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Characteristics and classification

The prominent characteristics of adjectives as a word class are discussed in this section, which include syntactic uses, structural properties in various positions, and semantic features on syntactic or morphological grounds.

Syntactically, adjectives in Afrikaans can be used both in prenominal attributive position (as in lang daelong days) and as a component of a predicate, that is the verb phrase of a clause (dae wat lank isdays which long aredays which are long), while they are also used in partitive constructions with indefinite pronouns (specifically in post-pronominal position), marked as such by the suffix -s (as in iets mooissomething beautiful). Adjectives, and adjective phrases containing determiners, also function as adverbial modifiers (as in Sy sing baie goed.She sings very well.).

Adjectives can further be identified on the basis of affixes (hence morphologically) to express comparative/superlative forms, as in vinnigerfaster and vinnigstefastest, and (b) on the basis of modification by means of an adverbial phrase of degree (hence syntactically), as in uiters gewildextremely popular. However, these only have a bearing on the subset of gradable adjectives.

The features referred to above pertain predominantly to prototypical adjectives, and some more distinctive characteristics can be identified through a comparison with nouns and verbs.  While nouns (and noun phrases) may refer to the syntactic functions of subject or direct/indirect object in a sentence, adjectives normally do not perform these functions – except for a relatively closed class which precede object nouns, another which are linked to nouns by prepositions, and a third group which combine with infinitive clauses. Verbs, on the other hand, which share with adjectives the property of being predicated of a noun phrase, can be disguished from the latter in that they can be morphologically (and syntactically) marked for tense. If an adjective is the predicative of the subject of a clause, it is not inflected in Afrikaans, and a copula must be inserted in order to express tense. Although deverbal adjectives (e.g. present and past participles) contain aspectual characteristics, these mostly operate as attributive adjectives (unless nominalised to refer to entities), and never as infinitives, as in the case of English gerunds.

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There are several features that are often considered characteristic of adjectives, but that are nevertheless insufficient to fully delimit the set of adjectives. For instance, many adjectives can be used both in prenominal attributive and in clause-final predicative position, as is illustrated for vinnigfast in, respectively, (1a) and (1a'). However, since this feature does not apply to all adjectives, the capacity to be used in these positions is not a necessary condition for a word to qualify as an adjective: vervlaksconfoundedand kwaadangry in examples (1b) and (1c) are normally considered adjectives, despite the fact that the former can only be used attributively and the latter can only be used predicatively with the meaning as indicated. Note that Afrikaans distinguishes between kwaad and kwaaibad-tempered, or strict, which is used in this form both attributively and predicatively.

Example 1

a. die vinnige motor
the fast car
a.' Die motor is vinnig.
The car is fast.
b. daardie vervlakste seun
that confounded boy
b.' *Die seun is vervlaks.
The boy is confounded.
c. Jan is kwaad.
Jan is angry.
c.' *'n kwaad seun
an angry boy

One exception to this paradigm is the informal expression kwaad kat, also written as kwaadkatfoxy lady. The fact that it can be written as a compound, as one word, emphasises the fact that the adjective is not regarded as being used attributively, and hence falls outside the paradigm. Incidentally, this adjective, in its inflected form (kwade), can only be used attributively with the meaning 'evil', as in met kwade bedoelingswith malicious intent and 'n kwade dagan evil day.

[+] Partitive constructions

In the case of indefinite pronouns, adjectives are used also in partitive constructions, in a post-pronominal position, and are marked as such by  the suffix -s, unless the adjective itself ends in -s, as in (2b) below.

Example 2

a. Almal het iets moois of interessants om te bied.
everybody has something beautiful-PTV or interesting-PTV PART to offer
Everybody has something beautiful or interesting to offer.
b. Daar was niks snaaks daaromtrent nie.
there was nothing funny there.about NEG
There was nothing funny about it.

Some speakers omit the suffix in their speech, which could lead to ambiguity in certain contexts, since the adjective (as in iets goedsomething good) could be understood as having an adverbial function:

Example 3

dat ons terselfdertyd iets goed doen
that we at.the.same.time something good do
that we do something good/well at the same time

As indicated above, adjectives (and adjective phrases containing determiners) also function as adverbial modifiers, as in (4) and (5). Because of this functional characteristic, adjectives used in such a way are often erroneously categorised as adverbs.

Example 4

Jammer jy moes so lank wag.
regret you had.to so long wait
Sorry that you had to wait so long.
Example 5

Die leeu het nie ver geloop nie.
the lion has not far walked NEG
The lion did not walk far.
PUK/Protea Boekhuis
Example 6

markte wat die beste gepresteer het
markets which the best performed have
markets which performed the best
[+] Degree modification

Two other features are often considered typical of adjectives: modification by means of an adverbial phrase of degree, such as baievery, heelquite or taamlik rather, as in (7), and comparative/superlative formation, as in (6), (9) and (10). The marked examples, as in (8), (9)ai) and (10)ai), show, however, that these features pertain to only a subset of adjectives, namely gradable adjectives.

