HomeThe Adjective Category in English

The Adjective Category in English

L'adjectif en anglais

Lexis 15

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Published on Wednesday, April 03, 2019 by Céline Guilleux


The e-journal LexisJournal in English Lexicology – will publish its 15th issue in 2020. It will be guest-edited by Vincent Hugou (Université de Tours) and Vincent Renner(Université Lumière Lyon 2) and will deal with “adjectives in English”, a lexical class known for its heterogeneity and instability.


The e-journal Lexis – Journal in English Lexicology – will publish its 15th issue in 2020. It will be guest-edited by Vincent Hugou (Université de Tours) and Vincent Renner(Université Lumière Lyon 2) and will deal with “adjectives in English”, a lexical class known for its heterogeneity and instability.


A heterogeneous class

English adjectives are quite heterogeneous in their semantics, as is attested by the many classifications found in the literature on the basis of syntactico-semantic criteria (qualifying / relational, classifying / non-classifying, objective / subjective, descriptor / classifying, intensive / non-intensive, etc.), or logico-semantic criteria (e.g. intersective / non intersective).

English adjectives also present considerable morphological diversity. The field of lexical morphology has received more scholarly attention than that of inflectional morphology which is now limited to synthetic comparatives and superlatives. Next to simplex adjectives, which can be viewed, at least synchronically, as morphologically unanalyzable roots and tend to express universal semantic types, English complex adjectives can be formed by affixation or compounding, or by using the non-concatenative processes of reduplication (easy-peasy, super-duper), clipping (hyper, delish), or conversion (a through train).

Instability of the class

The adjective category is also characterized by many interactions within and across its unstable boundaries, so much so that the relevance of a category in its own right could be questioned. The commonalities that the adjective shares with the noun are a reminder that the former was listed as a sub-category of the latter for a long time (cf. the classical dichotomy between nomen substantivum and nomen adjectivum). This is still evidenced by adjectives functioning as NP heads and by nouns used as adjectives.By the same token, some parallels have been drawn between adjectives and verbs (e.g. adjectival past participles), and between adjectives and adverbs (as in e.g. to scare easy).

Categorial shifts within the class also underscore that borderlines are quite blurry rather than clearly demarcated. This applies, for example, to relational adjectives which, when modified by a degree word, lose their (relational) status, or to predicative-only adjectives, which in some contexts can function attributively (I need some alone time).

Contributors are thus invited to work with this dual perspective in mind: that which concerns the diversity of the class, which also raises the issue of the addition of new members and its renewal, and another which links the discussion to the instability of the class and its subclasses.

Regarding diversity and heterogeneity, one may choose to further investigate the most productive word-formation patterns in present-day English (and their variation across genres, varieties of English worldwide, etc.).

Regarding categorial instability, the very possibility of talking about an ‘adjective’ per se and the extent to which determining a prototype for the class is relevant could be investigated. It could also be of interest to find out whether the emergence of ‘new’ adjectives, especially the extension of the class to members deviating from the prototype, confirms or disconfirms the classifications already proposed in the literature. The interaction of morphology and semantics and even pragmatics could also lead to new proposals.Determining whether within-category variation is unidirectional and whether trends and tendencies can be detected is another area of interest.

In order to illustrate and substantiate their findings, contributors are invited to adopt a corpus-based approach. Taking into account a variety of discourse types (literary, political, scientific, legal, journalistic, etc.), and genres (pieces of legislation, reports, prayers, recipes, etc.), as well as textual sequences (narrative, descriptive, argumentative, etc.), could also provide stimulating perspectives.

Contributions may draw on various fields of linguistics (sociolinguistics, ESP, contrastive linguistics, historical linguistics, etc.), as well as various related fields (stylistics, ELT, lexicography, etc.). Attempts to combine different levels of analysis (morphology, semantics, syntax, phonology, etc.) will be especially appreciated.All theoretical approaches are welcome.

