A Writers Dictionary of Distinctions

Adjectives
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Actually, only the comparative and superlative show degrees.

We use the comparative for comparing two things and the superlative for comparing three or more things. Notice that the word than frequently accompanies the comparative and the word the precedes the superlative. The inflected suffixes -er and -est suffice to form most comparatives and superlatives, although we need -ier and -iest when a two-syllable adjective ends in y happier and happiest ; otherwise we use more and most when an adjective has more than one syllable. Certain adjectives have irregular forms in the comparative and superlative degrees:.

People who argue that one woman cannot be more pregnant than another have never been nine-months pregnant with twins. According to Bryan Garner, "complete" is one of those adjectives that does not admit of comparative degrees. We could say, however, "more nearly complete. Copyright by Bryan A.

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Published by Oxford University Press, Inc. Be careful, also, not to use more along with a comparative adjective formed with -er nor to use most along with a superlative adjective formed with -est e. Both adverbs and adjectives in their comparative and superlative forms can be accompanied by premodifiers, single words and phrases, that intensify the degree. And sometimes a set phrase, usually an informal noun phrase, is used for this purpose:.

Occasionally, the comparative or superlative form appears with a determiner and the thing being modified is understood:. Longman Group: Essex, England. Used with permission. We do, however, definitely use less when referring to statistical or numerical expressions: It's less than twenty miles to Dallas. He's less than six feet tall. Your essay should be a thousand words or less. We spent less than forty dollars on our trip. The town spent less than four percent of its budget on snow removal.

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In these situations, it's possible to regard the quantities as sums of countable measures. To avoid ambiguity and the slippery use of than , we could write "I like him better than she does" or "I like him better than I like her.

In the United States, we usually use "more than" in countable numerical expressions meaning "in excess of" or "over. For instance, in the U. Even in the U. We've been waiting well over two hours for her. Most other languages dictate a similar order, but not necessarily the same order. It takes a lot of practice with a language before this order becomes instinctive, because the order often seems quite arbitrary if not downright capricious. There is, however, a pattern. You will find many exceptions to the pattern in the table below, but it is definitely important to learn the pattern of adjective order if it is not part of what you naturally bring to the language.

It would be folly, of course, to run more than two or three at the most adjectives together.

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Furthermore, when adjectives belong to the same class, they become what we call coordinated adjectives, and you will want to put a comma between them: the inexpensive, comfortable shoes. We could say these are "inexpensive but comfortable shoes," so we would use a comma between them when the "but" isn't there. When you have three coordinated adjectives, separate them all with commas, but don't insert a comma between the last adjective and the noun in spite of the temptation to do so because you often pause there :. See the section on Commas for additional help in punctuating coordinated adjectives.

When an adjective owes its origins to a proper noun, it should probably be capitalized. Directional and seasonal adjectives are not capitalized unless they're part of a title:. See the section on Capitalization for further help on this matter. Collective Adjectives When the definite article, the , is combined with an adjective describing a class or group of people, the resulting phrase can act as a noun: the poor, the rich, the oppressed, the homeless, the lonely, the unlettered, the unwashed, the gathered, the dear departed.

The difference between a Collective Noun which is usually regarded as singular but which can be plural in certain contexts and a collective adjective is that the latter is always plural and requires a plural verb:.

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The opposite or the negative aspect of an adjective can be formed in a number of ways. The opposite of beautiful is ugly , the opposite of tall is short. A thesaurus can help you find an appropriate opposite. Another way to form the opposite of an adjective is with a number of prefixes. The opposite of fortunate is unfortunate , the opposite of prudent is imprudent , the opposite of considerate is inconsiderate , the opposite of honorable is dishonorable , the opposite of alcoholic is nonalcoholic , the opposite of being properly filed is misfiled.

If you are not sure of the spelling of adjectives modified in this way by prefixes or which is the appropriate prefix , you will have to consult a dictionary, as the rules for the selection of a prefix are complex and too shifty to be trusted. The meaning itself can be tricky; for instance, flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.

