Adjectives and Adverbs; Open Class and Close System Elements in English

In English Language, Adjectives refer to the word class that gives more attribute to nouns and pronouns. By attribute we mean, more information about the nouns or the pronouns that they describe. Put differently, adjectives are part of speech that modify or qualify nouns. For the sake of clarity, nouns are elements that name places, persons, things, ideas, concepts, phenomenon et cetera, in fact, it is a naming grammatical element. If we say that adjectives qualify nouns and a noun is, say, a cup, what we are saying in essence is that adjectives give the reader more information about the noun, cup.

 1.    Cup
 2.    A big cup
 3.    A big brown cup
 4.    A big brown dirty cup
 5.    A big brown dirty condemned cup
From example two down, the noun ‘cup’ has been given different attributes like ‘big’, ‘brown’, ‘dirty,’ and ‘condemned’. These attributes are called adjectives.

Furthermore, many adjectives come before the nouns they qualify and many also come after the nouns they qualify. In grammatical analysis, when an adjective comes before the noun they qualify, it is called attributive adjective and when it comes after the noun they qualify, it is called predicative adjective. Examples are given below:

 1.    The sky is blue. (Predicative)
 2.    The joke she told was so funny. (Predicative)
 3.    Imaobong is a beautiful woman (attributive)

Please note, the name ‘attributive’ and ‘predicative’ is used based on construction. This means that there is nothing specifically predicative about the adjective ‘funny’ and nothing particularly attributive about the word ‘beautiful’. What determines the names is the use not the nature. 

 1.    The blue sky looks beautiful
 2.    The funny man, James is dead.
‘Blue’ and ‘funny’ in the last examples are attributively given not predicatively.

Inflections in Adjectives
Adjectives undergo changes in form to establish their relationship with other words in a sentence. In English Language, adjectives inflect to show degree which is mostly in the comparative and the superlative forms. Examples are:
Root Word
More beautiful
Most beautiful
More handsome
Most handsome
More cheerful
Most cheerful

In regular inflectional patterns, such as short – shorter – shortest, the comparative and the superlative degrees, take the -er and -est suffix   inflectional morphemes. However, this can only be acceptable in formal communication with words that are uni-syllabic. Words from bi-syllabic patterns such has ‘handsome’, will not take the -er or the est suffix. Rather, bi-syllabic or multi-syllabic words like this will take the peripheral inflectors such as ‘more’ or ‘most’ as the case may be.

The irregular inflectional patterns such as good – better – best establish their changes morphologically — that is the whole word structure changes. Their irregularity lies in the fact that their word forms are largely unpredictable.

Adverbs are grammatical elements that modifies verbs, adjectives, and themselves. In their modifications, adverbs typically express manner, place, time, frequency, degree, level of certainty, et cetera. In the process of these, adverbs answer questions such as, how? in what way? when? where? and to what extent? These functions are typically referred to as adverbial functions, and may be realised by single worded adverbs or by multi-worded expressions in which case will be known as adverbial phrases or adverbial clauses.

 1.    Obong sings beautifully
 2.    James drove rather recklessly
 3.    The can ran speedily through the tunnel
 4.    James is seriously ill.

The general behaviour of adverbs, besides it ability to modify verbs, adjectives and themselves, is the ability to be mobile within a sentence frame. This means that within a sentence frame, adverbs can move freely without any grammatical restrictions. Example

 1.    Jesus is coming soon
 2.    Soon, Jesus is coming
 3.    Jesus is soon coming

In the example given above, the adverb ‘soon’, can move from sentence initial to sentence medial and sentence formal.

Inflections of Adverbs
Like adjectives, adverbs inflect to show degree and they follow almost the same patterns and rules with regard to the ‘-er’ and ‘-est’ suffix inflectional morphemes and the peripheral rules given in adjectives above.

Open class Elements
These refer to the grammatical elements such as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. These elements are categorised into the open class because of their grammatical compatibility and flexibility.

Major features are:
 1.    Items of the open class elements can combine easily with themselves without creating any grammatical chaos.

Examples: a. Okon and Obong are students of the university.
b.   Edet speaks rather recklessly
c.   James is a bright looking man
d.   Emmanuel will have to apologise before the Senate

In the examples given above, the nouns, Okon and Obong combine freely within the subject frame; in the second example, the adverbs ‘rather and recklessly combine and even modify each other; in the third example, the adjectives ‘bright’ and ‘looking’ qualify each other and verbs ‘will’ and ‘have’ are in harmony.

 2.    In the open class elements, the choice of one item does not exclude the choice of another item of the same element. A perfect example of this point can also be seen above.

 3.    Items within this grammatical category can inflect. This means they can, either morphologically or with the aid of peripheral elements, change their forms in the course of usage.

 4.    It is possible to create new words into the system because of its ‘openness’. A clear prove to these will be the futile attempt to list all nouns, verb, adjective or adverbs in English.

Close System Elements
This is the direct opposite of the open class elements. These elements refer to the items of the word class that are grammatically incompatible and inflexible.

Major features are:

 1.    Items of this category have the same structural capabilities, and this accounts for their incompatibility, just like two positive or two negative wires cannot combine.
 2.    The choice of one item within a frame excludes the choice of another item. Example:

a.    The Boy is good.
b.    *The a boy is good.
The choice of ‘the’ excludes the choice of ‘a’ because both have the same structural capabilities.

 3.    Items of the open system can be easily identified because they are specific and non-reproductive.
 4.    Items of this category cannot inflect except pronouns. Pronouns can only inflect because, grammatically, they can function as nouns. It is only because of this, that they can inflect to show, number and person.
 5 .    The concept of closeness makes it impossible to create new items into this category. Such that we have countable number of Pronouns, Conjunctions, Determiners, and Prepositions. 

Idiongo Ebong

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