Finally, contributions may focus on one specific adjective or a whole subclass (e.g. ethnic adjectives, intensive adjectives, gradable antonyms), a pair of adjectives (small vs. little) or an adjective-based phrase (e.g. preposition + adjective, in short, in earnest), or even a broader construction that contains an adjective (e.g. some resultative constructions).

Five broad lines of research may be considered, though they should not be viewed as restrictive or mutually exclusive:

  • Delineating the class of adjectives as well as its subclasses: borderline cases (drawing the line between verbal past participles and adjectival past participles; cases of full or partial conversion); terminological uncertainties, intersections and differences between French and English terminology;
  • Adding new members to the class: adjectival neologisms, nonce formations, hapaxes, recent borrowings; humorous and/or expressive formations; the study of the productivity of a specific word-formation pattern; the coining of new words on the basis of a non-productive pattern (hiking in forests that just a few decades before had been aroar with the sound of the passenger pigeons’ wings(COCA)); adjectives and adverbial particles (coffeed out), or prepositions (laugh-at-able); idioms of comparison or frozen similes (black as pitch / pitch-black, white as snow / snow-white, but happy as a clam / ?clam-happy…); new uses of adjectives and their lexicographical treatment;
  • Meaning construction: metonymic uses (he’s bald vs. ?his head is bald); adjectives and metaphors; hypallage; elliptical constructions (what’s the latest?); the study of a special semantic subclass such as those adjectives denoting a dysfunctional physical and psychological state and their polysemy; compound adjectives and intensity (dog-tired, butt-ugly); adjectives and sociolects (slang);
  • The issue of competition: affixal rivalry, which also raises the question of a (quasi-)complementary distribution (e.g. -ish vs. -y, -y vs. -ous); categorial competition;
  • Constructions with adjectives in combination: collocations and idioms; the comparative-correlative construction (the more… the more…); constructions in which the adjective is made to occupy the syntactic slot of another category.

How to submit

Please clearly indicate the title of the paper and include an abstract of no more than 5,000 characters as well as a list of relevant key-words and references. All abstract and paper submissions will be anonymously peer-reviewed (double-blind peer reviewing) by an international scientific committee composed of specialists in their fields. Papers will be written preferably in English or occasionally in French. Manuscripts may be rejected, accepted subject to revision, or accepted as such. There is no limit to the number of pages.Abstracts and articles will be sent via email to lexis@univ-lyon3.fr


  • March 2019: call for papers
  • July 10th 2019: deadline for sending in abstracts to Lexis

  • September 2019: Evaluation Committee’s decisions notified to authors
  • November 1st 2019: deadline for sending in papers (Guidelines for submitting articles:https://journals.openedition.org/lexis/1000)
  • November and December 2019: proofreading of papers by the Evaluation committee
  • January 2020: authors’ corrections
  • February 1st 2020: deadline for sending in final versions of papers


Ackerman Farrell & Goldberg Adele, 1996, “Constraints on adjectival past participles”, in Goldberg Adele (ed.), Conceptual Structure, Discourse and Language, Stanford: CSLI, 17-30.

Albrespit Jean, 2005, « Le suffixe -ish en anglais : comparaison par approximation », in MérillouxCatherine (éd.), « Intensité, comparaison, degré », 2, Travaux linguistiques du CERLICO 18, Rennes : Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

Baker Mark, 2003, Lexical Categories: Verbs, Nouns, and Adjectives, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Berg Thomas, 2000, “The position of adjectives on the noun-verb continuum”, English Language and Linguistics 4 (2), 269-293.

Blödhorn Lars, 2008, Postmodifying Attributive Adjectives in English: an Integrated Corpus-based Approach, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Bolinger Dwight, 1967, “Adjectives in English: attribution and predication”, Lingua 18, 1-34.

Dixon Robert, 1982, Where have All the Adjectives Gone?, and Other Essays in Semantics and Syntax, Berlin: De Gruyter.

