1. general.
The term adjective was itself an adjective for a hundred years before it became used as a noun for one of the parts of speech. Joseph Priestley, in The Rudiments of English Grammar (1761), was perhaps the first English grammarian to recognize the adjective as a separate part of speech, although some earlier writers had used the term in this way. An alternative term, first used in the mid-19c, is modifier, which also covers the grey area of attributive nouns and nouns ‘passing into adj.’ (as the OED called them), for example city in city council and table in table lamp. For a more detailed analysis of types of adjective, the reader is referred to a standard grammar such as Greenbaum's Oxford English Grammar (1996), 134–41.
An adjective has three forms, traditionally called a positive (or absolute), e.g. hot, splendid, a comparative, e.g. hotter, more splendid, and a superlative, e.g. hottest, most splendid.
2. attributive and predicative.
Most adjectives can be used in two positions: either before the noun (attributively, as in a black cat, a gloomy outlook) or after it, normally separated by a verb of state (predicatively, as in the cat is black, the outlook seemed gloomy). A few adjectives, usually denoting status, exceptionally stand immediately after the noun (postpositive, as in the body politic, the president elect).
Some adjectives are normally restricted to predicative position (e.g. afraid, aware), and others are restricted to attributive position, either always (e.g. main as in the main reason / ☒ this reason is main) or in certain meanings (e.g. big as in He is a big eater / ☒ As an eater he is big, mere as in This is mere repetition / ☒ The repetition is mere, and whole as in Have you told the whole truth / ☒ The truth I have told is whole). In these examples, predicative status has to be achieved by repetition of the noun or by the use of one (The truth I have told is the whole truth / This reason is the main one).
Other adjectives that have been restricted in the past are now becoming more mobile; for example, aware and ill are increasingly heard (often modified by an adverb) in attributive position, as in a highly aware person and an ill woman.
3. comparison.
Adjectives of one or two syllables normally form their comparative and superlative forms by adding -er and -est, sometimes with modification of the stem (soft, softer, softest; happy, happier, happiest). Adjectives of more than two syllables are normally preceded by more or most instead of inflecting (more frightening; most remarkable). For special effect, however, a polysyllabic adjective will sometimes be inflected

• (‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice —L. Carroll, 1865

• One of the generousest creatures alive —Thackeray, 1847/8

• The winningest coach in Southwest Conference basketball history —Chicago Tribune, 1990).

See also -er and -est forms of adjectives. Conversely, more and most are sometimes used, for emphasis or special effect, when inflected forms are available: This was never more true than at present / That was the most cruel thing you could have said.
4. ‘absolute’ adjectives.
Some adjectives, because of their meaning and function, are called absolute or non-gradable, and are not normally used in comparative or superlative forms and cannot be qualified by adverbs that intensify or moderate along a notional range such as fairly, largely, more, rather, or very: these are classifying adjectives such as dead, rectangular, scientific, or descriptive adjectives with a meaning that does not permit gradability, such as equal, impossible, supreme, total, unique. There are exceptions to this rule, but these are normally obvious special cases:

• All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others —George Orwell, 1945

• His profile is…most utterly perfect —Jane Gardam, 1985.

Absolute adjectives can be regularly qualified by adverbs that denote an extreme or completeness, such as absolutely, completely, and utterly, since these are consistent with the non-gradable function of the adjectives concerned:

• The…ghosts…made the place absolutely impossible —Harper's Magazine, 1884.

In this sentence, absolutely impossible is acceptable, and so is completely or utterly impossible, but fairly or rather impossible would not be.
5. position of adjectives.
In numerous fixed expressions denoting status, an adjective is placed immediately after the noun it governs: e.g. attorney-general, body politic, court martial, fee simple, heir apparent, notary public, poet laureate, postmaster-general, president elect, situations vacant, vice-chancellor designate, the village proper. In other cases, an adjective can follow a noun for syntactic reasons, i.e. as a matter of sentence structure rather than peculiarity of expression

• (The waiter…picked up our dirty glasses in his fingertips, his eyes impassive —Encounter, 1987)

or for rhetorical effect

• (Before the loving hands of the Almighty cradled him in bliss eternal —Nigel Williams, 1992).

6. hyphenation.
There is no need to insert a hyphen between a combination of adverb in -ly and adjective qualified by it, even when it stands in attributive position: a highly competitive market / abundant recently published material / lawfully elected prime ministers / fully qualified lawyers. When the adverb does not end in -ly, however, a hyphen is normally required to reinforce its status: a well-known woman / an ill-defined topic.
7. compound adjectives.
These have proliferated in the 20c, and are formed from combinations of noun + adjective (accident-prone, acid-free, child-proof, computer-literate, machine-readable, user-friendly, water-insoluble) noun + past participle (computer-aided, custom-built, hand-operated), noun + -ing participle (data-handling, pressure-reducing, stress-relieving). Some formations are based on longer phrases (back-to-basics, in-your-face) and some of the more informal compounds give rise to adverbial derivatives (balls-achingly, mind-blowingly).
A new kind of compound adjective emerging in technical and scientific work is the type landscape ecological principles (= the principles of landscape ecology), in which the second element of the name of the subject (landscape ecology) has been turned into an adjective. Another example is physical geographical studies, where it would be better to say studies in physical geography.
8. adjectives used as adverbs.
Some adjectives have corresponding adverbs that are identical, e.g. fast, late, straight, and the type monthly, weekly, etc. So you can say He left in the late afternoon or He left late in the afternoon. Adverbs without -ly and those in -ly often occur in close proximity

• (‘I play straight, I choose wisely, Harry,’ he assured me —John Le Carré, 1989).

In other cases, adjectives are used as adverbs only informally, often in fixed expressions such as come clean and hold tight. To these may be added real and sure, which in the UK are often taken to be tokens of informal North American speech (That was real nice / I sure liked seeing you).
9. adjectives used as nouns.
A typical extension in the use of some descriptive adjectives is with the, forming plural (or occasionally singular) nouns meaning ‘those who are…’, e.g. the beautiful, the deaf, the poor, the sublime, the unemployed, the unusual.
Other adjectives stand as countable nouns: the ancients, the classics, collectables, explosives, submersibles.
10. transferred epithets.
A curiosity of English is the ways in which an adjective can be made to operate obliquely, qualifying a person or thing other than the word it relates to grammatically. This is a further extension of the standard use of adjectives to classify things in relation to their human associations; a female toilet means a toilet for women and a gay bar means a bar frequented by homosexuals:

• ‘It's not your stupid place,’ she says. ‘It's anyone's place.’ —Penelope Lively, 1987

[the person addressed, not the place, is stupid]

• I will be sitting quietly at the kitchen table stirring an absent-minded cup of coffee —Chicago Tribune, 1989

[the person, not the coffee, is absent-minded].
The traditional name for this phenomenon is transferred epithet or hypallage.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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