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The category of intensity and comparison

Grammarians seem to be divided in their opinion as to the linguistic status of degrees of comparison of adjectives formed by means of more and (the) most. In books devoted to teaching grammar the latter are traditionally referred to as analytical forms. But there is also another view

based only on form and distribution according to which more and (the) most are referred to as ordinary qualifiers and formations like more interesting and the most interesting which go parallel with such free word-groups as less interesting and the least interesting are called phrasal comparatives and superlatives. Attention is then drawn to the fact that more and most may also easily combine with nouns, e. g.: more attention, more people, most people, etc. 1

This is, in fact, an old discussion, dating back at least as far as H. Sweet as to whether the morphemes of comparison -er, -est are inflections or suffixes. H. Sweet spoke of them as inflectional but considered such formations almost as much a process derivation as of inflection 2.

More important that this difficulty in terminology are some other points about adjectives.

Distinction will be made between qualitative adjectives which have " gradable" meanings and those which have " absolute" meanings.

A thing can, for instance, be more of less narrow, and narrow is a gradable adjective for which corresponding gradations will be expressed either by analytical or, when style demands, by inflected forms: narrownarrowerthe narrowest narrowmore narrowthe most narrow

Contrasted to adjectives with such " gradable" meanings are qualitative adjectives with " absolute" meaning, e. g.: real, equal, perfect, right, etc. These are, in their referents, incapable of such gradations. Unmodified, they mean the absolute of what they say. With more and most or when inflected they mean " more nearly real", " nearest of all to being real", " more nearly equal" or " nearest of all to being equal", etc.

Analytical and inflected forms of comparison cannot be referred to as always absolutely identical in function. The structure of the analytical form permits contrastive stress-shifts and is therefore preferable when occasion demands. Stress on more and most will focus attention on the notion of degree, and stress on the adjective will make the lexical content of the adjective more prominent. Compare the following: (1) He is healthier than his brother. (2) He is more healthy than his brother. (3) He is more healthy, but less capable.

A universal feature in the grammar of adjectives is the absolute use of comparatives and superlatives. These forms are sometimes used where there is no direct comparison at all, as in: The better part of valour is discretion (Shakespeare); a better-class café, sooner or later (The Short Oxford Dictionary), etc. Cf.: вища освіта, продукти кращої якості, etc.

Similarly in German:

ein alterer Mann літня людина — ein alter Mann стара людина.

eine grossere Stadi невелике місто — eine grosse Stadt велике місто.

The grammatical content of the superlative degree is that of degree of a property surpassing all other objects mentioned or implied by the context or situation. There are cases, however, when the meaning of

1 See: W. Francis. The Structure of American English. New York, 1958, p. 27; A. Hill. Introduction to Linguistic Structures. New York-Birmingham, 1958, p. 168.

2 See: H. Sweet. A New English Grammar. Oxford, 1955.

the superlative comes to be essentially different, and only a very high degree of quality or property is meant, with no comparison at all. This is the so-called " elative" (Lat. gradus elativus), e. g .: I should do it with the greatest pleasure.

Further examples are:

He's got the most beautiful mother, with lovely silvery hair and a young face with dark eyes. (Galsworthy)

" It's most distasteful to me", he said suddenly. " Nothing could be more so". (Galsworthy)

" My health is better for it", he added hastily. " And I am very happy, most happy". (London)

Absolute superlatives will be found in such patterns in Ukrainian as: в найкоротший термін, в найкращому настрої, наймиліша людина. Cf. Russian: величайший ученый, милейший человек, в наилучшем настроении, в кратчайший срок, etc. Similarly in German: in bester Stimmung, in kü rzester Zeit, liebster Freund. French: Cette chè re enfant! soupira la maî tresse de pension de sa voix la plus tendre. (France).

It is of interest to note that in certain contexts the comparative degree of adjectives may function as a stylistic alternative of " absolute superlative". The highest degree of quality comes to be expressed here by comparative contrast. The use of such " comparative elatives'' is highly effective and colourful, e. g.:

Could a man own anything prettier than this dining table with its deep tints, the starry, soft-petalled roses, the ruby coloured glass, and quaint silver furnishing; could a man own anything prettier than the woman who sat at it? (Galsworthy)

Look at her sitting there. Doesn't she make a picture? Chardin, eh? I've seen all the most beautiful women in the world; I've never seen anyone more beautiful than Madame Dirk Stroeve. (Maugham)

...Into a denser gloom than ever Bosinney held on at a furious pace; but his pursuer perceived more method in his madnesshe was clearly making his way westwards. (Galsworthy)

...In his leisure hours he played the piccolo. No one in England was more reliable.