Example 7

baie/heel/taamlik gaaf
very/quite/rather nice
Example 8

*baie dood
very dead
Example 9

a. gawer
a.' *dooier
Example 10

a. gaafste
a.' *doodste

Since the properties discussed above only pertain to the most prototypical adjectives, another way of characterising this word class would be to compare it to verbs and nouns.

[+] Adjective phrases in conjunction with NPs

Verbs and (at least a subset of) adjectives share the property that they may be predicated of a noun phrase in the clause. The most conspicuous difference between the two categories is, however, that only the former can be marked for past tense, for most verbs in Afrikaans, by means of the auxiliary verb hethas/have(active voice) and the past participle:

Example 11

Ek stap/het gestap.
I walk/walked.

If an adjective is a predicative of the subject of the clause, it is not inflected in Afrikaans, and a copula must be inserted in order to express tense; cf.

Example 12

Ek is/was siek.
I am/was ill.

Nouns are typically used to refer to an entity (or set of entities). Due to this property, noun phrases may refer to participants in an event, and thus have the syntactic function of subject or direct/indirect object of a clause. In general, adjectives do not perform these syntactic functions (but see some exceptions to this characteristic below).

A number of fixed expressions (constituting adjective phrases) in Afrikaans consist of adjectives preceded by object nouns. If compared to other Germanic languages, the syntactic relation between adjective and noun could vary from genitive to dative (indirect object) to accusative (direct object), as illustrated by the examples below:

Example 13

as jy jou lewe nie seker is nie
if you your life not certain are NEG
if your life is not safe

In this example, the relation between adjective corresponds to genitive case in German:

Example 14

Hier ist man seines Lebens nicht sicher.
Hier is 'n mens nie seker van jou lewe nie.
Here one is not certain of one's life.
Example 15

julle is nie mense gewoond nie
you are not people accustomed NEG
you are not used to people
Example 16

Beleggers is nou hul geld kwyt.
investers are now their money minus
Investors have now lost their money.
TK, adapted
Example 17

wat ook nie Italiaans magtig is nie
who also not Italian mastered is NEG
who is also not able to speak Italian
Example 18

Ek is hom baie verskuldig.
I am him much indebted
I am greatly indebted to him.

A more common phenomenon is that of adjectives which are linked to nouns by means of prepositions, as in:

Example 19

Mans is bang vir rooikoppe.
men are afraid for redheads
Men are afraid of redheads.
Example 20

Jy is so begaan oor my reputasie.
you are so concerned over my reputation
You are so concerned about my reputation.
Example 21

Haar oë is nou gewoond aan die donker.
Her eyes are nou accustomed to the dark.
Example 22

Ek is versot op appeltert.
I am crazy on apple.pie
I am crazy about apple pie.
[+] Adjective phrases in conjunction withVPs

A common way to expand an adjective by means of complementation is to link it to a subordinate finite clause, as in

Example 23

is hy oortuig dat dit onvermydelik was
is he convinced that it inevitable was
he is convinced that it was inevitable

Lastly, some adjectives combine with infinitive constructions/clauses, as in:

Example 24

Die spanning is besig om te styg.
the tension is busy PART to rise
The tension is rising.
Example 25

Ek is nie lus om te lees nie.
I am not keen PART to read NEG
I do not feel like reading.

In this category, prepositional adjectives also combine with infinitives:

Example 26

Ek is moeg daarvan om al die skuld te kry.
I am is tired of.it PART all the guilt to get
I am tired of getting all the blame.
Example 27

Jy is gewoond daaraan om dinge alleen te doen.
you are accustomed R.to PART things alone to do
You are used to doing things alone.

In a few cases, the adjective is linked to a bare (short) infinitive by means of the conjunction enand:

Example 28

Hy was lus en gee hom 'n oorveeg.
he was inclined and give him a box.on.the.ear
He felt like giving him a smack.
Example 29

Hy is kapabel en trek haar siel uit.
he is capable and pulls her soul out
He might well torment her.

Although it is difficult to characterize the class of adjectives, as can be seen from the preceding discussion, the prominent properties of this word class will be discussed in the rest of the Adjective Phrase section. For each of the categories touched upon, a section is devoted, such as the syntactic uses and properties of prenominal/attributive adjectives. Another section will provide a semantic classification of the adjectives, which at least partly coincides with classifications that can be made on syntactic or morphological grounds.

To be inserted later: Links to each of the sections mentioned above, and to bibliographical notes

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