An adjective is a word used to qualify, limit, or define a noun, or a
word or phrase which has the value of a noun. Nouns are ordinarily very
general and indefinite in meaning, for example, man conveys only a
very general idea. To make that idea definite we need the help of one or
more descriptive words such as black, tall, stout, good.
gives no definite idea of the person seen.
I saw a tall, thin, dark, old man.
presents a very definite picture. It will be noted that these
descriptive words have a way of forming combinations among themselves.
It must be remembered, however, that all the words thus used describe
the noun. Adjectives are sometimes used as substitutes for nouns. This
is one of the many verbal short cuts in which the English language abounds.
means good people die young.
We should seek the good and beautiful
means we should seek good or beautiful things, or persons, or qualities, or perhaps everything good and beautiful.
When adjectives indicate a quality they have three forms called degrees
indicating the extent or amount of the quality possessed by the noun
especially as compared with other objects of the same sort, a big man,
a bigger man, the biggest man. These degrees are called positive,
indicating possession of bigness; comparative, indicating possession of
more bigness than some other man; superlative, indicating possession of
more bigness than any other man. When we wish to tell the amount of the
quality without comparing the possessor with any other object or group
of objects we use a modifying word later to be described called an adverb.
indicates that the man possessed much bigness, but makes no comparison
with any other man or group of men. Comparison is generally indicated in
two ways, first, by adding to the adjectives the terminations er and
est as high, higher, highest, or, second, by using the words
more and most, as splendid, more splendid, most splendid. The
question which of the two methods should be used is not always easy to
decide. It depends somewhat on usage and on euphony or agreeableness of sound.
Adjectives of three or more syllables use the long form, that is, the
additional word. We should not say beautifuler or beautifulest.
Adjectives of two syllables may often be compared either way; for
example, it would be equally<a name="Page_7">[Pg 7] correct to say nobler and noblest or
more noble and most noble. An example of the influence of euphony
may be found in the adjective honest. We might say honester without
hesitation but we should be less likely to say honestest on account of
the awkward combination of syllables involved. Adjectives of one
syllable usually take the short form but not invariably. The exceptions,
however, are more common in poetry than in prose. When any question
rises it is usually safer to use the long form of comparison in the case
of two-syllable adjectives and to use the short form in the case of
one-syllable adjectives. The proper use of the long form is one of those
niceties of diction which come only with careful observation and with
training of the ear and of the literary sense.
The word most should never be used, as it often is, in the place of
almost. Careless people say "I am most ready" meaning "I am almost, or
nearly ready." The phrase "I am most ready," really means "I am in the
greatest possible readiness." Such use of most is common in old
English but much less so in modern speech.
Two very common adjectives are irregularly compared. They are good,
better, best, and bad, worse, worst. In spite of the fact that
these adjectives are among the most common in use and their comparison
may be supposed to be known by everybody, one often hears the
expressions gooder, goodest, more better, bestest, bader,
badest, worser, and worsest. Needless to say, these expressions
are without excuse except that worser is sometimes found in old English.
Illiterate people sometimes try to make their speech more forceful by
combining the two methods of comparison in such expressions as more
prettier, most splendidest. Such compounds should never be used.
Some adjectives are not compared. They are easily identified by their
meaning. They indicate some quality which is of such a nature that it
must be possessed fully or not at all, yearly, double, all. Some
adjectives have a precise meaning in which they cannot be compared and a
loose or popular one in which they can be; for example, a thing either
is or is not round or square. Nevertheless we use these words in
such a loose general way that it is not absolutely incorrect to say
rounder and roundest or squarer and squarest. Such expressions
should be used with great care and avoided as far as possible. None but
the very ignorant would say onliest, but one often sees the
expressions more and most unique. This is particularly bad English.
Unique does not mean rare, unusual; it means one of a kind,
absolutely unlike anything else. Clearly this is a quality which cannot
be possessed in degrees. An object either does or does not have it.