..." He's imaginative, Yolyon."

" Yes, in a sanguinary way. Does he love anyone just now? "

" No; only everyone. There never was anyone born more loving or more lovable than Jon."

" Being your boy, Irene." (Galsworthy)

Intensification of a qualitative meaning expressed by adjectives may be produced by:

1) adverbial intensifiers: much, a great deal, far, by far, far and away, yet, still and all, e. g.: much better, still further, all hot and bothered, all blocdy;

He is far the most distinguished student in the group.

This week was by far the busiest we have ever had.

He was far and away the best example to follow.

Similar in function are such intensifiers in Russian as: намного, куда, все, еще, etc.

Similarly in Ukrainian: набагато, ще, далеко, куди.

Ще щедріше було сонце. Куди краще були успіхи нашої експедиції.

2) grammatical pleonasms: a) deafer than deaf, whiter than white; b) the whitest of the white, the greenest of the green.

Every little colony of houses has its church and school-house peeping from among the white roofs and shady trees; every house is the whitest of the white; every Venetian blind the greenest of the green; every fine day's sky the bluest of the blue. (Dickens)

Compare the Ukrainian: чистіше чистого, легше легкого, ясніше ясного, etc.; similarly in Russian: чище чистого, слаще сладкого, яснее ясного, etc.

3) the combination of a Superlative with an of -phrase which renders the meaning of a partitive genitive, e. g.: Chekhov is the greatest of all writers of short stories. Patterns of this kind are fairly common in expressive language.

" Of all things in the world don't you think caution's the most awful? Smell the moonlight! " She thrust the blossom against his face; Jon agreed giddily that of all things in the world caution was the worst, and bending over kissed the hand which held his. (Galsworthy)

4) the idiomatic variety of the partitive genitive, e. g.: Beauty is the wonder of all wonders. (Wilde)

Scarlet jerked her hands away from his grasp and sprang to her feet", " Iyou are the most ill-bred man in the world, coming here at this time of all times with your filthyI should have known you'd never change. (Mitchell)

Further examples are: a patriot of patriots, a word of words, a hero of heroes. Analogous examples in Ukrainian: диво з див, герой з героїв, хоробрий з хоробрих, etc. Cf. Russian: чудо из чудес, герой из героев, храбрец из храбрецов, красавица из красавиц, etc. French: le miracle des miracles; German: der Held der Helden.

5) the variant form of the partitive genitive, e. g.: lawyers' lawyers (= the best of all lawyers), an actor's actor (= the best of all actors), similarly, a ballplayer's ballplayer.

6) the of -phrase in the function of the so-called " genitivus qualitatis", a universal development in most languages.

Synonymous with adjectives proper, modification structures of this type abound in literary use. The linguistic essence of the structure is to render the idea of quality through the relationship of one object to the other.

«Многие различные вещи состоят в существенном взаимодействии через свои свойства; свойство есть самое взаимодействие» 1.

Examples are: a look of joy = a joyful look, a man of energy = an energetic man, a thing of great importance = a very important thing, writers of great repute — very reputable writers, a glance of contempt — a contemptuous glance, a thing of great value = a valuable thing, a man of genius (Cf. arch. genial), etc.

1 «Ленинский сборник» IX, pp. 144—145.

Compare analogous structures in other languages. Russian: вопрос большой важности — очень важный вопрос; человек большой эрудиции — очень эрудированный человек. Ukrainian: справа великого значення — дуже важлива справа; людина великого розуму —дуже розумна людина (the so-called) «родовий означальний». French: affaire d'importance = affaire importante, bijoux de pris = bijou pré cieux; une affaire d'urgence = une affaire urgente; un jardin de beauté = un beau jardin. German: die Sache von grosser Wichtigkeit = eine sehr wichtige Sache.

Genitivus qualitatis is used to express more complex and more subtle shades of meaning than ordinary adjectives do. The diversity of their use for stylistic purposes in various languages should not escape our notice.

She conceived of delights which were not, saw lights of joy that never were on land or sea. (Dreiser).

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us... (Dickens)

7) noun-phrases N + Iself —a stylistic alternative of the absolute superlative degree (so-called " elative"), e. g.:

Mr. Pickwick is kindness itself. You are patience itself = You are most patient. She was prudence itselfShe was most prudent.

Phrases of this sort are more forceful and expressive that the respective adjective in the superlative degree. Such structures of predication are good evidence of the fact that quality in some cases can be expressed more effectively by a noun than an adjective.

8) noun-phrases all + N:

She is all patience, you're all activity.

She is all goodness (Cf. She is very good). He is all nerves. (Cf. He is very nervous).