A third means for creating the opposite of an adjective is to combine it with less or least to create a comparison which points in the opposite direction. Interesting shades of meaning and tone become available with this usage. It is kinder to say that "This is the least beautiful city in the state.

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A candidate for a job can still be worthy and yet be " less worthy of consideration" than another candidate. It's probably not a good idea to use this construction with an adjective that is already a negative: "He is less unlucky than his brother," although that is not the same thing as saying he is luckier than his brother.

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Use the comparative less when the comparison is between two things or people; use the superlative least when the comparison is among many things or people. Some Adjectival Problem Children Good versus Well In both casual speech and formal writing, we frequently have to choose between the adjective good and the adverb well.

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One-star words are frequent, two-star words are more frequent, and three-star words are the most frequent. The thesaurus of synonyms and related words is fully integrated into the dictionary. Click on the thesaurus category heading under the button in an entry to see the synonyms and related words for that meaning. Do other countries have the same distinction between amateur and professional athletes that we do? Medical literature does not always make a distinction between the two terms.

This would lead to a clear distinction between management and the workforce.

We are fortunate that so many people of distinction and talent are present. She got a distinction in her piano exam.

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Kevin graduated with distinction in history and law. She holds the distinction of having been the first woman editor of the Harvard Law Review. Most other languages dictate a similar order, but not necessarily the same order. It takes a lot of practice with a language before this order becomes instinctive, because the order often seems quite arbitrary if not downright capricious.

There is, however, a pattern. You will find many exceptions to the pattern in the table below, but it is definitely important to learn the pattern of adjective order if it is not part of what you naturally bring to the language.

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It would be folly, of course, to run more than two or three at the most adjectives together. Furthermore, when adjectives belong to the same class, they become what we call coordinated adjectives, and you will want to put a comma between them: the inexpensive, comfortable shoes.

We could say these are "inexpensive but comfortable shoes," so we would use a comma between them when the "but" isn't there. When you have three coordinated adjectives, separate them all with commas, but don't insert a comma between the last adjective and the noun in spite of the temptation to do so because you often pause there :. See the section on Commas for additional help in punctuating coordinated adjectives. When an adjective owes its origins to a proper noun, it should probably be capitalized.

Directional and seasonal adjectives are not capitalized unless they're part of a title:. See the section on Capitalization for further help on this matter. Collective Adjectives When the definite article, the , is combined with an adjective describing a class or group of people, the resulting phrase can act as a noun: the poor, the rich, the oppressed, the homeless, the lonely, the unlettered, the unwashed, the gathered, the dear departed. The difference between a Collective Noun which is usually regarded as singular but which can be plural in certain contexts and a collective adjective is that the latter is always plural and requires a plural verb:.

The opposite or the negative aspect of an adjective can be formed in a number of ways. The opposite of beautiful is ugly , the opposite of tall is short. A thesaurus can help you find an appropriate opposite. Another way to form the opposite of an adjective is with a number of prefixes. The opposite of fortunate is unfortunate , the opposite of prudent is imprudent , the opposite of considerate is inconsiderate , the opposite of honorable is dishonorable , the opposite of alcoholic is nonalcoholic , the opposite of being properly filed is misfiled.

If you are not sure of the spelling of adjectives modified in this way by prefixes or which is the appropriate prefix , you will have to consult a dictionary, as the rules for the selection of a prefix are complex and too shifty to be trusted.

The meaning itself can be tricky; for instance, flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. A third means for creating the opposite of an adjective is to combine it with less or least to create a comparison which points in the opposite direction. Interesting shades of meaning and tone become available with this usage. It is kinder to say that "This is the least beautiful city in the state. A candidate for a job can still be worthy and yet be " less worthy of consideration" than another candidate.

It's probably not a good idea to use this construction with an adjective that is already a negative: "He is less unlucky than his brother," although that is not the same thing as saying he is luckier than his brother. Use the comparative less when the comparison is between two things or people; use the superlative least when the comparison is among many things or people. Some Adjectival Problem Children Good versus Well In both casual speech and formal writing, we frequently have to choose between the adjective good and the adverb well.

With most verbs, there is no contest: when modifying a verb, use the adverb. He swims well. He knows only too well who the murderer is.