Englebretson Robert, 1997, “Genre and Grammar: Predicative and Attributive Adjectives in Spoken English”, Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 23(1), 411-421.

Ferris Connor, 1993, The Meaning of Syntax: A Study in the Adjectives of English, London / New York: Longman.

Günther Christine, Kotowski Sven & Plag Ingo, 2018, “Phrasal compounds can have adjectival heads: Evidence from English”, English Language and Linguistics, FirstView,https://doi.org/10.1017/S1360674318000229

Henkel Daniel, 2014, L’Adjectif en anglais et en français. Syntaxe, sémantique et traduction, Thèse de Doctorat, Université Paris Sorbonne.

Hirtle Walter, 1969, “-ed adjectives like ‘verandahed’ and ‘blue-eyed’”, Journal of Linguistics 6, 19-36.

Maniez François, 2012, “A corpus-based study of adjectival vs. nominal modification in medical English”, inBoulton Alex, Carter-Thomas Shirley & Rowley-Jolivet Elizabeth (eds.), “Corpus-Informed Research and Learning in ESP: Issues and Applications”, Studies in Corpus Linguistics 52, Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 83-102.

Marchis Moreno Mihaela, 2018, Relational Adjectives in Romance and English: Mismatches at Interfaces, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Matthews Peter, 2014, The Positions of Adjectives in English, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mignot Elise, 2006, « Les adjectifs : entre déterminant et nom », Études Anglaises 59, Paris : Klincksieck, 453-465.

Nagano Akiko, 2018, “A conversion analysis of so-called coercion from relational to qualitative adjectives in English”, Word Structure 11 (2), 185-210.

Oltra-Massuet Isabel, 2017, “Towards a morphosyntactic analysis of -ish”, Word Structure 10 (1), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 54-78.

Paradis Carita, 1997, Degree Modifiers of Adjectives in Spoken British English, Lund: Lund University Press.

Payne John, Huddleston Rodney & Pullum Geoffrey, 2010, “The distribution and category status of adjectives and adverbs”, Word Structure 3, 31-81.

Schlüter Julia, 2008, “Constraints on the attributive use of ‘predicative only’ adjectives: a reassessment”, inGisborne Nikolas & Trousdale Graeme (eds.), “Constructional Approaches to English Grammar”, Topics in English Linguistics 57, Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 164-179.

Schuwer Martine, 1998-1999, « Étude sur les contraintes syntaxiques des adjectifs en -ed en anglais », Cahier du C.I.E.L., 109-151.

Schuwer Martine, 1999, « Le suffixe adjectival -ble : impacts sémantique et syntaxique de la dérivation », ASp 23-26, 29-54.

Shankara Bhat D. N., 1994, The Adjectival Category: Criteria for Differentiation and Identification, Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Taylor John, 1992, “Old problems: Adjectives in Cognitive Grammar”, Cognitive Linguistics 3 (1), 1-36.

Tucker Gordon, 1998, The Lexicogrammar of Adjectives. A Systemic Functional Approach to Lexis, London / New York: Cassel.

Vandelanotte Lieven, 2002, “Prenominal adjectives in English: structures and ordering”, Folia Linguistica36, 219-259.

Wierzbicka Anna, 1986, “What’s in a Noun? (Or: How Do Nouns Differ in Meaning from Adjectives?)”,Studies in Language 10 (2), 353-389.

Zwicky Arnold, 1989, “Quicker, more quickly, *quicklier”, Yearbook of Morphology 1988, 139-173.


  • Lyon, France (69)


  • Wednesday, July 10, 2019


  • lexicon, English, adjective, heterogeneity, instability, word-formation, lexis


  • Denis Jamet
    courriel : lexis [at] uni-lyon3 [dot] fr

Information source

  • Denis Jamet
    courriel : lexis [at] uni-lyon3 [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« The Adjective Category in English », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, April 03, 2019, https://calenda.org/594273

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