He was all the kindest consideration (Cf. He was most considerate).

The use of nouns instead of adjectives gives added emphasis to the given quality. Consider also the following example:

June stood in front, fending off his idle curiositya little bit of a thing as somebody once saidall hair and spirit, with fear less blue eyes, a firm jaw, and a bright colour, whose face and body seemed to slender, for her crown of her red-gold hair. (Galsworthy)

9) the use of abstract nouns made from adjectives. Compare:

her soft hair the softness of her hair

red roses the red (ness) of the roses

dark despair the darkness of despair

the dark night the dark of night

10) the use of nouns in the function of emphatic modifiers.

In such uses nouns weaken their meaning of " substance" and approach

adverbs. This adverbial use of nouns shows great diversity. It will be helpful to distinguish the following:

a) relations of time, as in: life long, week long, age long, etc. b) comparison: (different degrees of quality) cold black, straw yellow, silver grey, lily white, ash blond, ice cold, snow white, iron hard, sky blue, dog tired, paper white, pencil thin, ruler straight, primrose yellow, brick red, blade sharp, dirt cheap; mountains high, a bit longer, a trifle easier, a shade darker, ankle deep.

Patterns of this kind are generally used metaphorically and function as expedients of express intensity and emphasis, e. g.:

I'll send Pork to Macon to-morrow to buy more seed. Now the Yankles won't burn it and our troops won't need it. Good Lord, cotton ought to go sky high this fall. (Mitchell)

Further examples are:

He is world too modest. That was lots better. This was heaps better. He was stone deaf to our request. The mud was ankle deep.

Similar use of nouns will also be found in such patterns as: bone tired, dog tired, mustard coloured, horror struck, etc.

11) the use of intensifying adverbs, e. g.: completely, entirely, thoroughly, utterly, awfully, terribly, fearfully, frightfully, dreadfully, frantically, beastly, terrifically, etc.

The use of a noun rather than an adjective is very often preferred as a more forcible expressive means to intensify the given quality. Compare the following synonymic forms of expression:

He was quite a success.He was quite successful.

It was good fun.It was funny.

Nouns functioning in this position can be modified by adverbials of degree, e. g.:

You were always more of a realist than Jon; and never so innocent. (Galsworthy)

" We're all fond of you", he said, " If you'd only"he was going to say, " behave yourself", but changed it to —" If you'd only be more of a wife to him". (Galsworthy)

" Not much of an animal, is it? " groaned Rhett. " Looks like he'll die. But he is the best I could find in the shafts'. (Mitchell)

12) the use of idiomatic comparisons, e. g.: as good as gold, as bold as brass, as fit as a fiddle, as white a sheet, as busy as a bee, etc.

13) intensity of meaning is most effective in patterns where the determining and the determined elements of the denotation mutually exchange their respective parts, e. g.: a jewel of a nature, a devil of a journey, etc.

There is always selection in such stylistic devices skillfully mastered by creative writers. Here is a classical example to see how the effective use of grammatical synonyms of adjectives lends variety to speech in pictorial language:

" Goya, with his satiric and surpassing precision, his original " line" ', and the daring of his light and shade, could have reproduced to admiration the group assembled round Annette's tea-tray in the ingle-nook below. He alone, perhaps, of painters would have done justice to the sunlight

filtering through a screen of creeper to the lovely pallor of brass, the old cut glasses, the thin slices of lemon in pale amber tea; justice to Annette in her black lacy dress; there was something of the fair Spaniard in her beauty, though it lacked the spirituality of that rare type; to Winifred's grey-haired, corseted solidity; to Soames, of a certain grey and flat-cheeked distinction; to the vivacious Michael Mont, pointed in ear and eye; to Imogen, dark, luscious of glance, growing a little stout; to Prosper Profond, with his expression as who should say, " Well, Mr. Goya, what's the use of paintin' this small party? " Finally, to Jack Cardigan, with his shining stare and tanned sanguinity betraying the moving principle: " I'm English, and I live to be fit". (Galsworthy)

It is to be noted that different shades of intensity of a qualitative meaning may be expressed by derivational prefixes, such as: archi-, extra-, hyper-, ultra-, etc., e. g.: extraordinary hypercritical, hypersensitive, superhuman, superfine, ultrafashionable, ultra-rapid.

Expressive negation of a qualitative meaning is sometimes implied in adjectives with negative prefixes. Depending on the lexical meaning of the stem and the context adjectives with the prefixes in- and un- may have a positive meaning or indicate a high degree of a given quality, e. g.: invaluable, incomparable, incredible, unthinkable, etc.

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