In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Adjectives

  • Introduction

Linguistics Adjectives
Petra Sleeman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0322


Adjectives are a nominal syntactic category that is distinct from but shows also overlap with nouns and verbs, and also with determiners and adverbs. Important questions that have been raised concern their universal availability, their emergence, their distinction from nouns and verbs, and their morphological derivation. Adjectives became a prominent topic of study after the popularization of the Determiner Phrase (DP) in the analysis of the noun phrase and the introduction of several other functional projections dominated by the DP. This led to the distinction between attributive and predicative adjectives within the noun phrase and to the investigation of the relation between position and interpretation within the noun phrase. With respect to their interpretation, their gradability and the semantic and syntactic impact of gradation has been the subject of many studies. Other important questions concern the establishment, the types, and the role of adjectival inflection or agreement and their possible role in the licensing of nominal ellipsis. Besides adjectival inflection, another typical characteristic distinguishing the adjective as a category in certain languages has been claimed to be the adjectival article. The study of the acquisition of aspects of the adjective has been used to support various theories on language acquisition.

The Syntactic Status of Adjectives

Many studies, especially from a typological perspective, have been devoted to the rejection or the legitimation of the adjective as a universal lexical category. Studies that have distinguished the adjective as a lexical category have examined their syntactic properties not only in relation to verbs and nouns, but also in relation to adverbs, determiners, and participles. One of the identifying properties of adjectives has been argued to be adjectival inflection, generally related to agreement with the noun, and many studies have investigated how and under which circumstances it shows up in the languages that have it. In some languages, for instance, inflection may be present on attributive adjectives, but not on predicative adjectives, which have been argued to be used not only with a copula, but which have also been distinguished from attributive adjectives within the noun phrase. The postnominal position of adjectives in Romance has been claimed to be the result of movement of the noun to a dominating functional projection, within an analysis of the noun phrase as a Determiner Phrase (DP). Criticism of this claim has led to the proposal of a roll-up, also called a snowball, mechanism of noun movement within the DP.

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