling of degree words in previous studies. Most of linguists recognize a class of adverbs of degree which modify adjectives, adverbs, verbs and occasionally nouns.

There are linguists that describe the relation between degree and quantification in terms of countability and precision. Their position is that degree and quantification can be kept distinct by assigning different levels of abstraction to them. Both degree and quantification involve measurement, but they differ with respect to precision.

Degree words occur in different syntactic contexts, but they are notionally related in that they all specify a degree of some property of the element they apply to. Some degree modifiers go with a whole range of different phrases, while the use of others is more restricted. [Warren, Beatrice, p. 21-28; p. 41-62]

So, to summarize all the definitions given above, we can conclude that:

Degree modifiers can be defined as elements which modify another element with respect to degree.

The structure of the category of degree modifier

There are both differences and similarities among the members of the category of degree modifiers. They are similar in that they all indicate a certain graded value of the item they apply to. They are different in that they indicate different values of some features of the item they modify. This section presents three models of the internal structure of the category of degree modifiers.[ Warren, Beatrice p. 21-28; p. 41-62]

A) The scale model

The members of the category appear to be related to one another in a scalar fashion from modifiers which indicates highly reinforcing to items which indicate an attenuating position: completely - very - fairly - slightly. On this view the internal structure of the category of degree modifiers is comparable to the scalar structure of quantifiers, such as: all - many - some - a few - no, or to expressions of frequency, such as: always - often - sometimes - rarely - never.

B) Quirk et al

Quirk et al divide degree modifiers of adjectives into two distinct groups. There are degree modifiers which scale upwards from an assumed norm ( a very funny film as compared to a funny film), and there are degree modifiers which have a lowering effect in that they scale downwards from an assumed norm ( a fairly long road compared with a long road).

Then a more delicate subdivision of amplifiers and downtoners is made into maximizers and boosters and the one hand, and approximators, compromisers, diminishers, and minimizers on the other hand.

Intensifier is a linguistic term (but not a proper lexical category) for a modifier that amplifies the meaning of the word it modifies. An intensifier makes no contribution to the propositional meaning of a clause but serves to enhance and sometimes to give additional emotional context to the word it modifies.

Huddleston argues that intensifier not be recognized as a primary grammatical or lexical category. Intensifier is a category with grammatical properties, but insufficiently defined unless we also describe its functional significance (what Huddleston calls a notional definition).

Amplifiers show a high degree of emotion.


"Cindy's teacher absolutely refuses to let lazy students stay in his class."

"Cinderella wanted to go to the ball so much."

"Betty all but screamed when her new clothes got stained." (She was really upset! "all but" means that Betty did everything to show her anger except scream.)

Downtoners: lower the effect of the verb.

- Approximators deny the truth of what the verb states.

"She nearly left him." (She did not leave, but she had been planning to.)

"Saturday is just about the last chance he has to retake the test. (It isn't definitely the last chance; there may be one more.)

- Compromisers: slightly reduce the force of the verb.

"Kevin kind of plays the piano." (He knows a little bit about playing the piano, but not very much.

- Diminishers: show a small amount of positive meaning.

"He arrived at the meeting slightly late." (just a few minutes)

"Stuart felt slightly ill." (Not seriously ill; just a little sick.)

"Aunt Tilly's dinner was almost ruined because we arrived late."

(Dinner was nearly ruined, but it wasn't.)

- Minimizers modify the degree of truth of what the verb says.

"We scarcely knew what to say." (We were so surprised that we had difficulty making a comment.)

"We could hardly catch our breath." (We could certainly breathe, but we were feeling out of breath; breathing hard from running fast, or being extremely surprised, frightened)

You'll hear native English speakers using intensifiers in normal everyday conversational English, and it won't conform to the standards of "good" English. For example, in the desire to show intensity of emotion, we say things that are redundant. We say them all the time, but we wouldn't write them in any kind of formal, academic or business writing. Here are a few examples:

"I'm totally finished with Fred. I'm never dating him again." Well, you can't be partially finished, or "totally" finished. You're finished, or you're not finished. The word "totally" is redundant.

"He really screamed when his boss fired him." A scream is a very loud noise! The word "really" doesn't make his scream any louder, because it's already very loud without the word "really".

Here's another example: Three friends go to a concert together. After the concert, they go to visit Vicky, who hasn't been to the concert. When she asks if they liked the concert, Johnny says with obvious pleasure, "Ohhhh, it was a good concert." Nessa says, "Yes! It was a really good concert!" Howard says, "Wow! It was a really really good concert!" Clearly, they enjoyed the concert. Who enjoyed it most? Well, there's no way to know. Listening to Johnny's voice, Vicky was sure that he enjoyed the concert very much. Did Howard enjoy it more, because he said "really really"? We'll never know. But what's important here, is to get an idea about how Americans talk to each other when they're speaking informally.

Imagine a scale for these intensifiers that goes from one to ten. 'One' is the lowest number, and gives a mild effect to the verb. 'Ten' gives the verb the strongest effect. Here are a few examples of low-level intensifiers:

"I kind of like him." (I like him a little bit.)

"He rather likes her." (He likes her--a little bit more than 'kind of'.)

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