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1 Characteristics and classification of APs

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 can be used both in prenominal attributive position and as a component of a predicate, that is the verb phrase of a clause, as in (1) and (2) below:

Wielde Gäizen.
wild geese
Wild geese.
Die Houngst wuud wield.
the horse became shy
The horse got shy.

In addition, they are also used in partitive constructions with indefinite pronouns (specifically in post-pronominal position), marked as such by the suffix –es, as in (3) and (4) below:

Niks Goudes.
nothing good
Nothing good.
Wät uurs.
what different
Something else.

There is also a class of quantifying adjectives, which have properties all of their own. Such quantifying APs may for example function as adverbial modifiers, as in (5) below:

Wie sieten alle bee ap dän Boank.
we sat all both on the couch
Both of us sat on the couch.

Here the quantifying adjectives, or adjectival quantifiers, are alle ‘all’ and bee ‘both’. In the example above, they form one constituent, a nominalised AP of which bee ‘both’ is the head.


Adjectives can be identified on the basis of their ability to be used in equative, comparative and superlative constructions. Adjectives can thus be identified

  • (a) on the basis of affixes (hence morphologically) to express comparative and superlative forms, as in froai – froaier – froaist ‘nice – nicer – nicest’, and
  • (b) on the basis of modification by means of an adverbial phrase of degree (hence syntactically), as in sjodend heet ‘boiling hot’.

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 noun phrases may refer to the syntactic functions of subject, direct object and indirect object in a sentence, adjective phrases normally do not perform these functions. Verbs, on the other hand, which share with adjectives the property of being predicated of a noun phrase, can be distinguished 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, and a copula must be inserted in order to express tense. Although deverbal adjectives, such as 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. The following topics are discussed:

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