HOW ABSOLUTE ARE THE ABSOLUTE ADJECTIVES

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In the use of words today, some published materials in book forms or articles are believed to be perfect in word usages and constructions. It is amazing, however, that some fundamental grammar rules are violated in some of these so-called perfect and authentic materials. One of such rules is the rule of ABSOLUTE ADJECTIVES.

In our elementary school, our teachers must have mentioned such things as POSITIVE, COMPARATIVE and SUPERLATIVE. The implication of this is that some adjectives can be gradable in the sense that they can represent one, two or more than two nouns or pronouns. . Tall, for example, represents one noun or pronoun. Taller represents two, while tallest represents more than two. Are there rules for changing an adjective from comparative to superlative? Yes, there are. Let’s examine them.

1. In a word with one syllable, add the suffix ER to the comparative and EST to the superlative.

Examples

Shy-Shyer- Shyest
Sick-Sicker-Sickest
Nice- Nicer- Nicest

2. In words with two syllables but end with letter Y, change Y to I and add ER to the comparative and EST to the superlative.

Busy-Busier- Busiest
Sorry- Sorrier- Sorriest
Noisy- Noisier- Noisiest

3. In words with two syllables, the comparison is the same as monosyllabic words in American English usage while more and most are added to words with three syllables or more.

Examples are

Handsome- Handsomer- Handsomest

Beautiful- More beautiful- Most beautiful

However, in the British English usage, words with two syllables or more are compared the same way by adding MORE and MOST

Handsome-More handsome-Most handsome

Beautiful-More beautiful-Most beautiful

It is normal in most languages to have some words that are gradable but exempted from the rules. Like:
Bad- Worse-Worst
Little-Less-Least
Having revised the rules, I need to ask this question:

Are all adjectives gradable?

Before responding to that question, it is necessary to know why some adjectives are gradable. Some adjectives are gradable because they do not represent the final degree of the comparison.

If say High, for example, of course another thing can still be higher or even highest because HIGH is not the final stage.

Some adjectives are not like that. Some adjectives represent the complete or final degree. They require no comparison or further degree. These adjectives are known as ABSOLUTE ADJECTIVES. The word Dead, for example, is absolute. There is no possibility of comparing further as MORE DEAD or MOST DEAD.

Another grammar rule is that adverbs of degree like VERY, ABSOLUTELY, COMPLETELY, EXTREMELY and QUITE must not precede absolute adjectives.

It is grammatically wrong to say
Very essential
Extremely furious
Quite wrong

Here are some examples of adjectives that are absolute

Wrong
Ideal
Brilliant
Perfect
Excellent
Indispensable
Invaluable
Furious
Fatal
Universal

Now that we have established these two rules:

1. Absolute adjectives do not change to comparative and superlative.

Brilliant-More brilliant- Most brilliant✖️

2. Absolute adjectives are not precede by adverbs of degree like : so, very, too, quite, absolutely, extremely and completely.

It is very wrong.✖️
It is wrong.✔️

How absolute are these adjectives among some users?

Let’s examine some expressions where these rules were violated in some printed materials.

“This(Roget’s Thesaurus) must surely be the most indispensable publication ever….”

…review, in John O’London’s The word INDISPENSABLE is an absolute adjective and has been compared as MOST INDISPENSABLE

Here is another one.

“It seems that the last few hours of the average person’s sleep are so essential, and probably have….”

Dr Jim Horne, The Guardian.

The adjective ESSENTIAL is absolute and the adverb SO is wrongly used in that context.

Overall, users should avoid any further comparison of any adjective that represents the final degree in which any attempt for further modification will lead to vagueness of the sentence. Absolute adjectives are indeed absolute according to grammar rules.

References

Leech. G(2006) _A Glossary of English Grammar_ . Finland: Edinburgh University Press

Mair. C and Leech. G (2009) _Change in Contemporary English Grammar_ New York: Cambridge University Press

Svartvik J and Leech. G ( 2016) _English One tongue,Many Voices_ United Kingdom: Palgrave

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